Franchitti will drive in season-opener

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The Independent Online

Hours after a brutal crash sent him to the hospital with a broken pelvis and brain contusions, Dario Franchitti made a pledge to his team owner.

"The evening of the accident he told me he'd be ready for Homestead," owner Barry Green said. "I knew he'd put everything he had into it."

Now, five weeks later, Franchitti has kept his promise.

The 26-year-old Scot will drive his Honda-powered Team Kool Green Reynard on Friday when practice begins for the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It's the same track where the February 9 accident - caused by a broken suspension part - nearly took last year's second-place finisher in the Championship Auto Racing Team series out of the picture for the 2000 title.

"I'm not surprised," Green said. "Dario is very determined in everything he does.

"It does take a big load off," added Green, whose other driver, Canadian Paul Tracy, was barred from the race in Homestead last year as a penalty for rough driving the previous season. "Missing a race like that can put you in a big hole and it was a big concern for a while.

Franchitti was given the final go-ahead Monday, the second of two days testing his car on the demanding Nazareth Speedway oval in Pennsylvania.

The test was done before Dr Terry Trammell, chief orthopedic consultant to CART.

"He has recovered very nicely from his injuries," Trammell said on Monday. "The rehab he did in Austria pushed him over the top."

Franchitti flew several times the past few weeks to Austria to work on his recovery under the direction of Toni Mathis, a trainer who worked with the young driver when he was racing touring cars for Mercedes in Europe several years ago. Franchitti also worked with therapists in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I feel like the reason I'm ready now is because of the shape I was in before the accident," he said. "I'm probably one of the fittest of the CART drivers."

Asked if he believed his own words about his comeback - even as he lay in pain in a Miami hospital - Franchitti said forcefully, "Yes!"

He recalled a visit from Mario Andretti.

"He told me that when he had a big accident one time, he was showing people he'd be fine because he was able to push his feet forward on the hospital bed. I was doing the same thing the day after the accident," Franchitti said.

"It's good to be back in a car and working with the boys on the team again, getting involved in the banter and getting ready to race."

Now all Franchitti is thinking about is racing for a championship.

"We have a big job ahead of us," he said. "Maybe it's a little bit of handicap that we didn't get to test more because of the injuries. But I'm not looking at it that way. I think the whole team is ready."

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