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Marino Franchitti files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Drew Gibson/Ford Performance

Photo: Drew Gibson/Ford Performance

Before the weekend started at Spa, we felt as a team that getting on the podium would be an incredible result, so taking 2nd was just perfect.

I had been in Spa two weeks ago during the Liege Bastogne Liege cycle race, which I was attending with Team Sky (who are supported by Ford) and it was snowing!

For race week the weather was perfect the whole time and very warm for the time of year, which was lovely for teams and fans alike.

Having not driven here since 2007, I was so excited to get on track with our Ford GT and that first flying lap up Eau Rouge was just awesome.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed racing at this track! We worked through our program during the free practices and the consistency of the weather meant we really had the chance to dial the car in while trying out different set up choices.

For this race it was Andy (Priaulx) and I qualifying, we managed to get P5 on the GTE-Pro grid, less than one-tenth off our sister car, and we felt we had a really good run.

I started the race and it was an exciting first turn. One of the Astons had a massive moment in front of me and I took to the astroturf to avoid him. That killed my momentum and cost us a couple of places.

My first job was to get past the GTE-Am Ferrari that had sneaked past… Easier said than done as the driver blocked every move like it was the last lap of Le Mans!

After a couple of laps I passed him at La Source, but a couple of laps later he dragged past me on the straight. He continued to block very aggressively and I really didn’t see the point to that, as all he kept doing was hold us both up and we’re not even in the same class!

Eventually I got a massive run on him and he, again, covered the inside. So I stuck to the outside and knowing, because of his straight line speed advantage, he was still there going into the next turn.

I left him room on the inside, but he clattered the curb, spun and caught me as he did, spinning me too.

Knowing the driver, it was my mistake to put my myself in a position where he could do that, but he was slowing us down so much that I had to try and clear him when the chance was there.

It took a moment to get the right gear and get going again and we lost about 40 seconds in the incident. The fight back was on!

Soon after it was time to pit and Andy took over. He was flying and started to climb back up the leader board. Harry continued his good work and because of a pit speed penalty the No. 66 car had, he was locked in a great battle with Stefan.

They had an issue which meant they had to pit for a repair and Harry went about cementing the third place we’d managed to climb back to.

We could see that the No. 97 Aston was on a fuel economy run, trying to pit one less time than us and when our respective strategies played out, it was going to be close….

After a great double stint, Harry handed over to me and I went about continuing to make sure that we had the gap we needed (while saving as much fuel as possible) to make the stop for a splash of fuel.

The guys had fixed the No. 66 car and it was back on track also.

A couple of laps into my stint my engineer reported the safety car was out, as there was a big crash at Radillion and to keep right to avoid debris.

When I arrived there the first thing I saw was a wheel complete with the upright and suspension, and I knew straight away it was Stefan in the No. 66 car.

Going past and seeing the aftermath of a massive off and not knowing if your teammate is OK or not is tough, but the team were great at giving me info on his condition.

Also, every lap we went past I could see that he was moving and that they had him out of the car quite quickly.

Fortunately, although battered and bruised, I was delighted to hear he had escaped major injury and we have to thank Ford for building such a strong and safe car for us to race.

The safety car meant that both us, and the Aston would make it to the end with one more pit stop.

I came into the pits behind them (due to some confusion on the wave around), but as we didn’t change tires the team had me serviced and away before them.

We had 45 minutes to run and Jonny Adam was charging hard in the Aston. The team was keeping me informed about the gap and apart from becoming the meat in the P2 leaders battle, we controlled the gap and made it to the finish in front of them.

I assumed we were third, but the team told me as we crossed the line that we were actually 2nd! They thought I had enough to deal with those last few laps without needing to know that, and they were right!

It was so cool going up my first WEC podium with Andy and Harry; they did such a great job getting us back into contention after my contact, along with rapid pit stops and a top strategy.

It was an incredible team effort by the Ford Chip Ganassi crew and I still can’t quite believe it was only the teams second race!

So, now it’s time for the big one; Le Mans. Hopefully we can go one better and get our first win…. I can’t wait to try!

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