Sebring: Marino Franchitti race report

ALMS Round 1: The 12 Hours of Sebring On the face of it, so much to look forward to as the week began here in Sebring at the start the 2009 American Le Mans Series. The 100th anniversary of this historic event that does it's utmost to break man...

ALMS Round 1: The 12 Hours of Sebring

On the face of it, so much to look forward to as the week began here in Sebring at the start the 2009 American Le Mans Series. The 100th anniversary of this historic event that does it's utmost to break man and machine over a 12 hour period on its 3.7 mile circuit. Dyson Racing's completely new programme with all new partners who are all world renowned household names - Mazda with the new 2.0ltr turbo MZR engine prepared by AER; Lola with their new B09/86 coupe; Michelin who only work with the top major manufacturers competing in the ALMS; and BP, one of the world's largest petroleum producers.

The #20 Lola chassis which Marino, his ALMS co-driver Butch Leitzinger, and Ben Devlin, are driving here this week is the same that Ben drove last year in the ALMS championship, but for the new programme it had to be modified and completely rebuilt and only arrived in Sebring this week along with several critical parts. The Dyson team immediately set about its final preparation and spent some very long days and nights on the #20 car to enable it to finally make the morning session on here on Thursday, the second day of official practice. After just a handful of laps it was Butch who qualified on Thursday afternoon with a 1:51.840 planting the #20 car firmly in 10th position overall on the 28 car grid. Thursday night's practice session was the next opportunity to afford the drivers more time in the car, but it was the weather's turn to interrupt proceedings as heavy rain fell making no sense to run and risk damage to the new car.

The race beckoned, but despite Marino having lead the LMP2 lap times in this morning's 25-minute Warm Up session, the #20 car had completed very little running. As the green flag waved at 10.30am this morning it was Butch at the wheel; he was soon up into 8th overall and holding 2nd place behind the LMP2 Lowes Acura. Butch ran a steady, if slightly off-the-pace double stint before handing over to Marino, but it was clear from the lap times of both Butch and Marino that the team were taking a conservative approach to the race, the ultimate aim being to make the 70% distance in order to score important championship points. The #16 sister Dyson Mazda was already experiencing problems having fallen some 4 laps behind the #20 car. Marino ran his double stint at a steady pace, clearly not pushing the car at all, especially when suffering a down-shift issue later in his stint which the team corrected in the pit stop.

When Marino handed over to Ben it was about a quarter of the way into the 12 hour race distance. Ben's lap times were consistent with those of Marino and Butch, and whilst they weren't making any headway up the leader board, they were still running. It was now Butch's turn to get back into the car to begin the second round of stints, but after barely an hour Butch reported an engine misfire, he came into the pits and went straight behind the wall. It was now just 5 hours and 6 minutes into the race distance, but forty-five minutes later, at 4.21pm local time, both #16 and #20 Dyson Mazda's were officially retired from the race with mechanical problems.

"It was a really tough week for the whole BP Dyson Racing Mazda team, and I have to thank our guys for all the sleepless nights they endured in getting us onto the starting grid" said Marino. He continued, "Of course we're all disappointed we couldn't make it to the end of the race, but Sebring is one of the toughest challenges in the world of sportscars, as it proved today. As new as the programme is, there are always going to be these teething troubles as we develop the package, but we learned a lot during this race that will help us going forward.

It's going to be tough to recover in the championship battle after not scoring points here, but we'll give it our best. We have nine more rounds to try and catch up the lead which the Fernandez team gained here, and we start with St Pete in just two week's time".

-credit: marinofranchitti.com

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Ben Devlin , Marino Franchitti
Teams Dyson Racing