Marino Franchitti: A lap of Road Atlanta Marino Franchitti: A lap of Road Atlanta

Motorsport.com has asked drivers from the American Le Mans Series and the SCCA SPEED World Challenge to give our readers an insight of some of the 2005 venues that they will compete on. This coming weekend the ALMS drivers will compete on the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course in Braselton, Georgia.

Marino Franchitti and Bryan Sellers.
Photo by Marino Franchitti.
The event is the second longest endurance race of the season for the ALMS teams. The race will be 1,000-miles or 10 hours, whichever comes first. It is also one of the most popular races on the calendar for the ALMS spectators as it adds the flavor of the European teams as they cross the pond to compete in the prestigious Petit Le Mans.

What makes this race so unique is that each of the four class winners receive an automatic invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans -- an annual historic event that every sportscar driver and team wants to win in their lifetime.

Marino Franchitti is one such driver. The likeable Scotsman delighted our viewers with his Le Mans "diary" from this year's Le Mans race. Not only in words but added imagery to his words with his own photos; including a few from the parade in downtown Le Mans.

Franchitti co-drives with Bryan Sellers for Panoz Motor Sports, the two campaign the #51 Panoz Esperante in the GT2 class. To top off his season and keep his skills sharp, the endurance specialist recently completed in the inaugural Britcar 24 hours race at Silverstone.

This past weekend, the team ran in the open test at Road Atlanta, along with other contenders for this coming weekend's Petit race. The Scottish racer and his American co-driver and friend are looking to notch their first win this season. In his own words, Franchitti takes us on a lap around the Road Atlanta circuit.

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A Lap of Road Atlanta
By: Marino Franchitti

Road Atlanta is our (Panoz) home track so we're always excited to be here and the car seems to like it too as we won here earlier in the year. But for me it's also a very "European" track which suits me, so it's one of my very favourite tracks in North America.

#51 Panoz Motor Sports Panoz Esperante GTLM: Marino Franchitti, Bryan Sellers.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
A lap round here is just awesome -- you arrive at Turn 1 in 5th gear, down shift to 4th, it's quite bumpy on entry so you have to allow the car to settle over the bumps before you can go back to the throttle. Because of the bumps it's obviously very important to apex Turn 1 exactly, if you can, because you only use half to three-quarters of the track on the exit in order to get the line of entry right for Turns 2 & 3. Turn 3 is a completely blind entry so it's difficult to pick your braking point when you can't see the corner! It takes a lot of laps to discover a consistent way to enter this corner. Turn 3 is also a 3rd gear and you carry a lot of speed in and use the right hand curb.

Then into the Esses with a long lefthander -- short shift to 4th and again, the entry to the right is blind. When the car is "good" it's flat but you have to be perfect and precise as turn too early you hit the inside kerb and upset the car, too late and the there is a chance of having a big "moment" Awesome place to watch and so rewarding when you get it right.

You then have to brake uphill for Turn 5, a lefthander, which is very slippery in the braking area which also makes it very challenging. It's very bumpy from the apex to the exit. If the car is working as you want here you use less of the kerb on exit. Being an uphill corner it's a lot of fun and probably one of my favourite corners on the track.

Uphill to Turn 6, a very fast 3rd gear corner, and because entry is uphill you brake later and less than you might expect. It's very important to carry a lot of speed into this corner, and, something for the drivers to watch out for this year, it's been repaved which will make it a different challenge for everyone -- a great corner.

Turn 7 is the most important corner on the track and also probably the slipperiest, its very easy to go too fast into this corner and mess up your exit, but you can't do that because it leads onto the long back straight. Be patient and realise that's all the grip the corner has and concentrate on a fast, clean exit. The back straight is a good place to check everything, the gauges, temperatures, etc., because you have time, maybe take a wee drink too. At the end of the straight as you begin to brake(you reach your top speed for the whole lap here) you are still coming round a right kink so you are braking from 6th to 2nd gear -- it's a big challenge to get on the brakes and turn the corner in order to slow the car sufficiently. It's bumpy too and down hill. There is so much going on here, so challenging and we like that!

#51 Panoz Motor Sports Panoz Esperante GTLM: Marino Franchitti, Bryan Sellers.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
The chicane is cool because you get to carry a lot of speed in and use the curbs. Here again the exit is important because although it is still a corner before the main straight, it almost dictates your speed for it.

Then for me you come to the most daunting and exciting part of the track -- a blind crest under a bridge, spectacular, as you come through it the car is up in the air -- a bit like the Nurburgring -- and then you sweep into Turn 12, the track narrows as you enter the corner and for me this is mind over matter here. Your mind says lift but your right foot stays buried on the bulkhead when the car is good. It's such a very exhilarating corner when you can do that. And that's a lap of Road Atlanta.

I was once told that Road Atlanta is like a roller coaster, a great challenge for both car and driver. I just can't wait for the race. I was out there testing with the Panoz Esperante this morning and "Oh man!" it was so exciting to drive the track again.