Franchitti fully focused

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Scottish racing driver, approaching peak of his powers, unhappy with car last year, demands and expects better equipment to achieve championship objective in forthcoming season.

If it sounds like a familiar scenario, it should. But now the attention switches from David Coulthard, in Formula 1, to Dario Franchitti, who begins another pursuit of the CART title at Monterrey, California, on Sunday.

Just as Coulthard's hopes floundered in 2001, so Franchitti was unable to sustain a challenge in the American-based series. The early indications are that Coulthard might again have problems keeping pace with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, but Franchitti's cause could be helped by the defection of the CART champion, Brazil's Gil de Ferran, and his team, Penske, to the rival tour, IRL.

Not that Franchitti is counting on it. CART is less predictable than Grand Prix racing and, as usual, little appears to separate several leading teams. Franchitti and Team Green acknowledge they need to improve their Reynard-Honda before they can even contemplate success. Franchitti said: "Penske was certainly the strongest team last year but I'm not sure they have made it any easier for us. We still have the likes of Ganassi, Newman-Haas and the Players cars, so you can't assume it's going to be a weaker championship. The differences are tiny. Ten cars can be separated by two tenths of a second.

"We have to make sure we get our car right. I was very disappointed last year. The car was not only unreliable but also not fast enough. We had a very frank and open team meeting about it in the Winter. There was a lot of straight talking."

Franchitti may face some of the sternest opposition from within his own camp. Paul Tracy and Michael Andretti complete what only the Americans could term the "winningest'' trio in the championship. At 28, Franchitti is the youngest of the three yet, he contends, mature enough now to handle the kind of tight and tense finish he encountered in 1999, when he was edged out by Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya. "I think that if I had the experience I have now, I would have won the championship in 1999,'' Franchitti said. "My team-mates have a lot of experience but I believe my peak years are ahead of me.''

It was long anticipated that years of Formula 1 lay ahead for Franchitti, but an ill-starred test – for which Jaguar accepted full responsibility – cut off that route and sharpened his focus on CART. ''I have to perform here,'' he said. "If it happens for me in Formula 1, it happens, but I am committed to CART and my target for now is this championship. I've no doubt I could hold my own in Formula 1, but there's no point in even thinking about going there unless you have the opportunity of driving a competitive car.''

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