As the IZOD IndyCar Series heads north of the U.S. border for the Honda Indy Toronto, Dario Franchitti--the current IndyCar champion and now three-time Indianapolis 500 winner--is looking for the kind of mojo that customarily finds him in this city's Victory Lane.
The Toronto street course is particularly one to his liking, as the Scot earned pole position on the tricky track at Toronto's Exhibition Place on his first visit.
"I've always loved racing in Toronto" Franchitti said. "It started off in 1997 when I was driving for Carl Hogan and had a pretty good start there, getting my first pole position. I've always enjoyed the track and the challenge of the bumpy surface and multiple surface changes--and I definitely love the fans out there. I think it's something to do with the fact that it's quite a big Scottish and Italian expat community… "
As the defending winner of this race, Franchitti has a bullseye (how appropriate as he drives for Team Target) on him as the man to beat. It hasn't been the most competitive season for Franchitti, though, as he went out of the last race before it even started when his Honda engine imploded on the final pace lap--from pole position. The four-time champ was done before the green flags and left Iowa Speedway sitting eighth in the points standings.
He knows he's got to step it up if a fourth-straight championship is in the cards and the engine problem, along with a suspension at Milwaukee has made life difficult--of course Franchitti isn't the only one dealing with the difficulties of having new cars and three engine manufacturers this year.
"I think as all manufacturers come to terms with trying to get as much power out of these motors as possible, I think all three have had failures," he said. "We've had some engine issues; we've also had a suspension breakage so we are still--all teams are coming to terms with the new cars and the engine manufacturers are owing to terms with the new specs, too. I think that adds to the excitement of it."
Last year's Honda Indy Toronto was a wild one where Franchitti and perennial rival Will Power came together. A good deal of discussion ensued after the race was done and Franchitti believes that, "in a lot of ways that was good. I think it showed the fans the passion that the teams and the drivers have for what we do. We have kind of almost kept that passion too hidden, maybe, and it was definitely out in the open. That was good."
While he had a tough time getting to know the new Dallara DW12 earlier in the 2012 campaign, Franchitti said the car "has actually exceeded my expectations. I think it's raced quite well. All the drivers would love to see more power," he said. "I think the only way you're going to find that is either allowing more turbo boost or a bigger displacement motor. I think it's definitely done a better job than I thought it would."
This weekend marks the return of push-to-pass, but the exact parameters haven't been laid out yet by INDYCAR. Like everyone else in the paddock, Franchitti is looking forward to having more boost available on his Honda engine and he expects to be using it down the back straight that leads to the always treacherous Turn 3: "I think you're going to see more guys trying outside passes, because when the car in front goes to defend, that's the only way to go and that's outside. With the push-to-pass and the momentum that will give the trailing car--providing the car in front doesn't use it--that's going to give some serious momentum.
"Plus the draft, you're going to see more outside attempts at passes there," in the third turn. "That's when kind of a gray area forms, because it's one thing defending to the inside but the one thing we don't need is the cars who are defending coming back across into the path of the car who's trying to make an outside pass… " The scenario sounds pretty normal for Toronto, especially to Franchitti, who thinks this race "is going to be the usual crazy, physical, action-packed race in Toronto."