After spending the last two years without a full-season ride, Marino Franchitti is back, and looking to make the most of his opportunity with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 37-year-old Scot will make his WEC GTE-Pro class debut in next weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone, following months of testing and development with the Multimatic-built Ford GT super car.
Sportscar365 caught up with Franchitti to get his thoughts on the opportunity with Ford and his prospects for the season ahead.
You haven’t had a full-season drive since 2013. How much of a struggle was it for you, prior to landing this drive with Ford?
“It was a struggle. It’s been hard. 2014 we won Sebring and hoped things were going to take off from there. But there wasn’t any opportunities.
“I’d have to say that the last couple of years, there was a couple of things I turned down, knowing this program was coming online and basically going for it.
“I wanted this so badly. The relationship with Ford, Ganassi, Multimatic… knowing all those elements, I thought. ‘Yeah, I think we can make this happen.’ It was a lot of hard work.
“It was great to get in the car in the middle of last year and just get back to testing and start to work with the guys.
“The first lap I drove this car I was like, ‘Yeah, I have to race it.’ It’s such a nice car to drive and a comfortable place to be in. The guys have built a really nice car.”
Did it seem like joining Ford Chip Ganassi Racing was a natural fit?
“First of all, the biggest thing for me is Ford coming back to Le Mans with the GT. I’m a massive fan of the history of our sport and to have the opportunity is big.
“You want to be with a factory program; you want to be with a team that takes things seriously and it had all of those elements that a driver dreams of.”
Do you feel there’s a certain level of expectation within the team?
“It’s a really big ask [to go out and win Le Mans]. We’re all aware of how difficult that’s going to be and what it’s going to take. But we’re aiming high, and we have to.
“Working with Chip before, working with Ford before… They’re very serious about what they’re doing. Running that engine in the DP for two years and winning Daytona and Sebring along the way… It’s impressive the groundwork they put in.
“You get to a certain point and the expectations are there. It doesn’t matter who it’s with. You just get used to it. That’s why you’re here. The expectation is that you’re all going to do your job.
“You have all of the support around you with the team, on our side, that George [Howard-Chappell] has put together. You have all the parts there, you just have to do your job to the best of your ability.”
Has the WEC been on your radar screen?
“Of course. You want to do a FIA World Championship; that’s like a childhood dream. I’ve watched it build from the outside over the last couple of years.
“What’s very interesting for me is that I’m a token American. That’s weird coming back to racing in Europe. Everything’s different for me.
“In America, I knew exactly where to go to get this or that, or how the structure was. Here, it’s like starting from zero again.
“That’s taken some getting used to but everyone’s been very friendly and very welcoming. It’s pretty simple to fit in with them.”
How’s it been working with the team in the testing program?
“It’s interesting because there’s still a core there that I was involved with in testing last year [in the U.S.] from a Multimatic standpoint. Then there’s just this massive team built up around it.
“The thing for me, the first [UK] shakedown, driving both cars, and both doing the same thing and feeling the same. The guys had been working day and night to build these cars and they were perfect from the word go.
“At Aragon, seeing the team come to life was something special. And it was another level at [Paul Ricard] with all of the guys in their suits.
“I love developing cars but to also be involved on the team side, and watching them build the team, is really interesting. You watch it all gel together. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”
Ultimately, what are you focused on achieving this year?
“I think the first thing is to get to Silverstone and go racing as a team… To be competitive, execute well. That’s the number one goal.
“Second is to go to Le Mans and try to win it and do the best we can. After that, it’s just to be in the hunt for wins as much as we can be.
“It’s hard with all of the experienced [teams] to have expectations. But they are set high so we have to aim for that.”