FORT WORTH — Dario Franchitti doesn’t think Takuma Sato had much choice but to make his failed attempt at a pass for the lead on the last lap of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Franchitti won his third Indy 500 when Sato spun out while on the inside of the Scotsman’s car in Turn 1 and crashed, bringing out a caution and sealing the outcome. Sato had a run on the leader and got beside him going into the corner, and Franchitti said Tuesday that Sato’s car wasn’t fast enough for him to wait until the backstretch or later to make a move.
“Passing at Indy is all about timing,” Franchitti said. “So if he hadn’t made that move, he’d have been so close to me that he would’ve had to lift in [Turn] 1 anyway. His car didn’t look good enough where he could sit on my gearbox through 1 and 2 and get the draft, so had he been that close and backed out of it, he would have probably been too far back to make a move into 3.”
Franchitti was in Fort Worth on Tuesday as part of his Indy 500 victory tour and to promote the Firestone 550K, scheduled for June 9 at Texas Motor Speedway. He said he moved to the inside to block Sato’s run at the start of the last lap and realized he needed to move back up to give the challenger room going into the turn.
“I am watching Sato coming, thinking ‘this is going to be interesting,’” Franchitti said. “I had started to make a defensive move and then realized I was too late and so I pulled out of it — and this is way before the corner — and my focus then is looking to Turn 1, and I can’t go on my normal line when I’m up in the gray area [dirty part of the track], which normally doesn’t end well.
“So I’ve got half my car up where I don’t want to be and I’m thinking I’m going to have to keep it wide open here, and I’m up in the gray with all the dust and crap, and I’m going to have to do that through Turns 1 and 2 if I’ve got any chance at winning this race.”
All of those thoughts came in a matter of seconds, between when the leaders took the white flag and when they entered the corner side by side.
“I saw [Sato] all the way up until the turning point,” Franchitti said. “I knew where he was, plus my spotter was also talking to me, and then I had to start focusing on positioning my car in the corner as high as I could so I didn’t cut him off, but I also didn’t want to get myself too far in the gray. So I was very much concentrating on that.”
After Sato spun, his car hit the back of Franchitti’s, but not enough to make it a two-car crash.
“He lost it pretty early in the corner,” Franchitti said “And he was actually backwards when the contact occurred, so he had already spun.
“I had gone up a position going into the corner and I still wasn’t comfortable, so I moved up even before I turned in. And I’m glad I did because otherwise I think we would have both been in the fence. I think Scott [Dixon] would probably be sitting here today.”
Franchitti said he wasn’t surprised that Sato attempted the pass where he did.
“He’s pretty aggressive,” Franchitti said. “And anyway it’s the Indy 500; it’s the last lap. A lot of guys would have made that move. Tony [Kanaan] made it on a restart earlier and made it stick. Tony showed how to do it. [Sato] made the move and couldn’t make it stick.”
The Firestone 550K will be the first Indy car race on a high-banked oval since Dan Wheldon was killed in a crash in the 2011 season finale at similarly configured Las Vegas. Indianapolis is a 2 1/2-mile oval but is considered a flat track.
“I’m not very comfortable with it, but I will do my absolute best to win the race,” Franchitti said about returning to a high-banked intermediate track. “I’m just not [comfortable] with the whole situation. We’re all coming here to race and I’m here to win.
“I hope that going forward that the series, all sanctioning bodies actually, promoters, teams, the drivers — everybody who works toward coming up with better solutions — can continue to make the sport safer.”
One point of concern has been the design of fences around racetracks. Wheldon’s helmet hit a post in the Las Vegas fence in his fatal accident.
“I would like to see a complete redesign of the fencing,” Franchitti said. “I think a lot of drivers would — a whole new way of doing it.”
Franchitti is, however, pleased that the Fort Worth event has returned to a single full-length race instead of last year’s twin, half-length races held on the same night. Drivers qualified for the first race through time trials, but the lineup for the second race was set by a random draw.
“I actually thought the two races wasn’t a bad concept,” he said. “I just hate drawing my position out of a hat. It would have been great for an all-star race or something like that but not a championship race. Anyway, the good news is it’s back to the 550.”
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.