Fran­chitti ready for an emo­tional re­turn

The Herald - Herald Sport - - Cricket, Motor Racing -

THE pre­lim­i­nar­ies and pre-sea­son tests have been com­pleted and Indycar’s movers and shak­ers have as­sem­bled at St Peters­burg in Florida for this week­end’s launch of the 2012 Cham­pi­onship. But it prom­ises to be a poignant ex­pe­ri­ence for the par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing Dario Fran­chitti, the Scot who is de­fend­ing his ti­tle, be­cause there will not be a minute of the event where Dan Whel­don’s mem­ory doesn’t loom large over the pro­ceed­ings.

The English driver was killed in a hor­rific crash in Las Ve­gas when the Indy com­peti­tors last joined bat­tle and, un­sur­pris­ingly, men such as Fran­chitti have found it dif­fi­cult to for­get about the grisly cir­cum­stances which sealed his fourth cham­pi­onship, amid a vale of tears.

Thus, the sea­son-opener has turned into a mass trib­ute to Whel­don, in what was his adopted home­town, and where his younger sis­ter, Susie, will drop the green flag and present the win­ner’s tro­phy once the rac­ing has con­cluded to­mor­row evening.

Fran­chitti has strug­gled to cope with the death an­other con­frere, hav­ing al­ready lost one of his best friends, Greg Moore, on the CART cir­cuit in 1999. He said: “There was never that sort of fist-pump­ing mo­ment with all the guys [from Fran­chitti’s Ganassi team] and it won’t hap­pen, be­cause, un­for­tu­nately, when I think about that cham­pi­onship, I think about Ve­gas and I think about Dan. And that is all, re­ally.

“I wanted to get away [in the win­ter]. It was too raw. It is some­thing I went through with Greg and I asked my­self the same ques­tion, ‘do I still want to do this?’ And, yes, I do.”

Such re­silience will be re­quired by the 38-year-old from Bath­gate in the months ahead as he re­gards the 2012 com­pe­ti­tion as one of the most un­pre­dictable in the sport’s his­tory.

On the ev­i­dence of the as­sorted teams’ test­ing, there is pre­cious lit­tle be­tween five or six or­gan­i­sa­tions. Pri­vately, that will be a re­lief to those who gov­ern Indycar, such has been the dom­i­nance of Fran­chitti and his Penske op­po­nent, Will Power, through­out the last two years, with the Scot even­tu­ally re­sist­ing the vol­u­ble Aus­tralian’s charge.

“I think there are as many as 15 cars that are ca­pa­ble of win­ning races and eight or 10 le­git­i­mate cham­pi­onship con­tenders,” said Fran­chitti, who can an­tic­i­pate stern re­sis­tance from the likes of Power, Scott Dixon and the for­mer F1 star Rubens Bar­richello, who has made the State­side switch.

He added: “We have our work cut out for us, but I can’t wait for the sea­son to start. We are go­ing to try to win the first race and, I hate to be bor­ing about it, win the cham­pi­onship by do­ing the best job that we can.”

Once the ac­tion has com­menced, the adren­a­line will kick in and Fran­chitti and Power will re­sume their of­ten frac­tious bat­tle for supremacy. But, for the mo­ment, the fo­cus of the driv­ers re­mains locked on the tristesse-laden scenes from last Oc­to­ber.

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