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FRANCHITTI: Silverstone Debrief

Marino Franchitti files his first Sportscar365 column following Silverstone…

Photo: Ford Performance

Photo: Ford Performance

It was so great to finally go racing with our new Ford GT and our brand new Ford Chip Ganassi racing team at Silverstone and the way the team performed, you would have thought they’d been working together for years.

Being my home race, it was a busy build up to the weekend. Ford has the best selling car in the UK in the Fiesta and, along with my teammates Andy and Harry, we took part in a Ford employees day at the famous Dagenham plant and the Dunton Technical centre.

It was amazing to see the support we have from within Ford UK and it was a really fun day, though I hope I don’t trigger any warranty claims with the couple of engines they let me work on!

Once we were at Silverstone on Thursday, it was time to go to work. The Ford pit setup is just incredible and you could feel how excited the whole team was to finally go racing.

The track walk gave us a preview of the weather we’d have for the next couple of days with rain, wind and sunshine all putting in an appearance. Snow would soon join them!

Free practice one began with a wet track and Andy started the session, handing over to me just after we switched to slick tires.

Even having done the Paul Ricard Prologue, it’s always amazing to get out on track at the first race meeting of the year and feel that ramp up in intensity in traffic. We finished P5 in that session and the cars balance was feeling pretty good straight out of the box.

For Free Practice 2, we had a dry track, but it was really cold and you could feel the dampness in the air.

We ran through a good program of changes and all three drivers were pretty happy with the balance we had. You could see the pace of our competitors in comparison to us and that would stay pretty consistent throughout the weekend.

Saturday morning was very cold and very wet, though I thought it couldn’t possibly snow like the forecasters said, could it?

It certainly could!

Harry went out at the start of the session and watching him hanging on to the car from the onboard camera at greatly reduced speed with all the standing water made me think we might not get any running in the session, when he reported heavy snow at Luffield, I was 100 percent sure we were done.

I had been out on my bike the week before in summer gear and now it was snowing; the British weather really doesn’t help the international stereotypes sometimes, does it?

For qualifying Andy and Harry had the honors this weekend, with Harry also qualifying in ELMS right before our session, we hoped his up to the minute track knowledge would really pay off for us.

Unfortunately we had a shift issue in qualifying (something we’d never seen before), though the boys did a great job driving around this and still got us 5th on the grid.

Sunday was beautifully sunny and dry (that’s what the weather is normally like in the UK, honest!) and I was blown away by the size of the crowd that turned out to support us.

The Ford GT team seems to have attracted a massive following already and it was so cool to see so much love for us at Silverstone. Thanks to everyone who came along.

Andy was to start the race, then me with Harry taking the finish. He made a great progress at the start and then maintained his position through a double stint for both driver and tires.

The Michelins were working well for us and we managed to double them with each driver during the race, it was very impressive durability from them.

We nailed our driver change and soon I was out running in convoy with our sister 66 car (as we would for most of the race) we had a long FCY for the No. 1 car shunt and I really just tried to stay consistent once we were back to green and keep some tires for the second stint.

I could see we were looking after our tires better than our sister car and I was excited to try and get in front during the second stint.

Unfortunate timing of the safety car on the lap we were pitting would be the difference of being on or off the podium, that triggers the pits to close for 3 laps so we had to pit for 5 seconds of emergency fuel and then pit again once the pits opened.

Still, we managed to catch up our sister car and I was just thinking about how I would get past when the LMP1 leaders arrived on the scene.

The Audi made it comfortably past and I could see that the Porsche was going to try and make a late dive into the chicane, I left him more than enough room to avoid contact, but unfortunately he must have thought he’d cleared me as we turned into the next turn and the resulting contact spun us both.

It was one of those unfortunate things that can happen in traffic and we made a swift recovery.

That was my chance of taking the position gone, but we still made some ground during the rest of the stint and once I handed over to Harry he set about taking the No. 66 car, when the opportunity came in traffic he got the move done and we finished in our Ford convoy in 4th place after a great stint by him.

So, both cars clean to the finish and perfect pit stop execution by our new team meant a very successful first WEC race for our Ford Chip Ganassi team.

Having seen it grow from an empty workshop in December to this is something I’m very proud to be part of and I must give a massive shout to George Howard-Chappell for putting such an incredible team together.

I can’t wait for Spa!

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