TORONTO – Dario Franchitti needs to make a move soon if he's going to get back into the IndyCar points race this season. A big result in Toronto on one of his favorite tracks could give him the boost he needs.
Franchitti enters this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto eighth in the driver's standings with 216 points, 70 behind leader Will Power. But he's the defending champion at the Toronto street track near the city's Exhibition grounds and has won the race two of the past three years.
He'll be looking for another win to close in on some of his rivals, including local favorite James Hinchcliffe.
"I've always loved racing in Toronto," the Scotsman said. "It started there in 1997 ... getting my first pole position. I've always enjoyed the track and the challenge of the bumpy surface and the multiple surface changes there.
"I definitely love the fans up there. There's quite a big Scottish and Italian expat community up there, so it's always been fun to race there and I'm definitely proud of the wins I have."
Franchitti also won the event in 2009, when the race returned from a one-year hiatus, and 1999. His three titles in Toronto are the third most in the history of the race, dating back to 1986. American Michael Andretti holds the record with seven victories.
It's been a mercurial season for Franchitti, who became the 10th driver in history to win three Indianapolis 500 titles in May, but he and his Target Ganassi Racing team have struggled in other races. Leading into Toronto he took the pole at both the Milwaukee IndyFest and the Iowa Corn Indy 250, but failed to finish either race. Engine troubles during pre-race practice laps kept him out of Iowa completely.
"We're still definitely mathematically in (the overall title race) which is somewhat surprising given some of the mechanical failures we've had and some of the issues we've had this year. But we're definitely still in the fight and we'll be fighting all the way to the finish."
Hinchcliffe should be the fan favorite on the weekend as the Oakville, Ontario, native looks for his first victory on the circuit. Despite not claiming a checkered flag, Hinchcliffe has put together a consistent season with seven top-six finishes in nine races and sits fifth in the overall standings with 256 points.
"He's done an outstanding job in my opinion," Franchitti said. "He's made very, very few mistakes on the track. I'm very impressed with him."
The pressure will be on Hinchcliffe to not only win his first race and move up in the standings, but to give fans in Toronto their first Canadian champion since Toronto's Paul Tracy won in 2003.
Franchitti said he remembered the pressure his friend Greg Moore used to face when driving in Canada. The driver from British Columbia died in a crash during a race in the 1999 CART racing season.
"I'm sure the guys in the Canadian press and the Canadian fans want a home win and they're going to put a lot of pressure on James to deliver," Franchitti said. "I used to see that with (Moore) too, the pressure on Greg in Toronto and Vancouver — especially Vancouver was just obscene — to deal with that I think was very tough.
"If James can put that out of his head and get on with it he'll be just fine. But my job is to try to close that gap a little bit between him and Will and those guys and do my job."
Franchitti's win in Toronto last year was not without controversy. Franchitti made contact with Power in Turn 3 of the 57th lap, sending the Australian's car into a spin. Franchitti went on to win the race, and the overall title by just 18 points over Power. The incident led to sharp words between the two rivals after the race.
"I don't want to put words in (Power's) mouth, but I think we now realize we both had our part in that accident and we've definitely moved on."
Franchitti said he won't shrink away from confrontation in the future. In fact, he sees a little friction as being good for the sport.
"There was definitely heated discussions after several races last year and I think in a lot of ways that was good," he said. "I think it showed the fans the passion that the teams and the drivers have for what we do."