USA TODAY US Edition
Teammate battles not always civil
The balance can be difficult to strike when a teammate is both the fiercest competitor and a necessary ally.
Understanding and even friendships can develop through the process. Retired four-time series champion Dario Franchitti and former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon reminisce almost lovingly about their early conflicts with the late Dan Wheldon, especially against the context of the ensuing relationships.
Franchitti and his former Andretti Autosport teammates — including Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta in 2003, when Wheldon arrived at 24 — held occasional closed-hotel-roomdoor “fist-banging” sessions, Franchitti said, to calibrate the brash and talented upstart. Dixon had a similar adjustment period with Wheldon when Wheldon left Andretti as series champion after the 2005 season to join the New Zealander at Ganassi.
“We had some pretty good rumbles,” Dixon told USA TODAY Sports. “We would try to hurt the progress of the other car rather than push it in a positive direction. But those years, I think, I learned a lot to help me. And I think even between Dan and I through ’ 07 and ’08 we worked together a lot closer, because we realized, ‘This is stupid. We’re not helping anybody here, especially not ourselves.’
“Maturity has a lot to do with it, but if you also have a couple guys who just don’t get on ... .”
Franchitti and Dixon got on splendidly when the former Andretti driver resumed his IndyCar career with Ganassi in 2009 after a fruitless season away with Ganassi’s NASCAR program. Franchitti’s and Dixon’s driving styles were so similar, Dixon said, that their internal competition allowed Ganassi to push its overall development program further, faster. Franchitti won consecutive titles from 2009 to 2011, with Dixon second, third and third in that span.
“It gets frustrating if you’re not catching the breaks, but I think it depends on the teammates, too,” Dixon said. “Dario and I had a very close relationship and had achieved a fair bit in our career already, so we always welcomed the competition and treated it quite fairly.
“I think a lot depends on the personalities, and that can change it quite a bit.”
It changed a lot for Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junquiera during the 2004 Champ Car World Series season, when the French driver won his first of four consecutive titles. It began, Bourdais recalls, when “Bruno squeezed me a little bit in Denver,” prompting a spin as he tried to avoid contact entering Turn 1.
“After that the game really became a bit rougher,” Bourdais said, “because, OK, well if you’re going to play it that way, then fine. And so we had another where it was kind of the other way around, where he kind of put his nose in Turn 1 at Road America, which really wasn’t enough, and I turned in. And he thought I was just going to do the same thing I had done in Denver, and I didn’t.
“I’m like, ‘Dude. And it’s like game on now.’ So he spun.”