Frankly Franchitti

A second place finish from last on the grid at Michigan hauled Autosport.com columnist Dario Franchitti up into second place in the CART Championship. The race will also be remembered as probably the most exciting of the year

Frankly Franchitti

That was an entertaining afternoon's work! Where shall I begin? Starting last place on the grid? Or finishing virtually dead-heat with Michel Jourdain for second? Or Alex Tagliani's move at the end? Or moving up to second in the championship? Whatever, there's lots to talk about.

It was going to be an interesting weekend from the moment the rain arrived on Saturday afternoon and we found out we would be starting last on the grid. That obviously created a load of problems different to the ones we thought we would have at Team Kool Green.

This being Michigan, however, I knew we had a chance of getting to the front in what has, since the introduction of the Handford Device rear wing, been a real drafting exercise. The wing we ran this year was a bit of a barn door, and I said before the weekend that I thought it may be a little too much. We knew right from the start that passing would be fairly easy as long as the car handled well. The car felt good in traffic, but I didn't know how ultimately quick it was. So the first stint was a case of wanting to be reasonably aggressive and making sure we didn't get lapped.

I passed quite a lot of people pretty quickly, making sure I stayed out of trouble and not getting caught up in anybody else's accident, while trying to make my way to the front. But what happened was that I wasn't quite quick enough getting to the front, and I lost the tow of the group ahead, which in those circumstances is a disaster.

It happened under pitstops, as they all pitted together, and I pitted on my own. So I lost the tow, and was at the head of the chasing group. The lead group were way ahead towing themselves around 5-7mph quicker. It felt a bit like the Tour de France when someone makes a break! That created a bit of a problem for me, and I got so close at one point to losing a lap. In fact I was passed a couple of times by the leader to go a lap down, but then I passed them back. I had Memo Gidley right there, halfway alongside me... And the yellows came out. That was pretty close...

From that point on we were getting less and less people staying on the lead lap, with people making mistakes or having problems. It was just the way the strategies worked out. Our car was pretty good, the guys had done a great job, all we really did was trim it out during the stops, so we were really happy with the way the car was working.

The biggest moment for me was probably when Max (Papis) and Kenny (Brack) touched. I was right behind them. I was right up on Max's gearbox! So that wasn't an, ahem, 'pleasant' moment... It was huge. Kenny hit the wall right next to me, and just when I thought I was safe, Max was right in front of me going backwards. I guess I was pretty lucky not to get caught up in it. They were probably the quickest two guys on the track, them and Memo, but Memo made a mistake in the pits and was penalised.

Finally we ended up with the big shoot-out at the end. There were 10 laps to go. It really was amazing, just something else. I've had so many messages since, people who'd seen it on TV and people posting really nice things to my website saying how exciting and tense the last laps were. Well, I can tell you it was pretty exciting from where I sat too!

So, 10 laps to go, green flag. Bryan Herta got a really good jump at the restart and got a good gap built up. Michel Jourdain and I had been working well together, and so we just got on with it to try and tow each other to get back up to Bryan. We got into this rhythm where he would pass me on the back straight and I would pass him again on the front straight just before the finish line. Naturally I was pretty happy with that situation, and I'd already locked that information away for lap 249! Michel was welcome to the lead on the back stretch if he wanted...

Then on the last lap, Tagliani came steaming down from nowhere. He was a lap behind, but got in the draft and caught up the group. On the last lap he went round the outside on the high line on Turn Three and cut down across in front of myself and Michel and took all the air off us. And that moment was the first time I'd lifted since the green flag 10 laps earlier! I had been absolutely flat for 10 laps. I had to lift, or I was going in the wall basically. Michel said to me afterwards that he thought it was a miracle he didn't take me out. He was all crossed up as well, and his front wheel was between my two left wheels.

I was pretty pissed off with the move Tagliani pulled. It was one of those deals where no-one knew who was going to win the thing until we came out of the last corner. And I think that guys who are a lap down shouldn't be involved.

At the same time I was pretty happy for Patrick. I'd have been happy if I'd won, obviously! Tagliani's move wasn't Pat's doing. Pat was just driving a great race and Tagliani was the bad guy here, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that Pat won the race.

I crossed the line and didn't have a clue where we were - apart from the fact it wasn't first! On the timing monitors Michel and I were identical on times, down to the thousandth of a second. In the end it was down to a photo finish, and it was two inches we got it by... Good job we've got a thick coat of paint on the nose!

The result moves us right up in the points, up to second and just three points behind Kenny. It would have been nice to have won it, but after a race like that, just to finish is an event in itself.

By Monday I had a big blister on my leg which I promise you is not nice to look at. And that's just from the fact that in the draft there is less air to move the heat from the radiators, and so the tub gets hotter and hotter and burned my leg. I've heard that other drivers had similar problems burning legs and feet and so on. The things we put ourselves through.

It was a good race though, up until Tagliani's run, because everybody behaved themselves, and everyone drove really well. The potential is always there for somebody to make a stupid move and cause a chain reaction. It was great to race for so long side-by-side with different guys, with everybody giving each other room. The only time anybody ever cut you off, or the only time I cut anybody off, was when the car was sliding up to the wall, and you had no option because you were in somebody else's air. Round the superspeedway there's a lot of time that the car's just floating, it's got no downforce, and the whole car is just sliding across the surface sliding towards the wall. You get that as soon as you pick up the draft. For three hours it's pretty hard work.

As I said, so many people have commented on seeing the race on TV, and how exciting it was. After the podium celebrations I spent some time with Bryan Herta, and we had fans come up to congratulate and thank us. 500 miles round there is mentally tiring as a driver, but that sort of response really lifts you. But it seems that's our last race at Michigan.

I really don't know why the crowd gets smaller there each year. It's the most exciting race of the season, yet no-one comes to watch it. I really can't comprehend that. One thing I will say is that there is so much politics being written about CART at the moment that people are overlooking what great racing we're having, and maybe people are put off by that.

We head straight to Chicago for this weekend, a track where I've been pretty competitive in the past. And my engineer Iain Watt won there with Cristiano da Matta last year. We've been competitive pretty much everywhere this year, so all the signs are good. But then this is racing, so you never know. On paper we should be in good shape.

My brother Marino is racing in the Porsche Supercup round supporting the German Grand Prix this weekend, so I'll be keeping an eye on that. He's been racing in the British GT Championship for Porsche this year, and the Porsche guys came up and asked if he wanted to race at Hockenheim. He was like, "Errr, let me think about that..." Couple of milliseconds later: "Er, yes!"

After that he's doing the Spa 24 Hours, so he's a busy boy at the moment. And we also had a strange coincidence last weekend. Perhaps there is a parallel universe? At Donington last week he got put to the back of the grid and then finished second. Sound familiar...?

After Chicago I'm heading home to do some promotion for the Rockingham race. I'm really looking forward to racing in England, and seeing some old friends from the early days of my career there. Even if it's half as exciting as what we had at Michigan you'll still be on your feet.


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