New champion Dario Franchitti left numb over Wheldon loss
|By Simon Strang and Charles Bradley
||Sunday, October 16th 2011, 23:20 GMT
Newly-crowned IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti described himself as 'numb' and 'speechless' over the loss of his former team-mate and friend Dan Wheldon, who died from injuries sustained in an accident in the championship finale at Las Vegas on Sunday.
Franchitti raced alongside Wheldon at Andretti Green for three years between 2003 and 2005, before competing against him when Wheldon switched to Ganassi, then Panther Racing and most recently Bryan Herta Autosport and Sam Schmidt Motorsports (which he was racing for at Las Vegas).
"One minute we're joking around at the driver intros and the next Dan's gone," he told AUTOSPORT. "I told his son Sebastian today that I've known his dad since he was about six years old, we'd known him since he was a little kid [signalling with hand how tall he was], and then he's my team-mate in IndyCars.
"We had a couple of fallouts along the way but he was a friend. I lost... we lost a good friend. Everyone saw Dan as a good friend.
"When he first turned up in Indy he was brash but a charmer. I think about Susie [his wife] and the boys and I struggle to hold it together."
One of the 15 cars caught up in the accident on the 11th lap of the Las Vegas finale was Franchitti's championship rival Will Power, who was also taken to the same University medical Centre that Wheldon was transferred to complaining of lower back pain.
Power's retirement automatically made Franchitti champion for the fourth time, but with the race later abandoned anyway the point was moot because the Scot had been leading the series coming into the race.
Asked how he felt about securing the title again he simply replied: "No... I'd like to say thank you to all the fans for showing so much respect for Dan, it was a very nice thing.
"I was thinking about Dan [as he drove the five-lap salute after the tragic news was announced] and all stories and all the fun times we had. It's just really, really sad. It's the ugly side of our sport."