Marino Franchitti relishing GTE Pro dogfight upon Ford’s WEC arrival

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BIRMINGHAM – Marino Franchitti is relishing the chance to battle with Porsche, Aston Martin and Ferrari in the GTE Pro class of the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2016 following Ford’s entry to the series.

50 years on from its famous victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Ford GT will return to the Circuit de la Sarthe this June in partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing as part of a dual effort in both the WEC and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Franchitti is joined in the two-car WEC effort by Andy Priaulx, Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke, and was present at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, England this week alongside the sleek Ford GT.

The GTE Pro class of the WEC has proven to be one of the closest-fought in recent years as Aston Martin Racing, AF Corse and Porsche Team Manthey have battled for top honors.

Franchitti believes that Ford can immediately join this fight with its new car, and believes that it will offer some incredible racing between the four manufacturer teams.

“We’re going against some legendary opposition, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin. It’s the things of dreams,” Franchitti said.

“It’s going to be a dogfight, every single lap, every single race – especially at Le Mans in June. Very excited to be a part of that having watched the WEC for the past couple of years, especially the GT class, with Ford coming in and making it four.

“Obviously Porsche and Aston have their last generation cars updated, the Ferrari is all-new as we are, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how it all plays out. I think it’s just going to be wheel to wheel for every single lap of racing.”

Franchitti has already tested the Ford GT ahead of the new season, and said that he immediately felt at ease with the car.

“I’m just desperate to get back in it, sitting here looking at it. This is the car I’ve done all the testing in so far, over the second half of last year,” Franchitti said.

“Sometimes with cars it takes a little bit to get used to them, but this car it was an instant connection. Love the way the balance works and the work that Multmatics and Ford and Chip Ganassi Racing have done. They’ve produced a really nice car out of the box.

“We’re very lucky in WEC having the two races in the States beforehand. We’ll have a lot of knowledge to take with us to Silverstone and hopefully be battling at the front from the word go.”

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”