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Ganassi wins record-setting 12 Hours of Sebring

March 16, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

Ganassi wins record-setting 12 Hours of Sebring
Owner brings Ford first overall win in 45 years at the endurance classic

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SEBRING, Fla. -- As Marino Franchitti walked over to his team owner Chip Ganassi for a congratulatory handshake amid falling confetti, champagne showers and camera flashbulbs, Ganassi leaned in toward his driver and summed up the team's Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida victory Saturday in three understated words.

"That was sweet," Ganassi said, with a handshake and a hug.

It was also historic.

Franchitti's 4.6-second victory after 12 of the toughest hard-nosed hours of competition in the sport, made Ganassi the only team owner with wins in the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400 and the TUDOR United Sportscar Series' two crown jewels, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.

Happy to give Ford Racing it's first Sebring win in 45 years and to score a victory in his very first try at the famed Sebring International Raceway, Ganassi said he hadn't even realized the big-picture significance of the day.

"When you look at the guys who have won this race, I mean it has some real history about it," said a smiling Ganassi, who fields NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars for Jamie McMurray and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Larson.

"Records are made to be broken and I'm sure some day someone will break this one, but it's nice to have right now.

"We had a great crowd, a great finish and I think the most cars ever on the lead lap at the end. That's a big thing."

It was a big night -- for the newly merged sports car series, which punctuated its Sebring debut with a 12-hour race decided in the final 20 minutes with nine cars on the lead lap -- triple the previous record for lead-lap cars.

And it was a big night for Ganassi, his drivers and for Ford.

"You read about stuff like this," said Ford Racing director Jamie Allison. "The last time Ford won overall was in 1969 and what really makes it so sweet is that this is a win made possible by a production-based Ford EcoBoost.

"Literally it comes out of our production vehicle. It just makes it so, so sweet because it validates what we do at Ford, that the technology we have in our cars is good enough to power an all-out win here at the Sebring 12 Hour."

Franchitti, who drove the No. 01 Telcel Ford Riley prototype final stint, called it the most important win of his career.

"The Franchitti guys are winning some big races for Chip," he said smiling in reference to his older brother Dario's two Indy 500 wins with Ganassi (Dario has another with Andretti Autosport).

"I never dreamt we could win this in our first start for Chip. I'm excited for Big Machine all our sponsors. I'm just blown away. It hasn't sunk in."

His co-driver, veteran Ganassi driver Scott Pruett, on the other hand, was gladly and visibly soaking it all in. It's been a long time coming.

"I'm just proud to work for the Ganassi organization," said Pruett, who finally hoisted the overall winner's trophy 25 years after his first Sebring start.

"If you know Chip, his passion is racing," Pruett said. "His determination is racing, and he gets the right people together from drivers to engineers to crew.

"There's nothing he hasn't won. It's been an incredible run. The things we continue to achieve together have been incredible. It's exciting but not surprising when you look at all the people that have been involved in the Ganassi organization.

"The Good Lord blessed me and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

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