The Beleaguered No. 10
When Dario Franchitti took over the reins of the No. 10 Target car, he became Scott Dixon’s eighth teammate since Target Chip Ganassi racing moved over to the IRL from CART in 2003. All but one of those eight were assigned to the No. 10 machine. The other was Ryan Briscoe who, as a rookie, drove a third full-time No. 33 Target entry.
The short history of the No. 10 car has been star-crossed, to say the least. Tomas Scheckter had shown so much promise as a rookie. Surely Ganassi could do a much better job of harnessing that talent within Scheckter than his former employer; Eddie Cheever – himself a Ganassi castoff from earlier times. The Scheckter and Ganassi marriage didn’t last long, however. The results weren’t that bad really, as Scheckter finished seventh in the standings – although his teammate Scott Dixon won the championship. But as he has been known to do, Scheckter wore out his welcome early and was given his walking papers at the end of the season.
Promising newcomer Tony Renna was hired to replace Scheckter in the No. 10, alongside Dixon. Unfortunately, it never came to pass. On a cold October morning after the 2003 season had ended, the team was testing at Indianapolis with Renna at the wheel. On only his fourth lap, Renna spun in turn three. His car went airborne and flew into the catch fence in the north short chute. Renna’s car split apart and he was fatally injured. In fact, Renna is the last driver fatality at the Speedway. If there is a silver lining to such an incident, it is that there were no spectators on hand as parts of the car actually flew into the stands. The result of the Renna crash and the Kenny Bräck crash which occurred a few weeks earlier at Texas, was the introduction of the longitudinal wickers running the entire length of the car in an attempt to keep cars from going airborne as they skid sideways.
After Tony Renna’s death – Ganassi turned to Darren Manning, who had driven in CART for Derrick Walker, for the 2004 season. Saddled with a suddenly uncompetitive Toyota engine, the Ganassi team struggled. Manning finished eleventh in the points for 2004 with a best finish of fourth – three times at Motegi, Nashville and Pikes Peak. He was released halfway through the season in 2005 immediately following the Milwaukee race in late July. His best finish for 2005 had been a sixth at the season opener at Homestead. His seat was filled with substitute runs by Jaques Lazier and little know Italian driver Giorgio Pantano.
For 2006, Ganassi seemingly solved the problem of the beleaguered No. 10 car by signing Dan Wheldon fresh off of his Indy winning and championship season of 2005. It appeared to be a stroke of genius as Wheldon won his first race out of the gate with his new team at Homestead. Wheldon led early on at Indy that year and lost the championship to Sam Hornish on a tiebreaker. By all indications, Target Chip Ganassi had found a new team leader in the flamboyant Wheldon. Dixon had come off of two disappointing seasons that saw him finish thirteenth in the final 2005 standings. Now that Ganassi had the same Honda engine as everyone, Dixon’s performance improved. But Dixon’s demeanor kept him out of the spotlight while Wheldon grabbed the headlines every chance he got. There were rumblings toward the end of 2006 that Dixon may be the odd man out at Ganassi, even as he finished a respectable fourth for 2006.
But the luck of the No. 10 eventually took over. Wheldon’s 2007 season started strong – collecting two wins and a second in the first four races. Beyond that though, the best he could muster were three third place finishes along with four DNF’s. Meanwhile, Dixon continued to show steady improvement as he lost the 2007 championship when his car hiccupped on the last turn of the last lap of the last race. He finished second to Andretti-Green’s Dario Franchitti, who bolted for NASCAR for the 2008 season. Dixon went on to win his second championship in 2008 while Wheldon continued with inconsistency. After the Nashville race, it was reported that he and Ganassi had agreed on a new contract. A month later, it was announced he would leave the team after Ganassi had offered the seat to his former friend and teammate Tony Kanaan.
Enter Nashville resident Dario Franchitti, who had signed to drive for Ganassi in his ill-fated attempt at NASCAR. Franchitti replaced Wheldon in the No. 10 for 2009 and has had a very successful season. Like his teammate, he has won four races. Also like his teammate, he has led the points standings a couple of times this season. He currently sits five points behind Dixon for the season championship.
Time will tell if the curse of the No. 10 car has been lifted. Franchitti is one of three drivers, along with Dixon and Briscoe, still alive for the 2009 championship. The other two teams have won championships before, but not the No 10 team. No matter what kind of season Franchitti has produced this year, the No. 10 team will need to win a championship before they can be viewed as being equal to the No 9 team, of Dixon. Franchitti looks as if he can stay in that car until he decides it’s time to hang up his helmet. He has already won a championship albeit with another team.
But Franchitti will need to win a championship for this current team as well. Otherwise, history will treat the No. 10 team as Ganassi’s second-string outfit. Fair or not, that’s what will happen. Franchitti has an excellent shot to bring a championship trophy to the No. 10 team so that they can have one of their own to go alongside the two that Dixon brought home as well as the four CART trophies that Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya won for Ganassi in consecutive years.
Franchitti himself has nothing else to prove. But until the No 10 team can win a championship of their own, they will continue to be viewed as a star-crossed team.