British Success In America (X4)
We don’t normally go all ‘gooey-eyed’ over British racing drivers winning things (à la Autosport), but there was something very satisfying, to a Brit, so see British drivers doing so well at Mosport and Miller Motorsports Park last weekend – and at Dijon: we mustn’t forget Jamie Davies winning in the FIA GT Championship.

But America is in the title – and four Brits had very successful, in one case extremely successful, weekends. Those four, in no particular order, were Andy Wallace, Guy Smith, Johnny Mowlem and Robin Liddell.

Only one of them was a class winner, so we ought to start with him.

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One remarkable feature of the ALMS race at Mosport was the Risi Ferrari 1-2 in GT2 – the first time Ferrari has ever scored a 1-2 in the history of the ALMS. The Mowlem / Ortelli combination was simply following on from two wins by Salo / Melo - but this was the first time Ortelli and Mowlem had ever competed as team mates and this was only Ortelli’s second ALMS race this year, and Mowlem’s first. Plus the latter had never even sat in a 430 until the week of the race.

It was also Maurizio Mediani’s first ever ALMS race (partnering Toni Vilander to second in class), so if you add all these factors together, and throw in vastly changeable weather conditions, the resulting Risi Ferrari domination (of the results) was a remarkable achievement.

dailysportscar.com“To go to Mosport of all places for your first race in the ALMS this season, in a new car with a new team – it is in at the deep end!” said Johnny Mowlem, before the event.

There was also the significant factor that the weather was expected to be horrible – which it was, for qualifying and the warm-up: fortunately it dried out for the race.

“We were on pole by virtue of our times before the cancelled qualifying session. Stephane took the start but lost out to Marc Lieb in some odd circumstances. You’re not supposed to gain positions before the start line, but Marc couldn’t do anything else when the Corvette and Aston Martin came together.

“So Stephane raced in third for almost the whole of his stint. Pat Long had got past him in the Petersen / White Lightning Porsche, and Tiemann and Toni Vilander in the Remo Ferri sister car were well in touch, but having their own scrap for fourth.

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“I was watching all this happen – and fully expecting to come out after our pit stop in a straight fight with everyone. Stephane made the call to change to a harder compound tyre, to make sure they lasted through a full stint, so owing to the really cool conditions they took a little while to come in, but I was immediately able to do mid 1:20s on full tanks, so I knew the car was going to be really fast with the Michelins once the fuel load started to reduce. Owing to its lack of straightline speed, the Ferrari appeared to be even more susceptible to fuel loads/weight than the Porsche. As it turned out however, apart from those opening laps, I never needed to show our pace, which made the whole race pretty easy.

“Within three laps I saw van Overbeek with his left rear puncture, and Petersen had already dropped behind us in the pit stop – so there I was leading by 40 seconds! I’d overtaken Mike Rockenfeller, but maybe he’d had his shock absorber problem already, I’m not sure, although he did catch back up to me when I slowed down, and I could see that he was lapping well at that point.

“Initially I was pulling away from P2 (the other Risi car) by a second a lap – but Giuseppe (Risi) had told me to take it easy, and I certainly didn’t need to press on, so I went into cruise mode. That actually broke up my rhythm a little, so from that moment on my biggest enemy was not losing concentration, so I kept busy by chatting over the radio, much the team’s delight I’m sure!!

“The only problem I had was being unable to get past Tom Milner in the Panoz. The 430 is an awesome car, but it is still the slowest GT2 car on the straight by some considerable margin, so at Mosport it made overtaking very difficult. Milner obviously didn’t realise that I was lapping him and he kept chopping me off everywhere, and that allowed Johannes van Overbeek to catch back up to me and as he was fighting the Panoz for third, I thought it would be prudent to let him through and then I could just cruise to the flag, to take a historic victory.

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“Very satisfying, and I’m so pleased for Giuseppe and all the Risi lads. They worked so hard all weekend, harder than they should have had to on occasion, and they deserve the credit for a terrific result.

“Also, driving with Stephane was a pleasure, and to be honest we showed our true speed on the Friday in dry conditions when both our new tyre time and our old rubber time would have still put me and him first and second on the GT2 grid, so in that sense it was a fully deserved victory.”

