Franchitti & Leuenberger At B-Racing
The Long Haul

What a refreshing pair we had at the FIA GT event at Silverstone: the Swiss Benjamin Leuenberger and the Scot Marino Franchitti, driving Norbert Walchhofer’s B-Racing RS Line Lamborghini Murcielago. Herr Walchhofer is a splendid chap too - and he's got his own energy drink (held by both of the drivers, right).

“Norbert has got so much energy, and he’s great fun to deal with,” began Benjamin Leuenberger. “You reported on the team’s launch I think, from St. Wolfgang in Austria. A lot of companies use the hotel there for their launches, and Norbert had five or six Lamborghinis there, 300 guests, they closed the tunnel – it was great fun. The race car was on a platform, with the drivers too, and the whole thing descended from the roof.”

And then Norbert Walchhofer appeared as we talked – in the team’s ‘upside down bouncy castle’ of a hospitality unit.

Why have you chosen these two drivers Norbert?

“We have the best looking car, and the best two drivers!

“We watched Benjamin’s career, that’s why we invited him to test the car. He’s a good guy with character. We are not only looking for the fastest drivers, we want a good chemistry in the team too.”

Leuenberger: “I read in the news about this new team, and that Philipp Peter was due to test with them. I knew Rainier Steifel from working with BMW, so I called them.. and then Philipp Peter changed his mind, they invited me to test at Imola… and they signed Christophe Bouchut that day, and told me that I was signed up for the season too! It was as quick and as simple as that.”

Walchhofer: “It was the same with Marino: we invited him to Le Castellet, and it worked straight away.”

So how did you come to be invited to join them team at Paul Ricard, Marino?

“It was really odd the way it started. A fan of mine sent me an email, through my website, telling me about this new team running Lamborghinis, and he thought it might be worth me getting in touch. I did, and the first time I met them all was at Ricard.

“I’d arrived there straight from the Grand Am race at Mexico: I met Norbert, we got along well, I enjoyed working with Berndt (Seibold, the team’s highly experienced chief engineer) and Rainier (Steifel) – and that’s how it all started.”

So Benjamin Leuenberger (debriefing, with Berndt Seibold in the next image) had a slightly earlier start with the team, but for various reasons, neither driver has really had any extended running with the Murcielago, at least until Friday at Silverstone.

Leuenberger: “We tested at Imola, but we had some problems there – and again at Estoril and Paul Ricard. Then at Istanbul I did five laps before the engine gave us problems – so yesterday (Friday) was the first time that the car has run faultlessly. Marino and I both did about 20 laps each.”

Franchitti: “I got in about 30 laps at Paul Ricard.”

So how has the car been going at Silverstone?

Franchitti: “Dunlop provided us with a different compound this morning (Saturday), and that’s a definite improvement. The Dunlop guys are pushing really hard.”

Leuenberger: “We missed out at Estoril, because we were supposed to test a lot of Dunlop tyres there. But the engine people, Breuer, are working hard to fix the problems. We deliberately have a bit less power here than we had at Istanbul, but the car is proving to be very reliable.”

Benjamin Leuenberger, with the team for over two months now (!), is slightly better positioned to explain where this team is heading.

“It’s our first year, so ultimately we’re looking for good results, and we know that’s going to be tough. But maybe we can score a podium in the Le Mans Series.

“Next year we’ll be a two car team, but this is a three to five year programme. Norbert sees the big picture, so here, for example, he may not drive in the race. He’s prepared not to drive if it helps the team.

“But he’s living his dream – that’s why he’s got so much energy.”

The team owner will soon have a second Lamborghini at his disposal – it arrives this week – and although it won’t be to the full spec. of the lead car, yet, it will allow the former Ferrari Challenge man to get in plenty of practice in a GT1 car.

Benjamin Leuenberger was already finding, after two sessions at Silverstone, that he and his new team-mate are “well matched, we like the same things on the car.”

So let’s suppose for a moment that you two are racing together this year (see below), what can you two young chargers do for this team?

Marino: “With the experience I have, I know how a good sportscar team should run, from the Team Manager through all the levels of the team. I know how the structure of a race weekend should work, how debriefs should be run…”

Benjamin: “There’s already a lot of experience in the team, but they need drivers who can communicate well, describing every detail, comparing what’s happening with what you’ve done before.”

Marino: “You can either make a difference of just drive the car.”

These two are clearly out to make a difference – and the good news that emerged during the balance of the Silverstone weekend, and confirmed earlier this week, is that they’ll be racing together in the remaining Le Mans Series events – beginning at Spa this weekend (Christophe Bouchut had already signed to race in the FIA Championship – but oddly not at Silverstone, which gave Franchitti his chance).

“It’s one of my very favourite tracks, and I can’t wait to drive the Lamborghini Murcielago round it,” says the Scot. “I want to thank Norbert (Walchhofer) for giving me the opportunity to continue with the team and to help them with the development of the car.”

His Swiss partner had qualified on Saturday afternoon at Silverstone, but Marino Franchitti was the listed starting driver – and he had an eventful opening spell.

He started on intermediates, switched to slicks, had to make an unscheduled pit stop when one of his belts came undone, then “there was the loudest bang. My immediate thought was a tyre had blown, but almost as quickly I realised I had lost all drive to the car and was forced to park it at Bridge. It was such a pity because in every other respect the car had been running so well up to that point and the team had done a really good job at their first FIA GT race. It was a disappointing ending, but there is a positive side and it all bodes well for the future.”

“We are all motivated to keep pushing this project forward, and I can’t wait for next weekend.”

 

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