Le Mans - balmy breezes and hot sunshine, are just two characteristics that immediately spring to mind when the famous racetrack is mentioned. But neither were to be found last weekend when the ACO ran the special 1000kms event on their equally famous shortened track, the Bugatti Circuit. The weather was certainly sunny up to race day, but very cold indeed, and come race day itself, very, very wet.
But that wasn't about to dampen the pleasure that Marino was getting from competing on track once again. Marino's last race this season had been the Sebring 12 Hours, when lying 3rd in class and his team mate driving, the Risi Ferrari 360 Modena had been hit in the rear, his team mate badly injured and the car destroyed. Needless to say rebuilding the car swallowed the remainder of the budget putting a block on Marino's racing for the rest of the season. However he had now been asked to race the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 360 Modena in Le Mans, and nothing was about to stop him, least of all the weather!
The new Scuderia Ecosse team were running a Ferrari 360 Modena for the first time, and just being in Le Mans was almost enough excitement for them! The brand new car had been purchased at the beginning of the year in FIA GT trim, but budget constraints had meant that Marino Franchitti who had been asked to run a development programme on the car throughout the year, had not had the opportunity to do so. When the decision was finally taken just six weeks ago to run the special 1000kms event, the car had immediately to be returned to Italy in order to be fitted with components to conform to ACO endurance regulations.
Marino and the team arrived in Le Mans the weekend before the race to participate in the official 4-day test sessions, the 3 drivers being Marino Franchitti, Tim Mullen and Chris Niarchos. Testing went well and Marino's experience gained in the US from driving the Ferrari and his experience with Pirelli tyres was invaluable. The car passed scrutineering with flying colours on the Friday, and the team set about preparing the car for qualifying on the Saturday. If the weather up to Saturday had been cold, Saturday itself could only be described as freezing. Qualifying was split into 2 sessions, one on Saturday morning, the other in the afternoon. Marino was set to qualify the car in the morning, he went out to check the car, but gremlins struck, gear problems meant that he could only rev the car to 3,000rpm and this coupled with the freezing conditions prevented him from getting enough heat in the tyres to set a good qualifying time.
The team worked hard on the car to rectify the problem during the break in order that Tim and Chris could qualify it in the afternoon, which they duly did finishing up 4th in GT category.
But on race day it was pouring with rain, and conditions on track were very slippery. Tim started the race, but within a few laps was back into the pit complaining of the windscreen misting up, the windscreen was cleared and he went back out, but this was to happen again putting the car a couple of laps down and at the back of the field.
Marino was to drive the 2nd stint, and whilst the rain had eased the air was misty and wet and the track still very, very damp. Marino opted for slick tyres! Within a handful of laps into his stint Marino was setting the quickest times not only in GT category, but also in GTS! By the end of his stint Marino had been able to make up over a lap on the deficit the team had incurred - an incredible feat by any standards.
The team went on to finish the race 6th in class, an excellent accomplishment for a first endurance race, "it was such fun racing again" said Marino, "just as if I'd never been away. The first few laps of my stint on slicks in the wet were interesting, but it was a challenge I relished. Can't wait to do it all again".