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Franchitti hopes Toronto will be key to inconstant season

Dario Franchitti, of Scotland, sits in his car before taking test laps for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 auto race at Iowa Speedway, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Newton, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

Race drivers have to deal with a jigsaw puzzle of surfaces when they bring their Indy Cars onto the streets of Toronto of the July 8 Honda IndyCar race. It's part of what makes it interesting, says Dario Franchitti, the Scotsman with the Italian handle who is defending champion on the race.

He's won three consecutive IZOD IndyCar crowns, but this season has been inconsistent at best for Franchitti. Maybe it's new equipment; maybe it's the death of a colleague last season. He has his own puzzle to figure out.

"I enjoy racing in Toronto," he said in an interview. "It's not only a challenging course but Toronto's a great place to hang out.

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"The tarmac in some corners, there might be as many as five different types of tarmac. That's part of the challenge of the Toronto course."

The hot Exhibition Place and Lake Shore Boulevard road course, was more than bumpy from the changes in surface. Franchitti's victory in the Honda IndyCar Toronto test came in a caution-filled race on a course freckled with slippery rubber bits known as marbles thrown off from the racing slicks.

"And it was an absolute wild one," said Franchitti, who finished 0.7345 of a second in front of Scott Dixon, his teammate on the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team. Ryan Hunter-Reay, in the No. 28 Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car for Andretti Autosport, was third. Marco Andretti, the race winner 15 days earlier at Iowa Speedway, was fourth.

By the time last year's Honda IndyCar Toronto race was done, six cars were out due to high-speed contact, though no drivers were hurt. None of the three Canadians in the field finished on the 85th lap with the winner. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., who has signed to drive for with website impresario Go Daddy – taking over from Danica Patrick after she left the IndyCar circuit fort NASCAR – was 14th after 84 laps.

It was a tough 2011season for Franchitti, even though he won the IndyCar championship. He lost good friend and competitor Dan Weldon in a 15-car crash at Las Vegas. He wept as he got out of the car.

This season, his No. 10 Target Ganassi Racing Honda has not been dominant on the IndyCar open wheel circuit. Australian Will Power leads the standings with 274 points. Franchitti is well back in seventh spot with 205. His high point – and the high point for the whole Target team – has been a win at Indianapolis on May 27th, his third at the brickyard. It was an emotional win, and he remembered Wheldon.

But for a man used to being on top, Franchitti's year has not been consistent.

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"It's been up and down," he said. "We struggled a bit out of the gate. In Brazil, we thought we had it worked out, but we didn't.

"Then the last two weeks we've struggled with the grip of the car and the balance."

At the opening race, Franchitti was 13 th , then 10th at Alabama and a dismal 15th at Long Beach. Brazil brought some hope things would improve when Franchitti qualified up front, but the car wound up spinning out. Then came May in Indianapolis, the first oval of the season, and success. When Franchitti was second at the Detroit Grand Prix, the Scot thought he was finally out of the hole. But the team struggled again in Texas. And at Milwaukee last weekend, Franchitti won his 27 th pole in IndyCar racing. He led for 63 laps. But it's a 225-lap event and in the 194 th lap, he made contact with a wall and retired.

This week he's trying to launch again at Iowa Speedway, then he'll have a much-needed two weeks off before coming to Toronto. Having won the past three championships in a row, the Target Ganassi team should be in the mix for the checkered flag every weekend, he says – if they can find consistency.

"The car is completely different this year. The turbos are back. For six years, it was only Honda. Now Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus can compete with each other again..."

The Indy-style open wheel cars that take on the 1.75-mile Honda Indy course July 8 whiz at more than 110 miles a hour – that's more than 178 kilometers an hour for a 2.84 kilometre course that rumbles through surface changes from concrete to black asphalt in 11 turns around the Exhibition Place and Lake Shore Boulevard along the shore of Lake Ontario. It takes approximately 200 construction workers take 39 days to build the course and 21 days to tear it down every year.

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To keep both the drivers and the expected 135,000 spectators safe on the Indy weekend, the Exhibition Place layout course requires more that 2,000 steel-reinforced concrete barriers, each measuring 12 feet long and three feet high (3.65 metres long and .91 metres high). The total length of the blocks spans more than 12,000 feet or about 3,657 metres; and is made using more than 3,900 kilos of concrete. More than 1,200 sheets of fencing surround the track with each fence standing at eight feet high and 12 feet long. The track also features over 1,600 feet – 488 metres – of protective tire wall, each one standing five tires high, and four race car paddocks

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About the Author
Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More


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