Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti announced Thursday he will no longer be able to compete in auto racing because of injuries suffered in an Oct. 6 crash.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who suffered a broken back, right ankle and concussion in a crash at the Houston Grand Prix that sent his car airborne into a catchfence and back onto the temporary street circuit, also won three Indianapolis 500s in a career that started in 1997.
Franchitti, 40, and his team were looking forward to his return in 2014, when Ganassi is welcoming 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan to the stable that already includes three-time and reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
The Scotsman ends his career tied for eighth on the all-time list with 31 career wins and 33 pole positions.
Franchitti said in a statement:
"Since my racing accident in Houston, I have been in the expert care of some of the leading doctors and nurses, all of whom have made my health, my safety and my recovery their top priority. I am eternally grateful for the medical care I have received over the last several weeks. I'd also like to thank my family and friends for their unbelievable support.
"One month removed from the crash and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing. They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.
"Racing has been my life for over 30 years and it's really tough to think that the driving side is now over. I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with a goal of winning a fourth Indianapolis 500 and a fifth IndyCar Series championship.
"I'd like to thank all my fellow competitors, teammates, crew and sponsors for their incredible support over the course of this amazing ride. I'd also like to thank Hogan Racing, Team KOOL Green and Andretti Green Racing for the opportunities to compete on the racetrack, and especially Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who have become like a family to me since I joined their team back in 2008. I would be remiss if I didn't thank all my fans around the world. I can't thank you enough for standing by my side for all these years.
"I'll forever look back on my time racing in CART and the IndyCar Series with fond memories and the relationships I've forged in the sport will last a lifetime.
"Hopefully in time, I'll be able to continue in some off-track capacity with the IndyCar Series. I love open-wheel racing and I want to see it succeed. I'll be working with Chip to see how I can stay involved with the team, and with all the amazing friends I've made over the years at Target."
"As a four-time IndyCar Series champion and a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Dario Franchitti has etched his name among the greats of this sport, and his legacy will continue to influence future generations of competitors," IndyCar said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "His passion was born, in part, from a deep love for the sport and a reverence to its history, and Dario carries that heritage everywhere he travels and shares it with everyone he meets. Dario's leadership on and off the track has helped shape IndyCar, and we look forward to him remaining involved in the sport he loves."
Dixon told USA TODAY Sports: "Dario is a true legend in the sport. More importantly, I can call him a best friend. There are very few people that have achieved as much in auto racing and knowing Dario, he won't go far as IndyCar racing is in his blood and I am sure he will stay involved somehow."
Kanaan joins CGR next season and would have been Franchitti's teammate again. They shared time together with Andretti Green Racing from 2003-07.
"Sad, indeed," Kanaan said via text message. "Dario was the key person on the process of getting me to the Ganassi team and I was counting the days to be his teammate again.
"Dario is a great person, a superb driver and a motorsports legend. But most importantly, he is my friend, and as much as it hurts not seeing him compete with me in IndyCar, I'm very happy that he got out of that accident and is still with us."
Former CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya, who is set to return to IndyCar in 2014 after driving for Ganassi for the past seven years in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tweeted that Franchitti is "a great friend and a great competitor" and was "gonna be missed at the tracks."
IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, who has competed against Franchitti for the past five years tweeted:
"Incredible career for a wonderful man, @dariofranchitti you are a champ and a legend, thanks for what you have done for our sport."
Ganassi echoed the description of Franchitti as a legend with this statement:
"Dario Franchitti has done so much for Target Chip Ganassi Racing so it will be very disappointing to not see him in our cars next season. But simply put, Dario is a motorsports legend and will be sorely missed on the race track by everyone in the paddock and in the stands.
"His contributions to the sport of motor racing are too many to list but I can tell you that they go way beyond what he has done on the track. What's both impressive and unique about Dario is that he has always been a student of racing, someone who not only appreciates the actual science of the sport but also the rich heritage of those racers that have gone before him."
Franchitti underwent two surgeries on his ankle and recently returned home to Scotland to recover.
He has been the face of the series since he returned in 2009 following a brief stint in NASCAR. He won three consecutive titles from 2009 to 2011, and two of his three Indy 500 wins.
Franchitti had crossover appeal for the IndyCar Series through his 11-year marriage to actress Ashley Judd. The two are now separated. But he was personable, well-spoken, popular in the paddock and passionate about the sport. It resonated with fans and made Franchitti one of IndyCar's all-time greats.
Contributing: Jeff Olson, The Associated Press