Dario Franchitti is a former British racing driver who left a great mark in the North American motorsport. He is the four-time IndyCar Series champion (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011), three-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2007, 2010, 2012) and Daytona 24 Hours winner (2008).
In total, he recorded 265 starts in North American premier open-wheel competitions (Champ Car, Indy Car), scoring 31 victories, 89 podiums and 34 poles.
Progress through single-seaters
George Dario Marino Franchitti, what is his full name, was born in Bathgate, Scotland, in May 1973. During his studies at Stewart Melville’s College, Franchitti became interested in karting and had won the Scottish Junior Championship in 1984. A year later, he became the British Junior Championship winner and successfully defended his crown in 1986. Finally, in 1988, Dario Franchitti won the Scottish senior karting title.
That was enough to secure him a place in the Junior Formula Vauxhall in which he had won the title in 1991. The following year, he moved up to Formula Vauxhall Lotus, joining Paul Stewart Racing team. In his rookie year, he was fourth in the overall standings and was named McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year. Staying with the team in 1993, Franchitti won the championship title, and was ready to make further progress in his career.
Racing in DTM and ITC
In 1994, Dario joined British Formula 3 Championship and had a solid season, winning one race and finishing fourth overall. Surprisingly, that was his last single-seaters season in Europe as he moved to the German DTM series where he became a driver of AMG Racing’s Mercedes C-Class. In the same time, Franchitti competed in the International Touring Cars Championship and had a considerable success in both competitions.
Debut in the CART World Series in 1997
When International Touring Cars was demised, Mercedes had sent Franchitti to Hogan Racing team in CART Championship in 1997. His first season in the series was not impressive as he finished ninth overall. The following year, as a driver for Team Green which later became Andretti Motorsport, Franchitti did much better. He won five pole-positions, scored three victories and finished third in the overall classification.
Dario Franchitti was one of the title contenders in the 1999 CART Series season. But, he had to settle with second place, losing the battle to the rookie Juan Pablo Montoya after one of the closest seasons ever. Both drivers scored 212 points, but the Colombian had more wins and won the trophy. The title was not the only thing Franchitti lost that year. His close friend Greg Moore was killed in a crash during the last race of the season at California Speedway.
Dario Franchitti himself also had a heavy crash the following year during pre-season testing in 2000 which caused him to underachieve heavily and finish only 13th overall. In the following two seasons, the Scot managed to win four races; he finished 7th overall in 2001 and 4th in 2002, his final year in the CART Championship.
IndyCar - Preparations for success
IndyCar was Franchitti’s next destination. The first season was not so memorable, as he missed most of the races in 2003. The following year, driving for Andretti Green Racing, Dario won his first IndyCar race at Milwaukee Mile. Afterwards, he scored another at Pikes Peak and finished 7th overall. In 2005, Franchitti scored a number of wins, but at the end of the season assumed the 4th position. It was expected that Franchitti could enter the battle for the crown in 2006, but he failed to win a single race and finished 8th overall.
The first Indy 500 win and IndyCar title in 2007
Despite Dario not being very successful in the previous season, Andretti Green Racing decided to keep Franchitti in the team in 2007 which proved to be the perfect decision. The Scot won the famous Indianapolis 500 for the first time and scored three more victories that season, which was enough to win the first IndyCar title, beating Scott Dixon from New Zealand by 13 points. Franchitti’s success was even bigger knowing that he survived two huge crashes that year, at Michigan and Kentucky. His car flipped upside down both times, but Dario luckily avoided major injuries.
Interestingly, in 2008, Franchitti decided to test himself in NASCAR. He drove several races for Chip Ganassi Racing, but the result was far below the expectations and Dario concluded that IndyCar is better suited for him.
Three consecutive IndyCar championship titles
He returned to IndyCar series but stayed with Chip Ganassi Racing team. The comeback was extremely successful as Franchitti won his second championship title, scoring five wins and the same number of pole positions. At the end of the season, he was just 11 points ahead of the runner-up and again it was Scott Dixon.
Franchitti successfully defended his crown in 2010, scoring three race wins (Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio, and Chicago) and clinching the title by being only five points ahead of the Australian racer Will Power who was the championship leader before the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Scot won his third-in-a-row and fourth overall IndyCar title in 2011, again as a driver of Chip Ganassi Racing. The first half of the year went perfectly well for the champion and he won four out of nine races. In the second half, Will Power again was the main threat to Franchitti’s ambition, but despite failing to score another victory, the reigning champion was in good form and stayed at the top of the standings until the end, finishing the season 18 points ahead of Power.
Huge crash and the end of the racing career
That was the peak of Franchitti’s career. In 2012, he had won Indianapolis 500 for the third time, but that was his only victory that season in which he was 7th in the final standings. The following year, Dario had five pole positions but failed to claim a win and his downfall in the championship continued as he finished the season 10th in the Drivers’ championship. During the final lap of the penultimate race of the season in Houston, Franchitti had a huge crash. His car went airborne and flew into the catch fence. Thirteen fans were injured by the flying debris, and Franchitti was seriously injured. He had a spinal fracture, right ankle fracture and a concussion. Due to these injuries and considering injuries he suffered previously, doctors told Franchitti that he risked permanent paralysis if he continued to race. Dario then decided to retire from competitive racing but remained involved in the sport as a competition director in Chip Ganassi Racing.
Video - Dario Franchitti's career-ending crash
Victory at 24 Hours of Daytona
During his racing career, aside from CART, IndyCar and NASCAR, Dario Franchitti also participated in the V8 Supercars, American Le Mans Series and Rolex Sports Car Series. In 2008, driving alongside Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, he had won 24 Hours of Daytona, driving a Lexus-Riley.
In 2014, Dario Franchitti was appointed the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services in motor racing. Dario’s older brother Marino is also a racing driver and he is a cousin of another well-known Scottish racer Paul Di Resta.