THIS week’s edition of Saturday Sleuthing looks at a car that hosted a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series champion in Supercars’ first running of the Gold Coast 600 in 2010.
Dario Franchitti was no stranger to the Surfers Paradise street circuit – he’d taken a race win and a pair of pole positions across seven CART and IndyCar Series starts between 1997 and 2008.
However, his return in 2010 put him in a very unfamiliar machine: the Scotsman traded his open-wheeler for a V8-powered sedan as one of the overseas stars recruited for the event’s new two-driver, twin 300-kilometre race format.
In its first year all teams needed to recruit at least one big-name import to pair with one of its regular pilots, with Dick Johnson Racing securing Franchitti’s services.
He was originally slated to join good mate James Courtney in the team’s #18 Falcon, evidenced by his race suit carrying Courtney’s gold colours rather than the red of Steven Johnson’s machine.
But with Courtney in the thick of a title battle, it was the #17 car – chassis 888A-016 – that the reigining Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion campaigned.
Franchitti’s first laps in the car came at a damp pre-event test day at Queensland Raceway.
“I guess my big memory of that was Paul Morris trying to dry the track at Ipswich using his helicopter,” he told the Rusty’s Garage podcast in 2020.
“Yeah, that didn’t work!”
Franchitti impressed in Friday practice on the Surfers Paradise streets, setting the fifth-fastest time in the international drivers’ session then the seventh-fastest time in the co-drivers’ session, one spot ahead of Warren Luff in the #18 Falcon and matching Johnson’s time from the morning session.
Unfortunately luck wasn’t with the #17 entry that weekend, beginning with the start of the Saturday race.
“I hadn’t done a standing start since 1994!” he said.
“I take off and I’m passing people – this is amazing! I’ve passed (IndyCar rival Scott) Dixon, I go wailing on past him, laughing.
“Come to the first corner, that hairpin, and all hell’s broken loose and one of the cars was lying in the middle of the track with one corner on it.
“I’ve nosed up to this car, so I’ve reversed back and smashed straight into a car that’s behind me: Dixon!”
Franchitti recovered to 15th by the time he handed over to Johnson, but a Safety Car mixum dropped them off the lead lap and they finished 16th.
The open-wheel legend again started the Sunday race and ran as high as third, before Johnson was taken out during a Safety Car restart.
Although it didn’t net a result, Franchitti still looks back fondly on his sole Supercars experience.
“I had so much fun,” he said.
“God … the car, it was the most infuriating thing to drive! It was such a peculiar style and I loved the challenge of it.”
A decade on from that Gold Coast event, Franchitti’s Falcon is still very much active – in fact, it was racing at Bathurst last month!
Dick Johnson Racing and Triple Eight Race Engineering are very much fierce rivals now, but – as its chassis number suggests – 888A-016 was among three complete FG Falcons purchased by DJR from the Brisbane-based squad for the 2009 season.
This car remained as Johnson’s #17 car almost entirely throughout the final four seasons of the ‘Project Blueprint’ era.
Johnson raced the car to sixth and 10th in the 2009 and 2010 championship standings respectively, with highlights that included a pole position at Hamilton in 2009 and a trio of podium finishes at the Kiwi street circuit, Symmons Plains and Barbagallo that same year.
For the 2011 season, Johnson initially moved into a different car but a crash at Albert Park saw him reunited with 888A-016 for the remainder of the year, delivering a host of top-five and top-10 results through the sprint rounds before a dire run through the enduros plunged him to 15th in the standings.
This was the chassis that carried the #17 at Bathurst in 2011, when co-driver David Besnard had a fiery crash at Griffin’s Bend during the race.
Despite the damage, the car was repaired in time for the Gold Coast 600 a fortnight later, where German racer Dirk Müller joined Johnson.
It remained as Johnson’s car throughout the 2012 season – when Johnson was joined on the Gold Coast by another Champcar star in the form of Max Papis – before being sold to Wayne Russell’s Novocastrian Motorsport team to race in the Dunlop Series.
Driven by Drew Russell in 2013 and then brother Aaren in 2014 and 2015, the car continued in the second-tier series in 2016 and 2017 with new owner Matt Palmer.
The car then moved into the third-tier Kumho Tyre V8 Touring Car Series in 2018, when current owner Jon McCorkindale acquired it in time to race at the Queensland Raceway round.
Now wearing a distinctive fluorescent green and black livery, McCorkindale has campaigned the car in the third-tier category ever since.
The car’s most recent outing at Mount Panorama saw McCorkindale take a pair of class second placings in the combined Super2/Super3 races on the undercard of the 2020 Bathurst 1000.