Frankly Franchitti (updated)

Autosport.com's columnist Dario Franchitti finally sees luck turn his way at Cleveland on Sunday

Frankly Franchitti (updated)

Dario Autosport/Cleveland


A win at last, I'd almost forgotten how good it feels. It's really nice to get that win out of the way, it's been a while... Too long, obviously! As I've said here before, at Team Green we've had a winning car already at most of the races this season, we've just not, for one reason or another, been able to turn that into a result. And that makes this win all the more satisfying, because for once luck was on our side. My first thought as I crossed the finish line was "Wow! Nothing went wrong there! We made it!" I think relief is the word. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season, and just getting on with it.

Cleveland is a track I enjoy, although it hasn't always been kind to me. It's one of those places where you can really attack the track, and it's so wide that it's possible to get some passing in.

Sunday was one of those days. We were just passing as many cars as we could coming through from the back. It was just a case of taking advantage of every small thing. As soon as I got clear track in front of me, I really went for it. My car was also very good on cold tyres, so I made sure that both my in-laps and out-laps really counted. I think my fastest lap was actually on one of my in-laps.

The weekend didn't start off so well, we were fifth in both sessions on Friday, but we improved things for Saturday morning. Then the rain came for qualifying, or should I say for our qualifying session. It had been dry for the 'slower' group's session. I wasn't particularly upset when I saw the rain come... It's one of those things and it happened. Generally, being in the 'faster' group we get the advantage of running in a better track conditions. For once it rained, and it put our group at a big disadvantage.

My guys did a very good job in that they got me on slicks very early in the session. I got on the radio pretty quick as I could see the track was pretty near dry. We got one semi-good lap although my team mate Michael Andretti got in the way a bit. He was also trying to get his one lap in, so we were both scrambling for some kind of time. Then it rained again. We were close to getting in the top half, but at the end of it all we were 14th.

After qualifying I didn't feel we'd been screwed over or whatever, you have to accept that that's the way it'll go sometimes. I thought Mauricio did a good job actually. I said to him that I thought even if it hadn't have rained I think people would have had a pretty hard time matching his time. I'd watched his lap on TV, and it was a good one. I think he'd have certainly been in the top five anyway.

The start... With the start/finish line on a runway, more than two dozen cars spread across a 200 foot wide straightaway funneling into a hairpin, Cleveland's starts are notorious for incidents at the first corner, and with me starting slap bang in the middle of the pack I knew that anything could happen. We didn't have any cones this year which was a bit of a bonus, and it meant we could use the whole road. I didn't get a particularly brilliant start out of the last corner. As I was exiting the chicane, the guys on the front row were already hard on the power. I went down the outside into Turn One, and I made up a load of places. I turned in pretty late to give everyone plenty of room, but then I saw somebody spinning Tony Kanaan out, and because of that, the guys between him and myself all started to split to go either side of him. Basically, because I was on the outside, each successive guy that went wide pushed me wider. Ultimately I had the choice of driving into somebody, or going onto the grass! I went for the grass option, but because it was wet it took me an age to get back on the track, by which point I was stone last...

So we decided to pit to top off the fuel, a splash of a couple of gallons, and I managed to stall it there. That's happened before when I tried to leave the pits on warm tyres. I switched off the old pitlane limiter again and we seemed to have no problems the second time, so I think someone was kidding me when they told me they'd taken it off the car... But it didn't cost us any positions, so the luck was running with us. From there I was coming through the field pretty well. I had a couple of near misses, one when Paul's engine went, and the other was with Christian Fittipaldi. I got a really good run on him coming out of Turn One, and I went to make a move, and he saw it and made his move across to block me. So I made another move and he did the same again, but I'd got such a good run, that when he moved I hit him up the back! It was halfway up the straight... He later came up to some of my crew and apologised, it was just one of those things where we were both racing hard. That's where I got the tasty tyre marks on the nose of the car!

We made really good fuel mileage with the Honda engine up to the first proper stop, and by then we were around sixth, and that's when I realised that things were actually looking pretty good. As we got towards the second stop, Memo Gidley was in front on a conventional three-stop strategy, so we felt that it was really just Bryan Herta and myself that were going to be the guys racing because the others would have to pit again. My team were telling me that Bryan was the one I had to worry about. So I was having to save a lot of fuel yet at the same time trying to keep ahead of Bryan. We actually had a really good race, he passed me a couple of times, and I passed him back. Then he got by me during the pit-stops, but I got him back as we left the pits, it was great fun. It was good clean racing, and I really enjoyed it, and he said he did as well.

After the last stop we were obviously watching the fuel mileage, but my guys kept telling me they needed more and more help on the mileage, that to get to the end of the race I had to get better numbers. And I'm sitting there thinking "How the hell am I going to do that, and keep Bryan behind??" For a moment I felt as if I was back in my Formula Vauxhall days in the early 1990s, driving home from races on the M6 Motorway in England. Back then I had to pay for my own fuel, so naturally I learned then to how to drive economically!

Bryan's challenge faded when he spun, so I was comfortable for a bit - at least until I saw Memo, in only his second race for Ganassi, leaving the pits having made his final stop! I had about an eight second lead by the time he got up to speed, and there were about 10 laps to go - and of course he now had a full tank of fuel. Cleveland is one of those tracks that you're on the straight so much, and you're on full power, that when you're saving fuel it really hurts you.

So he's coming on, guns a-blazing, and in front of me Tony Kanaan and Michael were having a bit of a race, and they were holding me up. It was only half a second a lap, but at that point it was pretty critical! And I couldn't use the fuel to pass them or I wasn't going to make the end of the race. Eventually, they both pulled over for me no problem, and then Memo got held a bit, and that was a big help for me.

Then it was just case of trying to make sure Memo didn't get any closer, and making sure I got across the finish line without running out of fuel. I was pretty confident we could do it, but there is always that little bit of error in the calculations, so you can never be 100% sure, and you're always better to be on the cautious side. I'm told there was about a gallon left, or about half a lap's worth... One of the journalists after the race said that my team boss Barry Green was interviewed in the final laps saying that he hoped we'd do it, and it was pretty close, but that they'd lost the telemetry, so they were doing it by a little bit of guesswork. Well that was the first I'd heard about that! I can asure you, they never mentioned that to me in the car...

As I said, everything fell right for us. Really, it was very good that it went that way after a lot of bad luck, or whatever. Everything at Cleveland fell our way. It was definitely a good day.

There's been races this year where I felt I've driven as well as I did at Cleveland, if not a little bit better, yet we ended up with an eighth place or whatever at the end of the day. But it was a good race, and certainly any race you win you've got to do everything well, and I think the guys at Team Kool Green team worked well. But as I say, I think we've done that a number of times this year. But for Long Beach, we've had a car capable of winning every weekend. However, we didn't put it all together until Sunday in Cleveland.

And now we're in third place in the championship too, which is really good. We're going to keep charging as we keep trying to catch Kenny Brack. We've taken a lot of points out of him in the last couple of races. Now we can carry some momentum into the next section of the schedule, beginning with Toronto. We've had a lot of success there in the past, and we're looking forward to improving our success rate in two weeks time. We'll certainly keep working on it.


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