Alex Palou (left) and Dario Franchitti embrace at the Grand Prix of Portland. (IndyCar photo)

It’s The Most Wonderful Race

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s difficult to believe it has been 10 years since Dario Franchitti won his third Indianapolis 500.

With three victories between 2007 and ’12, it appeared Franchitti would become a four-time winner of the Indy 500 before Helio Castroneves.

He never had that chance, however, as a crash during the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston forced the four-time IndyCar Series champion to retire.

Franchitti suffered a serious head injury and head injury specialists told him his next impact could be fatal.

So, the Scotsman retired with the full realization that he had more potential victories in his grasp, but he would never get a chance to fulfill them.

“I wanted the fourth Indy 500 win really, really badly, but it wasn’t to be,” Franchitti told SPEED SPORT. “Things worked out unfortunately. I can sit and get upset that I didn’t get a chance to go for four, but I prefer to think of how fortunate I am to win three and get to do the things I got to do.

“If you told me in 2006 that I would win four IndyCar championships and three Indianapolis 500s, I would have thought you were crazy.”

Franchitti did not compete in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 because he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR competition. Thus, in five Indy 500 attempts, he won three times during that span.

Franchitti appeared destined to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

“I’m humbled just to be mentioned in the same sentence as them,” Franchitti said. “They are my friends, but they are my heroes.

“At the time, all I was interested in was trying to win that race and the next 500 and the next 500. That’s all I was interested in. Looking back at it now, the word that comes to mind is pride. There was a lot of pride there to do that. Every person that I was fortunate enough to work with all feels the same. They wear their Indy 500 winner’s rings with pride.

“Those memories come back every time I turn off 16th Street and drive under the tunnel.”

When Franchitti arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Team Green in 2002, he was unimpressed. But he quickly fell in love with the place and the Indianapolis 500.

Franchitti’s three wins came with two teams — Andretti Autosport in 2007 and Chip Ganassi Racing in 2010 and ’12.

All three races were dramatically different, but all three had one thing in common. Each of Franchitti’s victories ended under caution. The 2007 Indianapolis 500 was halted by rain with Franchitti in the lead after 166 laps.

“In 2007, all through practice I felt we were really quick and I thought Tony Kanaan was really quick,” Franchitti said. “I thought it was going to be a race between Tony and I. We got the car really good through all types of conditions. The Andretti car had an adjustable damper, and it was incorrectly set at the start of the race.

“It was understeering like a pig, so I spent the first half of the race getting the car back in balance. That was the key point. Once the car was back in balance, we were in the battle now.”

Franchitti and Kanaan were on the same strategy when the race was stopped for five hours because of rain with Kanaan in the lead. But at 6:30 p.m. (EST), the race resumed.

By the time the rain came the second time, Franchitti was in the lead with Scott Dixon behind him.

In 2010, Franchitti led 155 of the 200 laps.

“That car was a rocket ship,” Franchitti said. “All of the work at the shop with the team members preparing that car and Chris Simmons on the engineering side, made that car so fast. It wasn’t an easy car to drive. It was twitchy, but it was quick. At one point, I had a half-lap lead. That car had so much pace.”

In 2012, Franchitti battled Takuma Sato during the closing laps. On the last lap, Sato hit the apron and spun while attempting to pass for the lead.

Franchitti took the checkered flag and won his third Indianapolis 500.

“I was still shaking from adrenalin when I crossed the finish line under yellow from that battle,” Franchitti recalled.

It was the final victory of his IndyCar Series career. He competed in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 but crashed on lap 197 of a race won by Kanaan.

In 10 Indianapolis 500s, Franchitti led 329 laps.

“I’d give up championships for another 500 win,” Franchitti said. “With that being my last win, it was a heck of a way to go out. I would have loved to have had a few more attempts with it, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“It’s the most wonderful race in the world to me.”

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