Driveless Franchitti can take his pick of American racing series

By Andy Darley

CalendarThursday, July 3rd, 2008

 
 

It’s alright for some – while several IndyCar teams struggle for sponsorship or dream in vain of adding a second car, Chip Ganassi would apparently only need to snap his fingers to put Dario Franchitti into a funded race seat.

Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon are currently first and third in the championship race, and the team also teamed up with Rahal Letterman to give development driver Alex Lloyd an outing in the Indy 500.

But the team owner is a much less important player in the world of stock car racing, where the failure to find a sponsor for Dario Franchitti’s first NASCAR season has led to an early end to his Sprint Cup challenge.

What to do next with the reigning IndyCar champion is a question doubtless causing some head-scratching at Chip Ganassi Racing – probably the best option for the team would be his continuing to acclimatise to NASCAR in the Nationwide series, where his car has funding.

But Ganassi’s co-owner Felix Sabates said there could be a return route into the Indy Racing League if Franchitti wanted it – with a newly-funded car.

He told interviewer Claire B. Lang on XMSN’s ‘Dialed In’ show that Chip Ganassi Racing would honour its contract with the Scot – but it was up to him to tell them what he wanted to do next.

He said: “Dario had a hard time with it. He made a change from the Indy Racing League to come here. But truth of the matter is that he needs more seat time. We gave him an option to go in the Nationwide car because we do have a sponsor.

“He’s going to decide what he’s going to do in the next few days and maybe he’ll be racing in Chicago [the next Nationwide Cup race]. I hope he does get in the Nationwide car – he’s a very talented driver and if he gets a few more months under his belt maybe we can get a sponsor for next year and we can go racing next year.”

But if he doesn’t choose NASCAR, a return to the IRL would present no problems: “Chip pretty much told him if he wanted to go to back to Indy – because it doesn’t cost near as much money there as it does here, and over there Chip is the Rick Hendrick of over here – he can get a sponsor for an IRL car very easily.

“So he’s got his choice – if he wants to drive the Nationwide Car – get some more experience, maybe we’ll get a sponsor for next year or go back to the IRL – it’s up to Dario – he has a contract and we intend to honour it.”

He said the sponsorship situation had come about because long-term supporter Coors had changed its priorities unexpectedly during the off-season, despite having indicated they would be on board this year.

The cost was more than 70 lost jobs – and the end of Franchitti’s season.

Meanwhile his former team in the IRL, Andretti Green, made a pitch for him to join their American Le Mans Series operation where the newly-signed Franck Montagny neads a team-mate. Co-owner Kim Green said: “We have a lot of respect for Dario, and he did a great job in our sports car last year. If he approached us, we would be listening, absolutely. He’s a longtime member of the Andretti Green family, and there’s an awful lot of friends here.”

The man himself is taking his time over what to do next. Top of the list would be making a success of NASCAR, where his performance so far in an underfunded car has been less than stellar.

“Let’s see what the future holds,” he said. “I really just need to sit with Chip and see where his head is. But NASCAR is where I want to be. I want to be successful here and I certainly don’t want it to end like this. I made a big commitment coming over here and I’d like to get in an opportunity to be successful.”

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