Franchitti 'living the dream' in WECposted in LMANS15 | 04 | 2016

    AFTER SPENDING THE last two years basically kicking his heels in frustration, Bathgate's Marino Franchitti (pictured with his Ford GT and Jim McGill) admits he's now "living the dream" as he prepares to debut his all-new Ford GT race car at Silverstone this weekend.

    In a strange quirk of timing, exactly 25 months to the day since he powered his Ganassi Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype to victory in the Sebring 12-Hours in Florida, the 37-year-old Scot will today take to the track at the home of British motorsport.

    Franchitti — partnered by fellow Brits Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell — will fire up his new Ford GT for the opening practice sessions ahead of Sunday's Six Hours of Silverstone, the opening round of the World Endurance Championship.

    The significance of the day is not lost on the Scot, who ironically started his motor racing career in Formula Ford at Knockhill. Not only does today launch his career as a Ford works' driver, but it marks the start of his journey to race in the greatest endurance test of them all, the Le Mans 24-Hours in June.

    And why has Ford decided, after all these years, to return to sportscar racing? Because this year is the 50th anniversary of Ford's first victory at Le Mans. Not only was it the first time an American car manufacturer had won the classic 24-hour race, but the Blue Oval giant's three GT40s filled the first three places.

    "This is massive for me," a beaming Franchitti said as he eyed his gleaming red, white and blue Ford GT race car. "I wanted this so badly. To be with Ford returning to Le Mans 50 years after they first won, and the 1-2-3 finish, is a dream come true.

    "Ford has been away from frontline motorsport for so many years, so this very special not just for me, but for everyone associated with the team and Ford.

    "As you know, I started my career in Formula Ford. In fact, the last time I drove here at Silverstone was in 1999 on the South Circuit, and that was in a FFord car. 

    "Now, to be following in the footsteps of the famous names such as Kiwi Bruce McLaren who won the 1966 Le Mans with Ford is very special.

    "Aside from that, as a Scotsman, putting the racesuit on and having the Blue Oval on your chest is very special. To be a Ford factory driver following in the footsteps of the legendary Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart is something very special for me."

    Related: Franchitti — I'm ready for the green light

    Those initial footsteps were taken at Sebring back in 2014. Franchitti had heard whispers of Ford's planned return to Le Mans in 2016, and an assault on the WEC — a title fellow Scot Allan McNish won  with Audi in 2013 — and was keen to be a part of the programme.

    The fact he helped Chip Ganassi Racing deliver Ford's first win at the Florida circuit, fending off another Scot, Wishaw's Ryan Dalziel in an epic battle over the last 20-minutes, unquestionably boosted his standing.

    "When I was fortunate to drive with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing at Sebring in 2014 and Daytona, I already had an inclination that this programme was coming," Franchitti continued.

    "As a result, over the last two years it's been my sole target to be a part of this programme. There's been things along the way that I've said 'no' to that highlighted the fact I was putting all my eggs into one basket, in relation to getting this seat.

    "But when the basket's this good, you have to make commitments and ultimately believe it'll happen. It was always my focus to be a part of this programme, and I'm very fortunate that Ford, MultiMatic and Chip Ganassi have put their faith in me."

    Related: Franchitti leads Ford's return to Le Mans

    And while Le Mans, which remains the Blue Riband race on the WEC calendar, is undoubtedly Franchitti's No1 target, he is relishing the fight to win be crowned WEC champ in the season finale in Bahrain in November.

    "I'm fortunate to have been working on the development of these cars since early last year," Franchitti explained, "and we come to Silverstone after a very productive and successful test at Aragon in Spain, and Paul Ricard in France.

    "I love developing cars but to also be involved on the team side, and watching them build the team, is really interesting. You watch it all gel together. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

    "Getting to Silverstone, finally going racing and being competitive, is our first goal. Second is to go to Le Mans and try to win it, and do the best we can. After that, it’s just to be in the hunt for wins as much as we can be and push for the world title.

    “It’s a really big ask to go out and win Le Mans. We’re all aware of how difficult that’s going to be and what it’s going to take. But we’re aiming high, and we have to. This is Ford."

    Related: Roadtest — Ford Focus RS

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    Jim McGill


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