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Aug 29, 2014

As The IndyCar Finale Runs At Auto Club Speedway This Weekend, Here's A Look At Former Champion Dario Franchitti, His Brother Marino And Their Love Of Motorcycles

Dario Franchitti after winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2012.

The Flying Franchitti Brothers

Scotsman Dario Franchitti is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and a four-time IndyCar Champion. Dario followed the path to Indy taken in the 1960s by other legendary Scots, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. Younger brother Marino became an ace in sports car racing, such as in the 24-Hours of Le Mans. However, their inspiration is somewhat different from most car racers, as amongst their heroes are the great motorcycle racers of the road circuits.

Dario explains, “I’d had an MV Agusta Senna for a while at home in my hallway. I took it out and there was a coolant leak out of the water pump or something. So, I took it to the dealership and they fixed that, put some big pipes on it and a magnesium swingarm and some gearbox things… stuff that the MV guys had sent me, actually. My brother bought a CBR600RR Honda a couple of months later and we went riding together.”

It all went desperately wrong on one of their rides in 2003. “They didn’t put an oil line on properly when they fixed the water pump,” says Dario, “and it sprayed oil onto the back tire, sent me over the handlebars and broke my back.” Dario missed the entire 2003 racing season with Team Greene. “I’ve still got the MV, someday I think I’ll get it rebuilt, but I don’t think I’ll ever ride it again. I’ve got rods in my spine now.”

Marino continues the narrative, saying “Back in the day we rode together quite a bit, but haven’t much since the accident, Dario’s not allowed to anymore, no motorcycle racing especially.”

Dario continues, “But I love bikes; Mick Doohan is a good pal of mine. Barry Sheene was as well, and Jim Moodie is, so I have a strong connection to bikes and bike racing. I’ve got a massive amount of admiration for anybody who could race a bike.”

Having stood at Ago’s Leap in 1999 when Moodie shattered Fogarty’s lap record… from a standing start, Lord only knows what sort of lap time he could have pulled off on a flying lap that day with less than a full tank. “It is ridiculous man, those guys are so brave,” says Dario. “John McGuinness, and all those guys. Someday, one of my dreams is to go to the TT and watch, but I’ve got four races that month… Colin McRae and I always talked about going there, but unfortunately that is not going to happen anymore. But, yeah… I love bikes.”

So, the TT is on the bucket list? “On the bucket list, but I’ll watch,” Dario says. “I’ll not take a bike. I’ll just go and watch those guys do their stuff.” Perhaps the Scotsman might consider an exhibition lap, such as recently done by Valentino Rossi, or Colin Edwards?”

“Yeah, but they know how to ride,” laughs Dario. “You know what I mean? But I love bikes, I absolutely love them.”

Marino’s goals are more ambitious for the TT. “John McGuinness is a good friend of ours. He’s the most self-effacing guy; he is so unaware of how amazing he is and what he does. He’s just incredible, one of those guys who is completely unaffected by the success he has. He’s joking and he plays around, but he’s a steely competitor, he’s so focused and determined about what he does, and that’s why he goes out there and beats everyone every year. But, I’ve never been to the TT, and I love the road racing. Hopefully, I am going to get to the TT this year for a couple of days, but it depends upon Le Mans stuff. John says he is going to take me around on a two-seater, riding pillion. If I could do that, it would be one of those life dreams, just beautiful.”

So should we tell the IOM cardiac unit to prepare for your arrival? “No,” says Marino. “I trust him. Is there anyone better to go around there with? Definitely not.”

Racing on the roads impresses Dario just as much. “The Ulster Grand Prix… oh my GOD, the Ulster. I was lucky enough to do some laps of Dundrod in a car, it is just stunning. You watch those guys at the North West 200 and stuff like that and you think… really?” asks Dario. “You think the Isle of Man is mad, but then you watch the guys at the Northwest not racing against the clock. Massive respect for those guys, massive. I’m too busy (to attend) during the days when those races are on, but at some point I will.”

Dario, for now, will have to settle for off-season pursuits, which puts his down time right in line with the racing down under. “I did ride a bike across the Outback,” he says. “In 2010, at the end of the season I went down to see the Supercar race at Surfer’s Paradise, and a friend of mine worked at Honda Australia. So, Mark Higgins, and a friend of mine, we rode across Australia. Not the whole way across, but we started at one point and finished at Cooper City and rode across for 10 days or something.” So, was this your version of Paris-Dakar? “Yeah, but a lot slower. It was fabulous… so much fun riding a Honda Transalp.”

What are they riding now? “I had a KTM 990 Supermoto which I sold last year,” says Marino. “I’m in-between bikes right now, but I’m probably going to end up wanting one of the new Ducati Hypermotards, if it’s goes as well and is as comfortable as everyone says it is. I definitely like the Supermotards, just because you know the speed that you are doing, they deal well with bobbles and stuff in the road, they are just huge fun. When you are behind a fairing, you aren’t really aware of the speed you are doing, and that is important to me.”

Dario’s car racing career came to an end when he launched over Takuma Sato’s car at the 2013 Houston IndyCar race, and it was sheer luck that when Dario’s car tore through the catch fence, it did not end up in the grandstands. As it was there were numerous spectators injured, and Dario soon had to accept that he had suffered career-ending injuries to his head and spine. But his involvement with racing continues with his role as driver’s advisor at Chip Ganassi Racing and he also was given the honor of driving the Pace Car at the 2014 Indianapolis 500.

Marino has fared better as of late, winning the 12-Hours of Sebring for Ganassi, and his career continues without interruption. But don’t be surprised if--once their car-racing-related careers are over--the Flying Franchitti Brothers will be seen watching public-roads motorcycle races round the world.