St. Pete: Marino Franchitti race report

ALMS Round 2: St. Petersburg What a difference 2 weeks can make! After the extreme disappointment of Sebring just 14 days ago when both the ...

ALMS Round 2: St. Petersburg

What a difference 2 weeks can make! After the extreme disappointment of Sebring just 14 days ago when both the #16 and #20 BP Dyson Mazda's were withdrawn just over 5 hours into the race due to technical failures, here in St. Petersburg it was an entirely different story.

Street circuits can be punishing at the best of times, and here in St. Petersburg on Florida's west coast it's no different. This is the third visit the ALMS have made to this tough 1.8 mile street course with its challenging 14 corners and changing street surfaces. The Dyson team had worked hard in the few days between races, rebuilding the cars and preparing them for this short race, just 1 hour 55 minutes, on this demanding track. It was Marino's turn to qualify here and with only one day to find a good set-up, there was no time to lose, no time to run the cars in slowly, it was just a case of focussing on what had to be done in order to be as well prepared as possible for today's race.

In the first practice session yesterday Marino in the #20 Dyson Mazda was just under 3 tenths slower than the Lowes LMP2 Acura, and rain towards the end of the session meant that Marino's co-driver, Butch Leitzinger, did not get any time in the car. In the second practice session yesterday afternoon, Marino was third quickest overall and the quickest of the three LMP2 cars by just 0.04 of a second over the Lowes Acura. The 20 minute qualifying session was clearly going to be closely fought. The Acura was the first car to show at the top of the LMP2 sheet, but alternated each lap with Marino's sister car, the #16 Dyson Mazda coupe driven by Guy Smith. Marino joined them on their third lap and was immediately within 0.5 of a second, turning a 1:06.0, and the final qualifying classification could not have been closer, LMP2 Lowes Acura 1:05.17, #16 Dyson 1:05.46, #20 Dyson 1:05.66. It all boded well for some very close racing here today on this very tight track where passing is so difficult.

The 1 hour 55 minute race got underway here at 1.20pm local time, and from the minute the green flag fell Marino was right under the rear wing of Chris Dyson who started the race in the #16 sister Dyson Mazda, and there Marino remained for most of his stint. All the ALMS drivers were complaining of the very slippery surface at Turn 1, but Marino managed to hold his own at that spot, however on lap 16 at Turn 14 where the track surface changed from tarmac to concrete the car got away from him and he spun, but he recovered quickly and two laps later set the fastest LMP2 lap of the race with a 1:08.789.

Marino was 5th overall and 3rd in class when handed over to Butch Leitzinger on lap 43, just past the one hour mark. It was a neat and tidy stop which leapfrogged the #20 car to 2nd in class and 4th overall just ahead of their #16 sister car. It was all looking very good, up ahead the leading LMP1 car of de Ferran developed electrical problems and Butch was promoted to 3rd overall. Sadly that did not last long, a few laps later one of the Michelins came off the rim of the #20 car. Butch recovered and made his way back to the pits, but that stop was to relegate Butch back to 3rd in LMP2 and 4th overall which was to be the final race result.

From the disappointments of Sebring, Marino was very upbeat about the #20 car's result here in St. Petersburg, "I'm delighted with the progress we have made since Sebring" he said "And it was very satisfying setting the fastest lap; my thanks go out to Mazda, Lola, Michelin and the whole of the Dyson team. Unfortunately we had a tyre go which lost us our overall podium and second in class, but now we move on to Long Beach knowing we are going to improve further and continue to make progress".

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach takes place in just two weeks' time, on Saturday, 18th April.


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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Guy Smith , Butch Leitzinger , Marino Franchitti , Chris Dyson