Bathgate’s Marino Franchitti recorded the best result of his career when he finished second in the Sebring 12-Hour race, the opening round of the American Le Mans Series, in his first outing with the Dyson Porsche team. The 29-year-old, partnered by Butch Leitzinger and Andy Lally, started from seventh on the 34-car grid and battled through the 351 laps to initially cross the finish line third.
But 50 minutes later he was promoted to second after the second-place Acura was disqualified for a technical infringement. That also moved fellow Scot and pre-race favourite Allan McNish’s Audi up to third. “This is a mega result for me and the team,” Franchitti said before heading for Orlando and a flight back to the UK. “Being part of the Dyson team is brilliant and to get such a terrific result in our first race of the season is great.” The Florida race was Franchitti’s first competitive outing since he raced in Detroit last August but he was quickly on the pace in his new Porsche Spyder. “I took the first few laps to get used to how the new car handled in race traffic,” he continued, “but after that it was flat-out through my two stints. At the moment I’m still coming to terms with what we’ve achieved.” Franchitti’s car also had to overcome a number of unplanned hurdles. Technical problems with the team’s refuelling rig meant the car dropped five minutes with the first few pitstops before the problem was resolved.
And Leitzinger was forced to muscle the car through the final six laps of the tight and demanding 3.7-mile circuit after the Porsche lost its power steering. The race was won by the Penske Porsche of Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Emmanuel Collard who had battled hard to win by just 13 seconds before the Fernandez Acura was disqualified. The other Dyson Porsche was subsequently elevated to fourth. There was disappointment though for McNish who was gunning for his third Sebring victory. At half distance Audi had looked on course for a comfortable 1-2 only for both cars to hit trouble soon afterwards. The No.2 Audi of Mike Rockenfeller had to return to the paddock for turbo repairs and then lost more time when he went off and damaged the rear wing, while McNish’s No.1 car – which started from pole position – fell three laps down after a long stop for attention to its brakes. Although McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello managed to charge back on to the lead lap by the end, they ran out of time to get back in the hunt for victory, ultimately finishing five seconds behind Franchitti’s Porsche.