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dailysportscar.comSo that was Johnny Mowlem’s return to the ALMS at Mosport. Meanwhile, at the front of the field (where we might see JM at PLM), Guy Smith was having one of those drives where almost everything went right – and he was right on the limit the whole way.

We covered the details of that drive in the race report from Mosport, so there’s very little to add to that, but Guy Smith makes some interesting comments regarding the battle with the Audi R10s – and it is a real battle these days, where every second counts.

“The Audis have more power than us, and on new tyres they can do super-quick lap times, but get the R10 off-line or in traffic, and it’s not as agile as our car. It reminds me of when I drove the Bentley at Sebring in 2003. That car was great at Le Mans, because you could just blast past anything on the straights, but it wasn’t as good in traffic, especially at Sebring: it was on a knife-edge, and the R10 seems to be like that.

“I’ve come to appreciate that I was a little race-rusty back then, with the Bentley, but especially now that the Dyson Lolas have become so much more reliable, I feel right on top of my game.”

As indeed he proved at Mosport…

“Allan (McNish) is very, very strong in traffic, and if you look at his worst laps (in traffic), they’re not very far off his best laps. He’s the target, if you like, and I think I showed what I can do at Mosport.

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“These ALMS races aren’t endurance races, they’re flat-out sprints, and we’ll be going into Petit with exactly the same plan: drive it flat-out throughout. If we can keep them under pressure… they’re quick on fresh rubber, but our cars get better and better through each stint. Then there’s the fuel of course: they’ve got the advantage there.”

Guy confirms that he set a 1:07.4 on his last lap of the race – which he thought was his best lap, but that turned out to be the 1:07.446, on lap 123.

He’s got a few weeks off now before Petit Le Mans – which is a good thing, because Alicia is heavily pregnant, and the baby is due on October 15, a week before Laguna Seca. Good timing - if Mum sticks to the plan.

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We need to go back in time a few hours now, to the Grand Am event at Miller Motorsports Park – to look at the adventures of the other two, Andy Wallace and Robin Liddell.

dailysportscar.comFor Andy Wallace (and Butch Leitzinger) it was a last chance to secure a Daytona Prototype win in 2006 – which seems very odd, after the pair managed three wins between them (not racing together) in 2005 – and together they were expected to be going for the championship this year. It didn’t quite work out like that, although their form in the run-up to the finale in Utah suggested that, with any kind of luck except bad, they would have been in with a shout this year.

“Beginning at Barber, the car came good,” explains Andy Wallace – mainly thanks to some work on the suspension and engine. “Unfortunately we didn’t show it in the race in Alabama, because Butch got munched by Beretta on the first lap.”

Andy said then that the #4 car was capable of winning that event – but they finished 36th….

“At Watkins Glen we didn’t qualify terribly well (ninth),” and then the poor old #4 was assaulted by Oswaldo Negri. Butch and Andy were classified 18th…

“The car was really, really good at Sears Point, and after the #01 car was spun by someone, and pitted early on, we stayed out, pitted from P2, and thanks to our crew, we got out in the lead ahead of the SunTrust car. When we pitted again, the #01 car led, and this is where fuel consumption comes into it: they had to pit, under green flag racing, but they could leave it late enough that they didn’t need much fuel – and popped out of the pits still in the lead. But at least we finished second, and our season was looking as though it was going to finish on a high.”

Before we get to the last round in Utah, we need to clear up something that happened at the ALMS event at Road America. “Everyone said I went off on the first day, I suppose because the car came back on a low loader – but I didn’t go off at all. Actually, I stopped dead right in the middle of the track!

“I’d radioed the crew to say I had felt a loss of power, maybe a turbo pipe had come off, and was coming in on the next lap. Approaching Turn 1 I lifted off and thought ‘Blimey, I’ve got a lot of drag here’. And the car stopped dead. The right front brake burst into flames – and because the brakes were locked on, it took them ages to get it onto the low loader. A vent hole had become blocked in the master cylinder for some reason… but anyway, with that sorted out, the car was really, really good. We ran very little downforce (the main plane of the wing was nose up) yet it was still very stable under braking and the Dunlops were very good.

