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Franchitti: Milwaukee race may be preview of New Hampshire event

Posted by Matt Pepin, BostonGlobe.com Staff  June 21, 2011 07:50 PM

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Dario Franchitti (center) won Sunday's Milwaukee 225. Graham Rahal (left) was second, and Oriol Servia was third. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)




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Editor's note: Through a special arrangement with New Hampshire Motor Speedway
and Chip Ganassi Racing, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will blog exclusively on Boston.com throughout the IndyCar season, with extra entries around the series' event at New Hampshire Aug. 14.

I hope you all got to see the great race the IZOD IndyCar Series put on Sunday in Milwaukee. I'm hoping it'll be quite similar to what youíll see in August when we come to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The tracks are very similar flat mile ovals. They demand some of the same things from the driver and the car. They require similar styles of racing, and I can only hope that works out as well for us there as it did in Sundayís win at Milwaukee.

But itís not going to be easy, thatís for certain. From the driverís perspective, youíve got to be prepared to compromise in the car. When the car is good, youíve got to take advantage. When itís bad, youíve got make it do what you want it to do. And many times the car can be good and bad over the course of a single lap, or the course of time between pit stops.

Sunday was a classic example of that. For the first half of a stint, the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda was very strong. But as the laps wore on between stops, it began to get more difficult to handle. The same goes for areas of the track. In Turns 1 and 2, the car was good. In Turns 3 and 4, not quite so good.

My closest competitor for much of the race, Tony Kanaan, faced a different set of challenges. His car was better at the end of a stint, so as I was starting to slide around, he was able to gain ground. Where I was good in 1 and 2, he wasnít quite as good, so I would have an advantage. But then he would be good in 3 and 4, where I wasnít.
Thatís what racing on a flat mile is like. Itís such an enormous challenge. It might even be more of a challenge at New Hampshire, since the straights are longer and the corners are tighter.

Experience helps on the short ovals. Once you get the feeling in the car that you want on a short track, you can keep going back to it. You begin to understand and anticipate what the car is going to do. You know how itís going to react. You start to know instinctively when the tires are going to go off, and how to get the most out of the car when they do.

Winning on a short oval is about the ability to drive to the limit while compromising. You canít expect it to be perfect from start to finish or at every spot on the racetrack. When itís not perfect, you have to be able to back off and still get the most out of the car. That goes for the whole run as well as just one lap.

Racing on a short oval is also very taxing on the drivers. In qualifying and the race, everyone was making a big deal about the cars being loose. When you look at NASCAR on a short oval Ė or, better yet, the USAC Silver Crown cars that raced at Milwaukee during the weekend Ė you see theyíre sideways all the time. When we go through the turns, we donít slide nearly that much.

Weíre pulling 3.5 to 4 Gs through every turn compared to their 1 to 1.5 Gs. The big difference is that when an Indy car breaks away, we're going upward of 50 mph quicker. Due to the massive G-forces, the slide happens much, much faster and is therefore harder to catch.

While we're experiencing those heavy Gs, we're constantly battling other drivers. Everybody was fighting for the same line, the same piece of tarmac during Sundayís race. A few years ago, a new asphalt strip was added to the low side of the groove. At first it was very grippy, but as it has aged, it has became quite slippery.

So we were all trying to race in that single lane between the asphalt and the marbles. Everybody was fighting over a spot on the track that was just a bit wider than one car. And as all that is happening, we were coming up on lapped traffic. Youíll see how much traffic plays a role at New Hampshire. It gets very busy on a mile oval.

Itís all very challenging, but thatís one of the great things about IndyCar racing. You have to figure it all out in order to win. Itís fun when the car is working well and everything is going your way, but when itís not going your way, it can be terrible.

Short tracks can be quite fickle. Tony is proof of that. He was very fast, but his crash was a good example of how close to the limit weíre driving these things. Weíre on a tightrope all the time. If you go just slightly beyond that limit, you get caught out. Fickle also applies to what happened to my teammate, Scott Dixon, who also was fast, but again was an innocent victim in someone else's drama.

Sometimes you can be very fast and not have things go your way. On Sunday, we were very fast and fortunate enough to have everything fall into place.

It's about a lot of different things at once. Thatís the beauty of short-track racing. Now we're off to Iowa for a Saturday night race. Look it up on Versus. You won't be disappointed.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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