x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Franchitti clinches crown in a three-way thriller

Scotland's Dario Franchitti successfully emerged from one of the closest points races in IndyCar series history to claim the Indy Racing League title on Saturday.

Dario Franchitti in the victory lane after winning the IndyCar drivers' title on Saturday.
Dario Franchitti in the victory lane after winning the IndyCar drivers' title on Saturday.

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA // Scotland's Dario Franchitti successfully emerged from one of the closest points races in IndyCar series history to claim the Indy Racing League title on Saturday, winning the season-ending Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the first caution-free IRL race ever. The 2007 champion - who skipped 2008 to explore NASCAR - held off his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon of New Zealand and Penske Racing's Ryan Briscoe. So on the 10th day of the 10th month of the year, Franchitti's No 10 car reigned supreme over the IRL.

"I can't believe it," Franchitti said. "It all worked out." He sat back and saved fuel over much of the final 50 laps, and when his two fellow contenders pitted late, the title was his. "Congrats to him," Briscoe said. "It hurts." "We were sticking to our strategy," Franchitti said. "Our car was really good at the end." Franchitti finished with 616 points, 11 ahead of Dixon and 12 ahead of Briscoe. Tony Kanaan was fourth and Helio Castroneves fifth, but on Saturday they were afterthoughts. It was a three-man race for the title, and from the very beginning, a three-man race at Homestead, too. Dixon, Briscoe and Franchitti opened a lead of nearly a second and a half by the time the race was 10 laps old and had extended it to 10 seconds by the 30-lap mark. By the time the race was half over, the three contenders were the only ones on the lead lap.

Outside of the three title contenders, the only drama was in the pits: Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon - who have some history, going back to Milwaukee in 2007 when they brushed cars during the race and brushed bodies on pit road after the race - collided again during a pit stop with about 45 laps left, sending both far back in the pack. All the engineering and calculations in the world could not have had anybody thinking that this race would be run without a single caution flag. But it was, and Franchitti could not have been happier about that. "Definitely loving it right now," Franchitti said. "Loving this IndyCar series."

Maybe it was fitting that it was an IndyCar race unlike any other, because it was an IndyCar season unlike any other. Helio Castroneves started the year in court, fighting tax evasion charges, and won the Indianapolis 500 about five weeks after being acquitted. The perennial title contender Tony Kanaan went winless for the first time during his seven full seasons. Danica Patrick's future is unknown, although IRL expects its most marketable driver to stay put "for a reasonably good term," according to IndyCar's commercial division president, Terry Angstadt.

* AP