Marino Franchitti Le Mans diary: final take

Welcome to France for my final diary from Le Mans
By: Marino Franchitti

It was a really, really tough race for the whole Panoz/ Bank of Scotland team and although neither car finished I think the information we got from the race will help a lot in the Esperante's future development and can only make it stronger.

#78 Panoz Motor Sports Panoz Elan: Bryan Sellers, Marino Franchitti, Patrick Bourdais.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
Warm up on race morning was good for the 78 car [the Esperante that Marino co-drove during the 24 Hours of Le Mans]. We changed the car quite a bit from where it was on Thursday evening setup wise as we were still not convinced we had a comfortable race car. The changes were just what we needed and I set second fastest time on old tires.

The start of the race was great for us as a team. Bill [in the 77 car] took the GT2 lead on the second lap and kept it for the whole of his stint. Bryan had made up some positions too and was doing a really good job.

As I said in the previous diary, the heat was expected to be bad and it was. So hot and humid, it was terrible. We had in-car temps of 170F which meant we had to shorten the stint lengths for the first few hours so as not to exhaust the drivers.

My first stint was going well until the blower hose which pumps fresh air into my helmet fell off and took my ear plugs with it. This was a problem as now I couldn't hear the team. I knew they could still hear me so I asked them to use the pit board to give me information. They did and I brought the car to the pit box in 3rd place.

Patrick took over and was taken out by a Pescarolo on his first lap out. I saw the replay of it and Ayari was a complete idiot, trying to take two lapped cars into Arnage when no one overtakes there. So unnecessary!

That damaged the radiator hoses which then dropped water and caused Patrick to spin into the gravel. So the car was in the garage for a long time being repaired and cleaned out before he could finish his stint. And then at the end of this stint, Patrick was back in the gravel and it looks like the radiator itself failed so again he spun on his own water.

#78 Panoz Motor Sports Panoz Elan: Bryan Sellers, Marino Franchitti, Patrick Bourdais.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
The engine was seriously overheated by both these incidents but kept running with, it seemed, no loss of power. Thank you to the guys who do the engine at Elan for building such a strong product.

As Bryan tried to leave the pits, the clutch broke so the guys did a super job changing it at warp speed. The guys from the 77 car were helping even though there car went out early, great team spirit.

I did a few more stints and the blower hose kept coming off. I had to use two hands so I didn't rip out my ear plugs again. I have now perfected doing 180mph on the Mulsanne using my left knee to steer, oh, and the front straight too!

Poor Bryan was feeling ill from the first stint but soldiered on through. He had a spin into the gravel in the night and the marshalls managed to pull BOTH two eyes clean out of the chassis trying to get the car back on which required another unscheduled stop to repair.

In the morning at 9am the team decided to put me in for a double stint if I could manage it, we hadn't attempted it before this. I was managing it before the broken prop shaft put us out at 11 am, 19 hours in, and 3/4 of the way through the double. I was gutted when the car lost drive on the exit of Mulsanne corner.

It was disappointing but I'm proud of the way the whole team performed from the beginning to the end of this Le Mans adventure.

Although I knew we were probably out, I still had to sit connected to the car with my helmet on for 45 minutes until the guys came and gave me some advice on what to try on the car. They are not allowed to touch the car or pass me anything but can give me tips on what to do. The moment I started the car and they heard the prop shaft rattling about they told me kill the motor and we were out.

Just before this happened I was racing a helicopter down the Mulsanne.... I came out of Tetre Rouge and saw the shadow of a eurocopter B3 passing over me. As I accelerated I began to catch up. Somewhere over 160 I drew ahead. Then I had to brake for the first chicane and he cut it (cheat)! but I was soon catching him again. It made me chuckle.

My family who couldn't be at the race seemed to follow it well using the Internet, radio Le Mans and by calling my Dad. Dario seems to have had his own "mission control" going in America thanks to the great coverage that Speed TV provided and also radio Le Mans. He kept phoning when I was out of the car and telling me what was happening not only with the competition but with my car too! Thanks for that bro.

Just a last bit of info for you. I lost 6 KG of weight during the race which I find amazing considering the amount I ate and drank between stints.

Thank you again for joining me during my rookie year at Le Mans. I can't wait to go back!

See you all soon,

P.S. Congratulations to Mr Maraj, J.J, Marco, Tom and everyone at Champion racing on there first Le Mans victory.

PPS. I've been reading blue and orange, the history of Gulf in racing, a book by Michael Cotton while I'm here, if you're a sportscar fan make sure you read it.