We first announced this new team back in late March,
at which time team owner Stewart Roden commented that "We
have the Ferrari factory's full endorsement of our programme.
It's been a dream of mine (to enter a full blown GT Ferrari) since
I used to race cars, so I'm delighted to see that dream turn into
Marino Franchitti was the perfect driver name to
help launch this effort – an Italo-Scot, driving a Scottish-entered
Italian race car. Perfect. But then the news went quiet: the team
was actually concentrating on winning the UK Pirelli Maranello
Ferrari Challenge, and with that mission accomplished, it then
became time to focus on the GT project.
The Le Mans 1000 Km became the ideal race in which
the Modena should make its debut, and with the decision taken
to submit an entry just six weeks before the race, the 360 was
immediately returned to Italy in order to be fitted with components
to conform to ACO endurance regulations.
By the week beginning November 3, Marino Franchitti
was one impatient Scot: he hadn’t raced since Sebring in
March, and here at last, nearly eight months later, was his second
and last chance to show what he could do in 2003 – in a
Tim Mullen joined the team for testing, and was
eventually confirmed for the race, joining Marino and Chris Niarchos.
The Scuderia Ecosse 360 wasn’t as highly developed as the
rival Cirtek car, but four days of testing (Monday to Thursday)
went very well, and the car passed through scrutineering with
flying colours on Friday.
The team set about preparing the car for qualifying
on Saturday – when the weather was colder than throughout
any of the test days. Very bright and sunny though - so we had
a mix of Italian sunglasses and Scottish headgear.
Marino was set to qualify the car in the morning:
he went out to check the car, but gremlins struck, gear problems
meant that he could only rev the car to 3,000rpm and then, in
the freezing conditions, he was unable to improve on a very low
1:42. He was ranting about traffic and the struggle to find a
clear lap. There was way more time to come from the car.
Tim Mullen went out in the afternoon, and in slightly
warmer (less cold) weather set a 1:41.357, fifth fastest in GT
– just over a second off the time of the Cirtek car.
Tim Mullen has masses of experience of a 360 in FIA GT trim: what’s
the difference Tim? “We’re running with a flat floor
in ACO format, and with a smaller splitter. This car has some
good ‘bits’ on it, and the team is made up of a really
good bunch of guys. We’ve got the paddle shift system though,
and that’s quite slow compared to the sequential (on the
Chris Niarchos explained that “the car still
has the F1 shift and not a sequential shift and that is costing
us a tenth with every change, and there are 19 shifts per lap.
When you take that into account, we’d be right at the front
(of the grid)!” Chris had also had problems with traffic
(and yellow flags) so was slightly disappointed with his time,
but very happy with the car.
Tim Mullen started the race – in the spray
and the gloom - but within a few laps of the midday start was
back into the pit. A serious problem? Some kind of first race
problem to end the day? No, an infuriating one. Somehow, the ducting
to keep the screen from misting wasn’t all it should have
been, and two stops were needed to ensure that Tim Mullen could
see where he was going. The Scuderia Ecosse 360 was suddenly two
Marino next into the car – and unlike most
of the opposition, he opted for slick tyres! Within a handful
of laps he was setting the quickest times among the GT cars –
and the GTS cars. “The first few laps of my stint on slicks
in the wet were interesting, but it was a challenge I relished.
Can't wait to do it all again,” said the Scot.
Eleventh at one hour became seventh at three hours,
but with the reliability of the GT runners (in fact the whole
field), there was only one more place to be made up – on
the #46 TVR. The Sebah Porsche of Pompidou and Collard remained
just out of reach.
So a sixth place on the team’s debut, and third fastest
race lap in the highly competitive GT class. What a maiden race
at this level – and apart from the misting screen, not a
single problem throughout the six hours.
2004 plans should be announced soon, but enquiries
are already underway to find out if Sebring and the first LMES
race (at Monza two weeks later) can be fitted in. And there’s
the possibility of another Ferrari, besides the 360 Modena….