Dario Set To Return
November 18, 2003 | 9:03 A.M. EST
"Andretti Green Racing is really looking forward to having Dario back full-time next season," said Michael Andretti, who owns the team along with partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. "Dario will definitely give Andretti Green and Honda another real shot at winning the series championship because of his technical feedback, his team leadership and obviously his proven ability to win."
With four months of rehabilitation already under his belt, Franchitti is looking forward to completing his recovery and focusing on competing for his first IndyCar Series championship.
"To say I'm eager to get going again would be a huge understatement," said Franchitti, who has 10 major open wheel victories and 11 poles to his credit. "My recovery has been going very well and I know I'm not quite through the process yet, but I really can't wait to get back in an AGR car and work with my guys. I'm working very hard to regain my fitness and I feel like I'm a bit ahead of schedule. I am very focused on getting back to 100 percent."
Franchitti's medical clearance from Dr. Henry Bock, the IRL's director of medical services, is projected to come in mid-January, 180 days after he underwent season-ending back surgery to better address the injuries he suffered.
"Dario is currently weaning out of his brace and is continuing to increase his general physical conditioning," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Terry Trammell, who operated on Franchitti at Orthopedics Indianapolis in July and has been overseeing his recovery. "I would anticipate his healing process to continue normally, in which case he will be able to begin undertaking more vigorous activity in the near future. Once he is healed, his risk of a spinal injury in the future will be no greater than it was before he was injured."
Franchitti made his IRL IndyCar Series debut in 2002 at the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500. Before making the move to the series full-time in 2003, Franchitti logged six CART seasons, finishing in the top-five in the final standings three times and posting three multi-win seasons. His strongest effort came in 1999 when he tied Juan Pablo Montoya in the final standings with 212 points, but lost the championship on a tie-breaker based on Montoya’s seven wins to Franchitti's three.
Honda entered Indy Racing League competition for the first time in 2003 and enjoyed its first series victory with AGR driver Tony Kanaan at Phoenix International Raceway. Andretti Green driver Bryan Herta followed-up Kanaan’s triumph with Honda's second series win at Kansas Speedway behind the wheel of the No. 27 entry on July 6, while teammate Dan Wheldon capped off the season by securing Rookie-of-the-Year honors for Honda during the series finale at Texas Motor Speedway. Prior to entering the IRL, Honda took part in the CART series from 1994 to 2002, where the company won four manufacturers’ championships (1996, 1998, 1999, 2001) and six consecutive drivers' titles (1996-2001).