Despite strong performances this season, Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger had not been top three finishers since the first race of the season, the 12 Hours of Sebring, in March this year. The pairing had also been cruelly denied two certain podiums which were snatched from their grasp in the final stages of the ALMS events in St. Petersburg and Lime Rock, however, that was all put behind them when they stepped back up onto the LMP2 podium here in Road America this evening.
Marino had qualified the #20 Dyson Racing LMP2 Porsche RS Spyder tenth overall and seventh in class here on the 4 mile circuit of Road America in the leafy suburbs of Elkhart Lake yesterday afternoon. And you could be forgiven for thinking that was a lowly position, but the mix of LMP1 and LMP2 top ten cars were separated by no more than 1.5 seconds and Marino was only 0.9 seconds behind one of the Penske LMP2 Porsche Spyders which this weekend had been fitted with one of the latest updated Porsche engines providing them with more horsepower and greater fuel economy.
The threat of rain hung over the four hour race here this afternoon, but that did not deter Marino who had started from the back of the grid. On the last lap of his qualifying run he had pushed hard to try to beat the time of the Penske Porsche Spyder just ahead of him, only to finish up damaging his tyres in the gravel. As drivers are meant to begin the race on their qualifying tyres, the penalty for changing them is to start at the back.
However, by lap 11 Marino was already up to 10th and amongst the leading pack of cars, but at the first full course yellow he was the only car to pit and take on board more fuel thus moving him back down the field; he was clearly on a different strategy to everyone else. By lap 49 he was 5th overall and 3rd in class and a mere 15 laps later he had progressed to 4th overall and 2nd in class. By the time Marino finally handed over the car on lap 70 after 2hrs 45 minutes of driving, the length of a normal ALMS race, Marino had positioned the car 2nd overall and 2nd in class.
Butch Leitzinger took up the chase in the #20 car and drove a strong steady stint to the finish, the reward being a placing of 5th overall and 3rd in class. "The Dyson team did a fantastic job and called a great strategy", said a beaming Marino after the race, "Road America is one of my favourite tracks in the States, and if you have a good car here, it's just mega. Our car had been good all weekend, and the small changes we made only improved it even more, just imagine what we could have achieved had we had the new Porsche engine".
The eighth round of the American Le Mans Series will be held at Mosport in Canada on Sunday, 24th August, 2008.