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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
“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!!
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.
“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.”
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
“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…
(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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
“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.
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.”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
"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.
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."
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?