Team­mate bat­tles not al­ways civil

- Brant James

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.”

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