Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Dario's Back Is Healthy, So Dario's Back
It was the pace lap of the Indianapolis 500. "The most difficult thing was watching the cars roll off for the start of the 500 with my car on the front row," he grimaced. "That was pretty tough."
Because of a broken back, suffered in a motorcycle accident last April, and the subsequent surgery, Franchitti missed 13 of 16 races -- including Indy, where Robby Gordon took his place at Andretti Green Racing.
That's why the 30-year-old Scotsman can't wait for 2004 to get started.
"This will be my seventh year with this team and we've got all the right equipment, the backing from Honda, the engineering staff and everything we need to win races and challenge for the championship," said Franchitti, who came to America in 1997 and was signed by Barry Green in 1998.
"Your desire is always to win races and championships but in the IRL you've got the added extra of Indianapolis." In January's open test at Homestead, Fla., Franchitti didn't require many laps to get up to speed and turned the fifth-fastest lap of the two days in his ArcaEx Dallara/Honda.
"It felt so good to be back. It was really nice being in the car, just driving again," he observed. "The ArcaEx car was very good these past couple of days. We've got a little bit of work to do yet before the race, but we're certainly going in the right direction.
"All of our [Andretti Green] guys [including Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta] seemed to be pretty quick. It's hard to really tell what everybody's got until you're qualifying or in the race. But, I think we're pretty happy with where we are. It just shows the kind of preparation that the Andretti Green team put in at the end of last season and also through the winter."
Franchitti's preparation required more down time than he's ever experienced.
"I didn't think my injury was that big a deal and I figured I might miss one race at the most," he continued. "But after Dr. [Terry] Trammell looked at my X-rays, he told me I'd be out for at least 10 weeks and that was a shock.
"It was pretty devastating to miss Indianapolis."
Following some stringent physiotherapy, Franchitti made his return at Pikes Peak, where he qualified seventh and finished fourth in a 225-mile grind that left him a little sore but real satisfied.
"It was important for me to go out there and be competitive," he recalled.
But another visit to Dr. Trammell proved to be the end of the season.
"He said I could drive the car, no problem, but it was pretty risky because if I had another crash it could be a pretty nasty situation," said Franchitti. "So we decided not to take any more chances and to have the operation.
"And having already come back and been racing at the front certainly made it easier to make the decision to go into the hospital."
His recovery period made it possible to spend more time with wife Ashley and catch up with old friends like Kanaan, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi.
"It was good fun because I got to go to Oulton Park for the Formula Renault race, the DTM finale at Hockenheim and Tony's wedding, where they held a go-kart race the next day and saw Jimmy and Alex.
"I love to watch racing, regardless of what kind it is. It's the next best thing to being in the car. But I've done enough watching lately. I can't wait to get this season started."