Dario Franchitti knows the power of the wind that is driving and harassing the America's Cup sailors on San Francisco Bay.
"Riding my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, it was really hard. It almost pushed me over," he recalled this week as he watched the World Series races from his panoramic view at Ghirardelli Square. "I used to enjoy riding my bike around here when Ashley and I lived in Mill Valley."
Franchitti and his celebrity wife Ashley Judd spent a couple months living in the "nice little village," as he called it, while she was shooting the 2004 thriller Twisted.
Though they divide their time between Nashville, Tenn., and Edinburgh, Scotland these days, the power couple is back in the North Bay this week as Franchitti goes to work behind the wheel for Sunday's GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Practice is Friday, with qualifying Saturday.
Franchitti allowed himself to be distracted slightly from the topic of race cars to admire the high-tech sailboats on the water. Living in Marin County would seem ideal for Franchitti, who loves sailing, cycling and high-priced luxury sports cars.
Like his collection of vintage Ferraris, Franchitti has strong Italian bloodlines, but he's still a Scotsman through and through. His brogue is as strong as that of his hero, Sean Connery.
The last time Franchitti went home to Scotland, he hopped on his friend's monohull sailboat for a race on the Atlantic Ocean. "We actually did really well, which surprised a lot of people," he reported.
Watching the America's Cup boats, Franchitti compared the sails to the wings on the IndyCars. The technology and design are similar enough that they can translate between the two sports.
One thing this year's new IndyCar has which the sailboats don't have is a "push to pass" button, which drivers can use for a limited time during a race to get some extra horsepower for passing.
Franchitti last won in Sonoma in 2009, when he went on to win the IndyCar Series crown. He returns this year as the defending series champion, but with only three races left, is in a fight to overtake current points leader Will Power. Franchitti is eighth in the standings, 108 points behind Power.
"I looked at that and I was surprised to see that I'm still mathematically alive for the championship," Franchitti said with a smile.
Obviously, a taste of the traditional celebratory wine in the Winner's Circle at the Sonoma road course would be a huge boost for Franchitti.
"I haven't tasted that wine in awhile, but I remember it was pretty good. I'll have to try it again to get familiar with it," he said.
Failing that, Franchitti hopes to at least help Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, who is fourth in the standings.
"The best thing I can do to help Dixie, really, is to just stay out front," Franchitti said.
GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
- When: August 24-26
- Course: 12 turns, 2.31 miles
- Distance: 85 laps
- 2011 Race Winner: Will Power
- Tickets: www.racesonoma.com/indycar