For Dario Franchitti, this weekend’s Rolex Sports Car Series round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has given the rapid Scot a whole new view of Daytona Prototype racing.
After competing in the Rolex 24 eight times, including an overall victory in 2008, the three-time Indy 500 winner makes his first DP start outside of Daytona, teaming with IndyCar teammate Scott Dixon in the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-BMW.
“I was surprisingly quick, actually,” Franchitti told Sportscar365. “I looked at Memo [Rojas’] in-car from last year and thought, ‘This thing actually looks quite quick around here.’ I talked to [engineer] Chris Simmons about the number of downforce for Daytona vs. here and I was shocked at how much the downforce level is here.”
When compared to the high banks of Daytona, when cars are trimmed out for straight-line speed, the added downforce needed for the twisty 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit provides a significantly different feel to the car, according to the open-wheel veteran.
“It drives a lot better,” Franchitti said. “It has more grip. It stops better. It turns better. Laguna is traditionally a low grip surface but I’ve enjoyed it so far. We’ve struggled a bit with the car in both the sessions but we’ve got it working quite well for qualifying.”
Franchitti qualified the No. 02 machine in fourth for today’s penultimate round of the season, with teammates Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the midst of the closest title race in DP history. Could the 02 car play a helping hand in securing the drivers and teams championship?
“It was made clear when Chip asked us if we wanted to do this, he said, ‘Look, we’re going there to win.’ If we can, we will,” Franchitti said. “But the bigger picture is the 01 guys winning the championship. If there’s any way we can help them.
“If we’re running 1-2 or 3-4, whatever that is, that may become an issue later in the race. But messing with other competitors, that’s just not the way we go racing.”
As for his sports car racing future, Franchitti is hopeful for more outings next year in what will become the United SportsCar Racing series, particularly at the classic enduros, schedule permitting.
“The IndyCar season finishes pretty early,” he said. “That would be up to Chip. If the chance is there, absolutely. With Daytona and Sebring…I always want to do Sebring but it wasn’t possible this year. But with the joint series, the chance might be there to do it with Chip and Scott [Dixon]. We’ll see what happens.”