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Dario Franchitti optimistic and excited about a return to Baltimore

While promoting Sunday's Indianapolis 500, star driver recalls a positive experience at the first Baltimore Grand Prix

By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

9:12 PM EDT, May 21, 2012

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dario Franchitti can't avoid talking about his race team's early season troubles and his hopes of getting his Chip Ganassi Dallara-Honda sorted out in time to win Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

But Monday, while making the rounds with various media outlets, he was just as interested in chatting about the Baltimore Grand Prix, which has had its own troubles. It seems both the IndyCar driver and the race are coming from behind.

"Is everything going well for Baltimore's race now?" Franchitti asked during an interview at the Mayflower Renaissance hotel in Washington, where he was promoting the Indy 500. "I'm really looking forward to coming back there. It was an awesome event, and I loved every minute we spent there."

Wednesday, the city introduced Andretti Sports Marketing as the newest promoters of the second Baltimore Grand Prix to be held Labor Day weekend. Tickets go on sale Monday. Franchitti, who raced for Andretti Green Racing for five years before joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009, has nothing but positive things to say about what Michael Andretti brings to the Baltimore race.

Pointing to the Andretti's penchant for hard work and attention to detail — which has brought the team three championships, including one for Franchitti in 2007 — the driver said the race "is in good hands.

"I think they'll do a top notch job leading that race," Franchitti said. "And I think the way they've stepped in, they're ensuring its future for years to come. It's been amazing that there has been so much trouble getting the event underway this season. That race, the atmosphere there was special from the moment we set foot in the city."

Franchitti finished fourth in the inaugural event.

"Being in the city, all the people were excited about the race," he said. "It was one of the best races we had."

A year ago, drivers compared the atmosphere and crowd enthusiasm to the storied 24 Hours of Le Mans. When Andretti was in town last week, he said the race could turn out to be one of the best street races anywhere. Monday, Mike Hull, managing director for Chip Ganassi Racing, said much the same thing.

"The city impressed us," Hull said. "And the people who came, you could tell many of them hadn't been to a race. They were inquisitive and curious. They were willing to spend a long time looking at the cars and talking about them. It was refreshing. The thing you could tell was that Baltimore has real sports fans."

Hull, like Franchitti, is perplexed by Baltimore's post-race troubles, which included the first sanctioning group (Baltimore Racing Development) failing to pay its bills and a second group (Downforce Racing) disintegrating. But both Hull and Franchitti said they feel good about the race's future.

"I think the fact Michael has stepped up to the plate, you can tell he and his group have a great deal of passion and want to broaden the appeal of the IndyCar Series," Hull said. "I think it clearly shows how dedicated they are to the sport and to making that race a success."

Franchitti sees his own race team in much the same light. This has not been the season the four-time and defending champion was expecting. And while he's not embarrassed by the slow start that has him 10th in the standings, 98-points behind leader Will Power — who won the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix — he is definitely irritated.

"It's frustrating, and occasionally I get angry about it," said Franchitti, who will start 16th Sunday. "We're here to win. I think what we're going through shows how difficult it is to get it right — and I think the team didn't get enough credit for what it has been able to do when it did get it right.

"What we've done so far, it's not good enough. But everyone on the team is working hard. This team has won four championships. If I'm going to be in this position, I want to be with them. It stings them as much as it does me."

Franchitti has won the Indy 500 twice, once for Andretti in 2007 and once for Ganassi in 2010. Despite the early season headaches with the new car and new engines the Scot said he believes he can do it again Sunday.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I can win — but it will be more difficult from 16th."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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