Three times Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti announced last night that he is to retire immediately from the sport on medical advice. The 40-year old Scot was seriously injured in a crash at the Indycar Houston street race in October, damaging his back and suffering concussion. Doctors had told Franchitti another accident might permanently damage his back, previously injured in a motorcycle crash in 2003 that forced him to miss most of that season’s racing.
Franchitti – a cousin of Force India F1 driver Paul di Resta – started his career alongside fellow Scots David Coulthard and Allan McNish, winning the Formula Vauxhall Junior title in ‘91 and the Formula Vauxhall Lotus championship in 1993 driving for Paul (son of Jackie) Stewart Racing. He was awarded the McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year in ’92, and McLaren’s partners Mercedes found him a drive in German Touring Cars in 1995 after a less successful year in British F3 the previous year. Jan Magnussen — father of McLaren’s new F1 driver Kevin — won the title that year.
It was with Mercedes’ patronage Franchitti made his career-defining move to the USA in 1997, first in CART, then the IRL/Indycars. Dario won no less than four Indycar championships (including three on-the-fly from 2009-2011). Across America’s various forms of top-flight single-seaters, Franchitti ranks equal- highest among non-American winners. He’s also part of an elite group to win three Indy 500s. Only legends AJ Foyt, All Unser Snr and Rick Mears have won four.
Apart from a short and unsuccessful stint in NASCAR in 2008 (and as we know, NASCAR is a dark art catching out many a legend), Franchitti’s time racing in the US was extraordinarily successful with 31 wins across 16 seasons. Remarkably, in 266 races he was on the podium no less than 92 times. 35 poles and 23 fastest laps looks pretty impressive too.
And spectacular. Dario crashed heavily before the start of his 2000 season but is maybe best known — the Indy 500 wins aside — for the two enormous upside-down accidents he suffered in 2007. That and his marriage to Hollywood A-lister Ashley Judd. Franchitti was also extremely close to Dan Wheldon who died following an awful accident at the 2011 Las Vegas season-close. Franchitti won his fourth and final Indycar title when that race was abandoned and dedicated that, and his 2012 Indy 500, win to his friend.
We wish Dario and full and rapid recovery – and we’re sure we haven’t heard the last from a man who loves his cars so much… Here’s the time he took Top Gear on a road trip in his treasured Ferrari F40.