“We expected rain in qualifying, so I went for it immediately the track opened, but probably worked the left front too hard too soon, and it grained badly. I was P2 after one flier, kept on going, was half a second up before the Carousel, but nearly went off there – yet it was still my best lap.

“I qualify the car but Duncan starts it – and although he claims otherwise, he drives it just like a pro. He was mixing it with the Porsches – but the brake pedal went long, and when I got in, it was weaving on the straight. A rear wheel bearing was knocking the pads off, and when I pitted, we had to change tyres and the Porsches didn’t, so they got ahead of me. I chased after them, but couldn’t make a lunge at them under braking because I was pumping the pedal furiously.”

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So having got side-tracked a little here, we get round to last Saturday, and the final Rolex Series race.

“At Miller, the Crawford was really fast, really well balanced. I thought we’d have a shot at the front row – but mysteriously, thebalance of the car wasn’t the same, even though we hadn’t changed the car at all. So we started eleventh.

I did the first two stints, then Butch did a double, and so on – and we gradually worked our way up, getting to second, chasing the 01 car. But every time, we were having to pit after a stint a lap or two shorter than some of the other cars, and after six stints, those laps start to add up.

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“When I pitted to hand over to Butch, we were second, but we had to add more fuel, so the 60 and 19 cars got ahead of us.

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“Poor old Butch, he hadn’t driven in the dark, because he was at Mosport when we had the night session at Miller. We thought the qualifying driver wouldn’t have to start, which was me (as at Daytona, where you nominate your starting driver), but the qualifying driver did have to start, and that meant Butch was in for the last hour. But despite that, he drove superbly, and grabbed third place right at the end.”

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Andy Wallace’s next race is back with Dyson Racing, partnering Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver, in the #16 Lola AER at Petit Le Mans.

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dailysportscar.comRobin Liddell and regular partner Wolf Henzler, partnered by Andrew Davis, went into the final round of the Rolex Series trailing Andy Lally and Marc Bunting, in the #65 TRG Pontiac GTO.R, by eight points. Making up at least that many in one race was always going to be a tough challenge, especially with the odd Grand Am points system: basically something had to happen to the #65 car if the Tafel Racing pair was going to pip them.

As it turned out, something happened to both cars.

But the Tafel Racing Porsche had the advantage on pace, and led away by Wolf Henzler, #72 built up a one lap lead over the nearest Pontiac - which was the slightly delayed, championship-leading #65 car. That car went a lap down with a leaking power steering hose - but the crew in #72 would need several other entries to tag along with them, to bump the Pontiac out of the fourth place it needed to secure the drivers' title.

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"We had a brake problem," explains Robin Liddell, "and the brakes were going away as early as the end of Wolf's first stint. We basically had to press on with what we had, bleeding the brakes sometimes. I managed to work out a way of driving which meant I could still lap very quickly, but although that ensured that we still came home second, the #65 Pontiac won the race and the titles. But I was really pleased with the way I managed to figure out a way to make the best of it.

"When I got in for my first stint, the brakes were quite bad, and I was losing time initially, but then I worked out how to drive around it, and I was able to set fastest lap. It stayed about the same, depending on how you drove. I did my double stint, followed by Andrew and Wolf - and Wolf pitted to have the brakes bled. I didn't have them bled when I took over, and managed to bring us up from fourth to second, ahead of the SAMAX Porsche and the #05 Pontiac.

"(However) I can't help but be disappointed. I should be happy to be on the podium but second is not enough to make me happy. Andy (Lally) and Marc (Bunting) have been great competitors all season, and I want to congratulate them on their championship. We've been the strongest Porsche all season and I can't thank the team enough for the successes we've had. It's just disappointing to come up a bit short."

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But Robin Liddell, Wolf Henzler, team manager Tony Dowe, team owner Jim Tafel and the whole Tafel Racing crew have still had a fantastic season: the #72 Porsche has managed four wins, eight podium finishes and has never finished lower than sixth. Now, what's in store for 2007?

 

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