Big brother might have won Indy, but endurance racing was always his sibling’s aim. Simon Arron met Ford’s WEC recruit
When first I met Marino Franchitti he was driving at Le Mans… in so much as he was ferrying guests around the circuit in a courtesy shuttle. As we chat for this feature, the Scot is dressed in factory Ford overalls and bubbling about the Ganassi-run GT he’ll drive in a full World Endurance Championship programme this season.
Things have moved on a touch.
“Driving that minibus was a good experience,” he says, “because it got me into the paddock and let me see how everything worked. I realised that it would be very easy to use up all your energy before you’ve even started the race, so it was best to keep your powder dry.”
Son of former Formula Ford racer George and brother to four-time Indycar champion Dario, five years his senior, Franchitti has the family’s love of racing history. “Dad stopped racing before I was born,” Marino says, “and I wasn’t really aware of it. What really kicked it off was when Dario went to a Jim Clark anniversary dinner. He was about 18, spoke to lots of Jimmy’s friends and became a bit of a Clark obsessive. He read books about the past and I started picking them up. It made me very aware of Clark, but I didn’t really want to be a Formula 1 driver. I was more interested in Le Mans, so I wanted to be Derek Bell. In fact I still do!
“Dario acquired loads of books and then I began buying my own, so we drew each other into different areas. Actually, I have a Denny Hulme book I still haven’t read because Dario nicked it… It’s self-perpetuating, because tales of what some of these guys achieved are just so interesting. The programme Ford undertook to beat Ferrari so comprehensively at Le Mans in the ’60s is the stuff of legend and I can but hope to write my own little chapter. Ferrari will be out there with its own new GT car this year and we have ours, so it should be fun.”
After a successful karting career, Marino dabbled briefly in single-seaters before turning to sports cars and winning his class with Kelvin Burt in the 2001 British GT Championship. That triggered more than a decade of varied endurance campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in his most significant success at Sebring in 2014.
“I felt an instant connection with long-distance racing,” he says, “and it’s a very special feeling to win a big race as part of a team. When I signed with Ford I thought about the company’s connection with Scottish drivers: Jimmy, obviously, Jackie Stewart, Colin McRae in rallying… It’s a great honour to be wearing the same badge as some of my heroes.
“You connect with cars, and the Ford GT just felt right straight away. I’d done some development work beforehand, but as soon as I tested it in anger I thought, ‘Right, I need to race this – it’s going to be great.’ As much I love looking at the past, right now my main focus is our first race at Silverstone in April. It helps that the car will have taken part in 24- and 12-hour races at Daytona and Sebring before we commence our programme, because information will be pooled between Ford’s American and European teams. We want to be at the front from the start.
“As somebody who loves the history of our sport so much, it’s incredible to be part of Ford’s return to Le Mans. To be following in the footsteps of guys like Amon, McLaren, Foyt, Gurney, Rodriguez, Bianchi, Ickx and Oliver… It’s amazing. I had a small taste of that when I won Sebring for Ganassi in 2014, with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. It was Ford’s first victory there since ’69 and I’d love to be able to do the same at Le Mans.”