Dario Franchitti is finding the stripped-down driving of NASCAR a rude awakening compared with life in the telemetry-rich IndyCar series where he was champion last season.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “That’s what I wanted, and I’ve definitely got that.”
The Scot has signed with Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates to race full-time in the tin-top series next year and has been familiarising himself with NASCAR ever since – including both types of car, the existing Busch Series vehicle and the controversial and unco-operative “Car of Tomorrow” (COT).
Franchitti, who has been replaced at IndyCar’s Andretti Green Racing team by Hideki Mutoh, has been finding it all a bit of a challenge since his first race in a stock car on 5th October.
This week he got his first taste of the COT at Atlanta Motor Speedway, before switching back to a Busch Series car for a test at Kentucky Speedway and a race in Texas on Saturday.
“Driving the Busch car, I’ve been getting into that,” he said. “The result wasn’t very good in Memphis, but we qualified third and were running right up front all day until we had a problem.”
Any problems with the transition from open-wheel racing are only exacerbated by the nature of the new car, which is designed to cut teams’ costs while also improving safety and competition.
He said: “I think the COT is going to take a bit longer to get comfortable in because it’s so different.
“With the big, high center of gravity there’s just no grip with the thing, so I was kind of thrown off the deep end in Atlanta having never driven a Cup car of any kind. It showed me how far I’ve got to go.”
Ganassi manager Brian Pattie said: “We set up a schedule trying to get him a lot of laps in different cars at different facilities he hadn’t seen before. The main challenge is to understand the way he delivers information.
“He’s always had engineering and the telemetry telling the guys in the garage what was happening before he told them. NASCAR is highly regulated, and telemetry is only allowed during tests. So we’re trying to give him the feedback, telemetry-wise, versus what he’s feeling.”