Mowlem’s Mid-Ohio
Second Time Out A Second Podium For The ACEMCO Saleen

A dramatic move two laps from home secured a podium for Jeff Giangrande’s ACEMCO Saleen at Mid-Ohio, the car’s second race. What really happened at Mid-Ohio, and ultimately how competitive is the S7-R? Johnny Mowlem reveals all.

dailysportscar.comI was pleased we were quickest in GTS in the race morning warm-up, although I knew it didn’t really count for much, even if we were running full tanks, but it was still a good start to the day. Terry (Borcheller) was down to start, and he had a really good first stint, despite a problem developing with the car. He almost hung on to the Corvettes from the start, but then basically they started pulling away at around a second a lap.

After a little over an hour Terry followed Ollie Gavin into the pits, and then the caution came out. Ron Fellows pitted a lap later, and gained over a minute.

Terry had been explaining that there was a problem with the car during his stint, and when I left the pits on cold tyres, the Saleen felt very nervous. I told Jim Bell what it felt like, and he called me back in, while we were still under the yellow. Having already lost a lap to Ron Fellows in the #3 Corvette, now suddenly we were two laps down - the team having to replace the left rear toe link, which they did very quickly.

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The car felt better, but it was still a little edgy, to say the least! Then we had more drama! Olivier Beretta in the #4 Corvette came up behind me. I didn’t want to make it too easy for him even if he was lapping me, but I never defended the racing line, I just drove as fast and clean as I could, in my efforts to catch the Lamborghini. After a couple of laps he obviously decided he couldn’t pass me cleanly (which actually bodes well for the future!) and gave me a big tap up the rear into the last corner! At this point I radioed in and the team told me to move over and let him by. So into the next hairpin I braked earlier, as the Saleen is better on the brakes than the Corvette, and stayed on the racing line to the left…. and he just drove straight down the right hand side of me! Fortunately for me I hadn’t begun to turn-in, otherwise he would have broken my steering, but it was still enough to send me straight off into the gravel.

I gunned it through the gravel trap and kept it going for a lap and everything seemed OK, but then the bonnet (hood) started coming loose: we agreed that I should pit to have it removed, but as I prepared to come in, it flew off anyway. We were going to change tyres then, but changed the plan, so that at the final refuelling stop, I kept the same set of tyres on. That stop cost us another lap, and put us even further behind the Lamborghini: it turned out to be a very good team decision not to change tyres, because if I’d lost another 20 seconds, I may not have caught Brabs, even with new rubber.

The dramas weren’t over however, because after leaving the pits for the fourth time(!), the traction control failed, the resultant “misfire” felt like I had the pitlane speed limiter on all the time! It took me a couple of corners to work out that it was the traction control causing the problem. I switched the traction control off, which left me full of fuel, on tyres that had done a stint, and no traction control – lovely!

At this point Jim Bell kindly pointed out over the radio that I was going to have to do high 1:21s and low 1:22s every lap to the end, if we were to stand a chance of catching Brabs in the Lamborghini, for third.

So basically I drove my heart out. Jim and the team did a fantastic job over the radio to keep me fired up, not that I needed much firing up! But they gave me all the info I needed, counting me down as I closed in. At around 17 seconds the gap stabilised while I hit traffic, for about three laps, and I wondered at that point whether I’d make it. In fact, a couple of times I took some big risks in traffic because I could afford to lose a second a lap, let alone two or three seconds. It was that close!

When the gap got to five seconds with five minutes left, I asked Jim over the radio how badly Jeff wanted third place, and the answer came back that he wanted it very badly: I needed to know that answer so I knew how much of a risk to take… so I just went for it. I caught David and went for the move at the first opportunity. Despite the extra drag of the missing bonnet, I towed up to him down the back straight and went around the outside of him into Turn 3. It may have looked as though I moved over a little, but I had to try and get to the right because there was an LMP2 up ahead, and I needed to get inside of it before the braking area.

It was a great chase from inside the car: I hope it was almost as exciting for people watching. Apparently we got an awful lot of TV coverage through our onboard camera for the last half an hour. Someone said they watched me on the in-car camera, and thought I looked very relaxed! Determined maybe, but not relaxed!

Here's the perfect Regis Lefebure image...

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Hats off to Pirelli, I ran 105 minutes on the same set of tyres, pressing on the whole time, but especially in the last hour. The whole team was delighted with third place – especially after a sequence of niggly problems – and Jeff was especially pleased, as much for his whole team, as for himself.

He’s a real sports car enthusiast through and through, and it’s great to be able to deliver in some small way for him and the team. There is a terrific team spirit within ACEMCO Motorsport, and that is really helping to carry us all forward.

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We’ve made some very good steps forward, and it’s a very strong team – but look what we’re up against: GM and Corvette Racing. On average we were about a second off the Corvettes on race pace, and that at a track that suits the Saleen: a high downforce track, with a lot of heavy braking from high speed. But the car was fairly nervous throughout thanks to the toe link problem / replacement, so potentially we’re closer than that. That speaks volumes for what the team has achieved already, bearing in mind the huge strides that Corvette has made over the last three years, and this year in particular.

Fair play to the Kroh / Barbour team and their Lamborghini. David and Peter Kox nearly had a third place in the first race for the car, although without our problems, we may well have been two or three laps up the road, but there’s no doubt that they will be challenging us very soon.

There’s no time for any development work now: it’s just racing. I’ve never been to Lime Rock Park, so I’ve no idea if that track will suit us. Terry thinks that we could surprise the C5-Rs. Apparently all we have to do is run troublefree and not get hit by anyone! One thing’s for sure, I know that we’ll all be trying our very hardest, again!!
Johnny Mowlem

 

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