Franchitti & McGarrity – Eventful Week At Sebring

Or uneventful until Saturday – or uneventful until Thursday…it all depends on how you look at it. For race partners Marino Franchitti and Kevin McGarrity, they’re still together now, a week after the race, in Kevin’s native Belfast. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Wasn’t it supposed to be the three of you racing at Sebring: Franchitti, McGarrity and Phil Bennett?

dailysportscar.comMF: Phil did most of the testing with us, and he was going really well. The whole Risi team were impressed with the way he was going, and the way the car was performing – from the moment it arrived straight from Italy, for a long test in January. But Phil had to leave Sebring early in race week, owing to business commitments, leaving Kevin and myself to do it together. We arrived on the Friday, so we’d had over a week at the track, which is far longer than for a normal race.

How did Kevin get the drive with you?

MF: The team needed a third driver for Sebring, Kevin is an old mate and blindingly quick, and it was just natural that he’d fill the third seat.

First GT drive then, Kevin. What did you make of the Ferrari 360?

KMcG: It’s very different from a prototype, but it handles very well, and we hardly had a problem all week, which is a tribute to the Risi Competizione team. What a professional bunch to work with. Just Marino and I made it more intense, and we got more driving each so I had plenty of time to adjust to the car.

Talk us through the early part of the week please, Marino.

MF: We didn’t go out in all the sessions from Monday, we didn’t need to. The track conditions were changing all the time, so we could have confused ourselves on the set-up if we’d kept on changing the car. We basically went out when it suited us to go out, working towards the race all the time.

I knew there were going to be three Porsches ahead of us on the grid, no more. Risi are making huge strides with the car, and we’re getting closer to the Porsches all the time. But we lose out on the straights, to the extent of maybe four or five car lengths on the back straight. I can’t say what developments they’ve got in hand, but they’re working very hard to get up with the Porsches.
The 360 brakes fantastically, it’s good in all types of corner, it just needs a little more poke.

So you were all set up for Qualifying…what happened?

dailysportscar.comMF: We missed half of the (short) qualifying session. On Thursday morning, the gearbox played up – just an electrical thing, but they had to change everything, or nearly everything. There was one component they couldn’t change in the time, and that was the one playing up, so we still had the problem in Qualifying. I ended up twelfth, whereas I should have been right up there with Ralf (Kelleners - photo).

Did you two speak to each other during the race?

MF: Just a couple of ‘how are you doings’ as we changed over at pit stops. That was it. The first time I spoke to Kevin properly, he was on a stretcher.

Sum up the race until the accident, Marino.

MF: Very intense, very enjoyable. We would have been third – and with the Petersen car disqualified, we would have had second. During Kevin’s stint that ended with the accident, he was catching the #31 too. I think that sort of pace compared to what they were doing at the time made them re-think their strategy. Basically, Kevin and I were banging in low 2:09s on clear laps, 2:10s when we were in traffic.

So how are you, Kevin, and what happened early on Saturday evening?

dailysportscar.comKMcG : The painkillers take some of the pain away, but not all of it by any means. I’m getting a bit of sleep, but if I wake up, the pain keeps me awake.

In the race, we’d got to that point where you’re starting to think that it will be great to get to the finish in such a good position. We’d done most of the hard work.

But coming out of Turn 17, all I felt was a bang at the back. I know your eye-witness said that he thought I was hit side on, but it felt like the back to me. But in darkness you just see the lights, so I had no idea which car it was. But I know that whoever it was didn’t do it on purpose.

The trouble there is that the wall is so close. I corrected it but slammed into the wall, my feet were injured and trapped round the pedals, and the car was wanting to catch fire. I ended up hauling myself out of it and falling onto the ground, which was pretty painful.

But the breaks are clean and I’ll be fit to drive in four to six weeks. I’m talking to several people, and I definitely want to be there. I want to get back in a prototype.

What were your thoughts on the aftermath of the accident Marino?

dailysportscar.comMF: Once the IMSA officials arrived, Kevin had fantastic treatment, but the marshals (corner workers) didn’t perform well at all. A marshal arrived and ran off for help. The next one arrived with an extinguisher, looked in and ran away. Poor old Kevin had to chuck himself onto the ground. But the IMSA guys were fantastic.

Other than the unfortunate end to your race, what did you think of your first ALMS race, Kevin?

KMcG: I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fans were great. We went over to Green Park to see what was going on during the Thursday evening, and we’d planned on going over there again after the race. But that plan didn’t come off, did it? I ended up in hospital, Marino accompanied me back to the UK, and here he is in Belfast, keeping me company.

And your plans for the rest of the season, each of you?

MF: It’s not agreed yet how many races Phil and I will be doing, but obviously I’d like to complete the ALMS season and we’re working towards that. And then there’s Le Mans….

KMcG: I’d love to do the ALMS, but Le Mans is the next race anyway….

….and a few days in Southern Ireland will surely help the healing process.


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