Marino Franchitti believes IMSA’s new DPi formula could bring North American sports car racing back to the heyday of ALMS prototype racing, as the rapid Scot makes his return to the wheel of a Mazda in this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Franchitti, a two-time Sebring class winner, including claiming top overall honors in 2014, was drafted into the factory SpeedSource-run squad to fill the third seat in the No. 70 Mazda RT24-P alongside Tom Long and Joel Miller in the No. 70 Mazda RT24-P.
After his work with Ford developing and racing the new Ford GT came to an end last year, Franchitti said it didn’t take long for his longstanding relationships with Mazda and SpeedSource to pay dividends.
“It all came together just around Daytona time,” Franchitti told Sportscar365. “I’ve obviously driven with Mazda and SpeedSource before [in the Rolex 24 in 2012 and 2013].
“Especially with [Mazda Motorsports Director] John Doonan, we always kept in touch.
“We’ve always been trying to do some more together, and the opportunity came up here with Hinch doing Daytona and he’s concentrating on his IndyCar stuff right now.
“The chance was there and I jumped at it. It’s nice to be in one of these new DPi cars. The new Mazda, the RT24-P is a beautiful car.”
Much like his role with Ford and many others over the course of his career, Franchitti jumps in to a Mazda DPi project that is still early in its development cycle.
Being able to have an influence on the direction the new car takes makes this weekend all the more rewarding for the affable veteran.
“I love it; it’s something I’ve done a lot in my career,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky to be involved in programs where you’re developing cars, you’re not just getting a product.
“You’re not just a customer, you’re in a factory program or something that’s going to be sold as a customer car. I really love testing. I love making a car as good as it can be. It’s fun.
“It’s a great little engine as well, the little four cylinder. I just think the DPi cars are so beautiful, whatever car you’re talking about. It’s exciting to be in one this early in its life.”
Franchitti gushed praise for the new DPi platform, saying the cars compared favorably with those from the late 2000’s both in aesthetics and performance.
“In my career, my generation, the high point was ’07 and ’08,” he said. “That was just a helluva time to be involved in sports cars, racing in America.
“These cars, I would say, are very close in cornering performance to what we had in 2007-2010 with a really fun LMP2. I think the regulations are fabulous.
“It’s a nice car: a lot of downforce, a lot of grip. I really think it could be back to that greatness with these new rules. I think they’ve done a great job.”
For the moment, Sebring remains the only race with Mazda on Franchitti’s calendar this year, but he readily admitted he would be interested in a return later in the year if the opportunity arose.
“You never know, but this is definitely it at the moment,” he said. “You’d have to ask John Doonan. That’s a decision for him.
“We’ve had success together in the past, Mazda and myself, and it’s definitely nice to be back here.
“I think like everybody, I saw pictures of the RT24-P and was like, ‘Whoa, what a car!’ It definitely doesn’t disappoint.”