Interview: Ford GT Driver Marino Franchitti on Le Mans, Rain and History

Marino FranchittiIn the run-up to Ford’s return to the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend—50 years after the company first took victory at La Sarthe with the original GT40—we caught up with Marino Franchitti, who will be driving the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT, teamed with fellow Brits Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell. They will start fourth in the GTE class after qualifying behind two of their Ford GT team cars and one Ferrari.

C/D: What’s so special about Le Mans?

Marino Franchitti: It’s definitely the pinnacle event. What’s unique is that it’s both on public roads and a purpose-built track. There’s very little margin for error, the walls are right next to you. It’s an intimidating place, but it’s also one of the most fun tracks to drive around in the world. I love it

C/D: Is the weather the biggest challenge?

MF: One of them, definitely. Last night it was pouring with rain in the pit area but the rest of the track was dry. Down the Mulsanne Straight in the wet we had to run down the middle of the road because the water pools on the sides; it’s got a crown because it’s a public road for 360 days of the year.

C/D: What’s your favorite part of the track?

MF: The Porsche Curves are the most intimidating part but also the most rewarding. You’re in fifth gear and well into three figures, it’s bloody fast and you’ve got to nail it. It’s one of the greatest sectors in the world.

C/D: Who do you see the biggest threat coming from: Chevrolet, Ferrari or Porsche?

MF: It’s everybody! You can’t discount anybody, especially at Le Mans. I expect the GTE field to be a drafting train for most of 24 hours. I’d be amazed if we’re not battling to the last lap, maybe the last corner.

C/D: Where do you think the GT has an advantage?

MF: It has a very nice aero window, I’ve driven cars before where the peak aero is high but it’s very pitch sensitive and it can’t give you the right feelings in different attitudes like when you’re changing direction. The GT is very, very stable, it gives you a huge amount of confidence; it’s remarkably forgiving for a race car. When you trim it at Le Mans—we run very little downforce here—that’s very important. I’ve been driving it since the end of August last year and I felt at home in it straight away. The feeling and the connection was just instantaneous, it’s a lovely place to be, it’s comfortable.

Le Mans 24 HoursC/D: Comfortable? Really?

MF: It is! These days we’ve even got air conditioning. It’s still very physical to drive but at least it’s not like sitting in an oven. The position of the steering wheel, the pedals and the switches are just about perfect, very intuitive.

C/D: Are you looking forward to the race itself? Or just the end?

MF: The driving is the thing I enjoy the most. That’s what it’s all about, when I’m out there I’m the lead man for the whole team, and for the whole Ford family if you want to look at it like that. It’s a huge team effort, but I love the responsibility. Everything is for those moments when you’re alone in the car and driving it as hard as you can. I’ve not been able to get to sleep for the last couple of nights for ages because the adrenaline is pumping so hard.

C/D: What does the history of Ford at Le Mans mean to you personally?

MF: It’s a very special thing, to be here 50 years after the 1966 victory. I’m really happy that I’m driving the 67 car, though, because the MkIV GT40 that won in 1967 is just my all-time favorite car, and I’d tell you that whatever it said on my race suit. Everyone is obsessed with the MkII, the ’66 car, but for me the MkIV is the most beautiful thing.

C/D: How do you manage your time when you’re not in the car?

MF: Experience helps with that. You get out, debrief, get fluids on board, eat, massage and then sleep. I’m pretty good at that during the race, I read a book or something, but not the sort about racing that I normally read. Something different.

C/D: How long before a stint do you wake up?

MF: Ideally about an hour, or 45 minutes, but sometimes it can be far less than that if something’s happened. You can get woken up, slapped about and thrown in the car; you only really wake up as you drive into the first chicane. I’ve got skipping into my routine now before I drive the car, and that’s a massive help. It gets the whole body woken up really quickly. Think about it, you don’t go out there with a cold engine and race it off the line, you heat it up. It’s the same with the human body.Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Qualifying

from Car and Driver Blog

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