Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Franchitti’s Championship Crew a Blend of Talent and Experience
The first major driving championship of Dario Franchitti's career was wellearned, and supported by a group of mechanics and engineers whose chemistry and savvy enabled Andretti Green Racing to claim the IndyCar Series championship.
The 13 men who comprised the crew for car No. 27 represented a melting pot of cultures and personalities that spent 17 races and long hours working on the common goal of beating Target Ganassi and Team Penske.
It was the third IRL crown in the past four seasons for AGR, and it featured the same ringleader as Dan Wheldon's championship run in 2005 - team manager John Anderson.
"Ando" is one of those great characters who balances the intensity of 200 mile-per-hour combat with a marvelous sense of humor and a real understanding of people.
"I don't think you could ask for a better team leader than Ando," praises Franchitti. "He's a racer to the core, but he also knows how to keep the boys loose and have some fun.
"I couldn't have asked for a better person to run my car."
Anderson, a 61-year-old native of Sydney, Australia, is a motorsports "lifer," now in his 36th year of making a living chasing cars around the world.
After a season of F500 in his homeland, Ando headed for the United States in 1973, with countryman Graham McRae driving in the L&M F5000 series. From there, he moved to Can-Am with Patrick Tambay and the late Al Holbert before embarking on his open-wheel career.
Anderson's first Indy car job was with Team VDS and John Paul Jr., and then he helped Bill Alsup, Teo Fabi, Howdy Holmes, Tom Sneva and Robby Gordon.
"Sneva was something else because he always wanted to change everything on the car, but he was always quick and a helluva racer," recalls Anderson. "I reckon I saved Robby Gordon's life when he was driving for A.J. [Foyt].
"Robby smarted off and the Old Man was just getting ready to smack him when I stepped in between them. Probably not real smart, looking back on it."
The new PacWest CART operation hired Ando to run it in 1997 before he went with Barry Green in 2000 and was first united with Franchitti, who teamed with Paul Tracy. Anderson spent two years working for CART on the other side of the pit wall before coming back to AGR and taking over Wheldon's car in 2005.
"I've been lucky to work for some really good people and really good drivers," he says with a chuckle. "This year was a lot of fun, although it got a little too close there at the end [when Franchitti secured the championship by taking the lead on the final turn of the final lap of the season's final race at Chicagoland Speedway].
"I'm an old bugger. My heart can't take much of that." Here's a capsule look at Franchitti's championship crew with analysis and commentary provided by Anderson.
JOHN ANDERSON - Team Manager/Race Strategist: Over 30 years of experience in racing - began working in U.S. motorsports in 1981 after starting his career in Australia...Earned his first IndyCar Series title in 2005 with Dan Wheldon, also at Andretti Green Racing. Married to Leslie and is an avid flyer.
ALLEN McDONALD - Race Engineer: A British native who started his career in racing in 1984 after a two-year stint in the Royal Navy... First job in racing was with the Brabham Formula 1 team, where he designed and built a quarterscale wind tunnel... Franchitti's race engineer since 2002.
Ando's take: "He was nicknamed 'The Squirrel' by Bernie Ecclestone when he first worked at Brabham. They had a squirrel fan that was always placed in front of the car and one of Allen's first jobs was to make sure the fan was in place. Bernie couldn't remember his name so he just started calling him 'Squirrel' and it stuck.
"His strength as an engineer is that he's very dedicated and a smart cookie who is very good mathematically. He never stops asking questions and is good at bringing out the best in his assistants. A quality guy."
DAVE SEYFFERT - Assistant Race Engineer: In his third season with AGR, began his career working as a mechanic and data technician for Scott Dixon and Guy Smith.
Ando's take: "We call him 'SeFe' and he's a very focused guy who is very good with data acquisition. Very good during the race at calculating fuel mileage and management. 'Squirrel' is very high on him because he's always eager to learn and he's ready to step up."
JOSH FULTS - Data Technician: First year in racing...Worked as an electrical and software engineer before joining AGR in 2007.
Ando's take: "He's a 'newbie,' and he comes in and wins the bloody thing in his first year, so how is he going to top that? Josh was our new data acquisition guy and did a nice job all year."
JEFF GRAHN - Chief Mechanic/Air Jack: Began his motorsports career right out of high school in 1992...Has worked with Team Green and AGR since 2001.
Ando's take: "Jeff is the strength of our team and the best I've ever worked with. He's an excellent crew chief, a good leader and pays attention to detail. He's always got a great sense of humor, very dry, and just one of those guys everybody wants on their team."
COREY MCCLISH - Lead Mechanic/Fueler: A mechanic in motorsports for nine years... Joined AGR in 2001 and has spent the entire time at AGR with Dario Franchitti.
Ando's take: "Corey has been with Dario seven years and is one of those dedicated guys who is responsible for the entire car. He's the cockpit man and Dario is very picky, so he understands detail and does a great job with the car's wiring."
DAVE SHARPLEY - Lead Mechanic/Outside Front Tire: Has been involved in top-level open-wheel racing since 1998... Began as a front-end mechanic for Bettenhausen Motorsports.
Ando's take: "Another good man who is always a step ahead of things. He's responsible for one of the cars and Corey for the other, and both are very thorough. Dave's redeeming factor is that he's a pilot."
DOUG BRADLEY - Mechanic/Inside Rear Tire: In his fourth season at AGR... Began his career with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2000 as a cylinder-head specialist for the Top Fuel team.
Ando's take: "Mr. Quiet. Doug doesn't say much unless it's something smart-alecky, but he's very focused and a good lad. He takes care of the front end of Dario's car and the pedals and steering wheel."
IAN SWANGER - Mechanic/Inside Front Tire: This was his second season at AGR after working for Steve Kinser in the World of Outlaws for three seasons.
Ando's take: "A good thinker and a good mechanic. 'The Colgate Kid' because he's got a bloody set of choppers and there's a shine from his front teeth."
DON SKINNER - Outside Rear Tire: Took over the outsiderear- tire position mid-way through the 2007 season... He also serves as a lead mechanic on the #26 NYSE car driven by Marco Andretti.
Ando's take: "We were hard-pressed for an outside tire changer, so halfway through the season we stole him from Marco's team on race weekends because we were contending for the championship and we wanted to strengthen our team. He works on Marco's car during the week and then for us on race day."
ALEX HERING - Lead Gearbox Mechanic: A 25-year veteran who joined Team Green in 1998 as the gearbox mechanic for Dario Franchitti.
Ando's take: "'The Kraut' can be a great pain, but that's why we like him. He acts like he's spending his own money, but he's a master of the gearbox and is very in-tune with all its little idiosyncrasies. He should have 'Gearbox Guy' tattooed on his forehead."
SCOTT LYNCH - Transport Driver: Began his career in motorsports in 2003 as the truck driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing... Joined AGR in 2007.
Ando's take: "He's the comic relief for this team, but he also does a great job of taking care of the tires."
JOSH DAVIS-BUTTE - Transport Driver: Began his career in racing as the transport driver for Kelley Racing and has worked as a transport driver for nine seasons.
Ando's take: "He's more than a 'truckie;' he's a self-starter and I wish we had six of him. He coordinated everything for our Japan trip and does a very thorough job."