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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.