Dario Franchitti Has Two Words for Your Modern Supercar: “Who Cares?”

The motorsports legend discusses his work with Gordon Murray Automotive (an exception to the rule), his post-racing career and how the supercar industry lost its way

June 13, 2024 6:35 am
Legendary racing driver Dario Franchitti next to the T.33 Spider from Gordon Murray Automotive
"Gordon [Murray] said he didn’t want me to think about [test-driving his new designs] as a racing driver…so much as a potential owner," says Dario Franchitti.
Gordon Murray Automotive

Dario Franchitti owns a Ferrari F40, a Singer-built Porsche, a Ferrari F355 Spider, a Porsche 911 R, and the list of covetable and expensive vehicles goes on. That didn’t stop him from once setting off in search of a much more pedestrian vehicle: a Fiat Uno. 

“I’m very sentimental about cars,” the 51-year-old racing legend explains. “Cars are emotional. They can capture a time of life when you were driving them.” The Fiat? That was his first car. By the time he tracked it down, it was, as he puts it, “a pile of dust.” 

At least at home in Scotland, Franchitti has what’s known as his “‘I Love Me’ Building.” He laughs, explaining that it was he, not his family, who came up with that name. The building is full of memorabilia from his prestigious former career as a racing driver: four-time winner of the IndyCar Series, three-time winner of the famed Indianapolis 500, member of various motorsport halls of fame. That list also goes on.

His career ended with a spectacular, seemingly unsurvivable IndyCar crash in Houston in 2013. But that fateful wreck opened the door to other means of expressing what he calls his “addiction” to cars: commentating on Formula E, for example; helping other professional drivers — most notably Scott Dixon — finesse their driving technique in order to shave milliseconds off their lap times; or racing historic vehicles at events like the Goodwood Revival.

“I still love racing,” he stresses, “but now I drive as quickly as I want, whereas when you’re being paid a lot of money to race, you start to take uncomfortable risks. The good thing about the crash is that I don’t remember anything about it. I lost five weeks of memory.” He recalls the disorientating experience of having a series of tests at the time with a doctor he’d met a few days earlier and having no idea at all who he was.

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But most of Franchitti’s time is now given over to working with the legendary automotive designer, and one of his motorsport heroes, Gordon Murray — the man behind multiple Formula 1 cars for Brabham and the McLaren F1 road car. Here, Franchitti brings his driving experience to help fine-tune super-supercars, like the $3.5 million T.50 — one of those is tucked away in his own garage, too — or last year’s T.33 Spider, for which he also has an order on the books. The fact that Franchitti has such an impressive automobile collection is central to his role.

“Gordon said he didn’t want me to think about [test-driving his new designs] as a racing driver…so much as a potential owner,” he explains, almost as though he’s looking for some excuse to make another purchase. “As a racing driver, you’d just want every car to be very stiff, but these cars have to work on bumpy back roads.”

Franchitti with the Cosworth GMA.2, a 3.9-liter V12 engine that's found in the Gordon Murray T.33 and T.33 Spider.
Franchitti with the Cosworth GMA.2, a 3.9-liter V12 engine commissioned for the Gordon Murray T.33 and T.33 Spider.
Gordon Murray Automotive

Franchitti’s own palpable excitement at the idea of driving Murray’s relatively compact, lightweight, “back to basics” yet high-tech vehicles reflects his opinion that the supercar industry has somewhat lost its way in recent years. 

“Every [car] has just got bigger, heavier and more powerful, and there’s this obsession with Nürburgring lap times and downforces and how fast it does 0 to 60. Who cares?” he exclaims. “I mean, there’s a place for that. When I was 19 I wanted the fastest car. Now it’s different, and a car has to be more than the sum of its parts. You have to love the feeling of driving it, even at 30 mph. I think [the industry] has missed the idea of pure driving enjoyment.”

Might it be too much to say that there’s a demand for cars that handle with the same level of sheer driver entertainment as the karts in which Franchitti started racing back when he was just five? 

“All I ever wanted to be was a racing driver. Not a fireman, not an astronaut,” he laughs. “My dad always had nice cars, and the passion he had was passed down. When I’m back in the U.S., I still buy Hot Wheels, the ones that are hard to find. Two of each, one for me and one for my nephew. But as soon as I was paid to race I started buying [real] cars and would reward myself with one if I won a championship. In fact, that was a massive incentive to win.”

There’s this obsession with Nürburgring lap times and downforces and how fast it does 0 to 60. Who cares?

Dario Franchitti

In fact, Franchitti’s father funded his son’s fledgling talent by remortgaging the family home. “As a parent now I understand what a huge thing that was to do, to put everything into it,” Franchitti says. “And he did that without telling my mum too, which was a big decision — especially if you’ve met my mum.”

It’s not just Franchitti who tried to find, purchase and restore his old cars, either. When he was five, his father bought him his first motorized go-kart, selling it a year later to fund a motorbike for him (Franchitti says he never really got on with motorbikes). But, even as a child, he always wondered where the kart ended up. Remarkably, his father presented it back to him for his 40th birthday. “I couldn’t sit in it, but I think I must have cried [at the gesture],” Franchitti recalls.

A self-described petrolhead almost from birth, it’s perhaps no surprise that, while he regards electric motors as the necessary future of everyday motoring — and will make a strong defense of Formula E too — for him a car has to make some noise.

“Electric supercars are quick — my God, so quick — but they don’t work in terms of [sparking] those emotions, in part because so much of that comes from the noise,” he argues. “When I think about cars, the first thing I tend to refer to is what they sound like, and that sound has to be real.”

That, it would seem to suggest, means the continued relevance of the internal combustion engine, at least for supercars. But then, these vehicles are a breed apart.

“Of course, nobody needs a supercar,” he chuckles. “It’s for the look and for the fun, basically. Are they reasons enough? Absolutely.”

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