Franchitti column

Autosport.com columnist Dario Franchitti's season continued with retirement at Mid-Ohio following an unusual electronic problem. But, as he tells us in his regular column, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Franchitti column

I'm sure you're bored of reading the word 'frustrating' here, but I really felt we had something going at Mid-Ohio. We changed something fundamental on the car -- a big, big, change, and it's really helped us. And it should improve the car on ovals too. So that's good, and we should be well placed for the rest of the CART FedEx season. Now all we need is some bloody luck on our side at Team Kool Green.

The Mid-Ohio road course is one where you can really get to grips with, and one where a good balance with the car is quite important. I was so happy on Friday as we ran our first laps. It really was the first time I got in the car and felt I could drive it the way I want, which is a great feeling.

I did my quick time towards the end of qualifying which put me second on the grid, but the stewards disallowed it because the red flag had just come out for Gil de Ferran's accident. They told me there was only about 50 yards in it from when the flag went out to me crossing the finish line, but that was their rule, and you have to go with it. I meant that I was bumped off the front row back to third place, which is a little annoying as it's quite a hard circuit to pass on.

I don't know what happened at the start. Normally they have a set of "accelerator cones" by the side of the track, and you have to wait to pass these cones before you accelerate. But that obviously didn't apply to the Penske cars because they just came out of turn 2 there and nailed it! So the start was a bit of a shambles, Kenny Brack got by me and I was stuck behind him for a couple of laps.

The Penske guys got a three second lead. I got by Kenny at the end of the straight and began to close in on the Penskes a bit, but then at that point we started saving fuel, because I knew that really I wasn't going to be able to pass them on the track, unless something untoward happened.

Everything was going pretty well, but then the engine started to cut out. It started off initially with maybe once or twice, and then it would get going again. But it got worse and worse, cutting out for half the length of the straight. I thought it was going to stop completely, so I got on the radio and told the team I was coming into the pits. But only some of them heard me. So I came into the pits and they were kind of standing around looking at each other -- which was a bit unfortunate!

I went back out, and then headed back in for fuel and tyres. I lost about a lap with all of that, but the car still kept cutting out. I carried on running while the team tried to work out was causing it. I came back in, and my crew chief leant into the cockpit and just snipped one of the wires off!

Basically, the cars have a system so that when you make your up-shift it cuts the engine very briefly, which allows you to shift gears without lifting the throttle. But unfortunately, in the race, that system started to malfunction. Cutting the wire solved the problem! I had to lift while changing gear, but we were going again, now two laps down.

Half of me was thinking "Is there any point in carrying on round?" I was 24th, so we certainly weren't going to score any points. I was running around behind Jimmy (Vasser), but as I said it is pretty difficult to pass at Mid-Ohio.

I thought "I'm not going to pass or do a stupid lunge move or anything -- I'm not racing for points and I don't want to do anything stupid". You know, even if I passed him it wasn't going to go anywhere. So I was just sitting behind him when he made a mistake coming out of turn 1, and I got under his wing.. But I got too close behind him, lost all the downforce, and as I hit the brakes the whole thing just locked up. So I tried to get down his inside and get past him rather than ram him off, but by that point he'd already committed to the corner. So, basically, I took him clean out of the game... My screw up, in a way trying to be too nice. I felt really bad for Jimmy.

So all in all, the race was annoying because we had the car to run with the Penskes. It's almost that we're now wondering what else can go wrong! That system has been running in race cars for years, it's not a different system or anything - and it never breaks. I felt bad for the team, not because of the accident, but because we were running so well, and it looked like we were going to have a good race. Then one wire malfunctions, and it's not something that the mechanics didn't change or make a mistake or anything. It's just an electronic thing that broke.

The best thing we can do is look forward. Road America this weekend is certainly something I'm looking forward to. It's a top track, one of the most enjoyable, and as a track to drive it is probably the most enjoyable. Big long straights, hills, dips and proper corners...

Road America has been feast or famine for me since I started racing there in CART three years ago. Sandwiched between a couple of DNFs is the win two years ago, my first in CART. I'm hoping that if it follows the same pattern, this is the year for another win...

The two-day test we had at Road America earlier this month was very encouraging. Our times were more than respectable and we were able to get some valuable information that should be a big help for qualifying and race set-up.

The priority right now is to get that first win of the season under our belts. We just have to keep plugging away, and if we do that we're going to have a race where everything falls into place.

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