Johnny Mowlem’s Lime Rock
dailysportscar.comWe’re posting ACEMCO team owner Jeff Giangrande’s views (here) on his team’s second consecutive third place in the ALMS GT1 Class almost simultaneously with this column from Johnny Mowlem – who was at the wheel of the Saleen in the dramatic closing stages of the New England Grand Prix, fending off Fabio Babini in the Maserati.

In testing and practice, we were dialling the car in to work well over the bumps, while still having a car that would work through the quick corners. Everyone was suffering with the bumps, and in the race with the traffic, these bumps made things a little more awkward!

Terry had to start from the back of the grid, after the car failed the stall test at the end of qualifying. It was something very minor in the airbox, but the thing just wouldn’t stall. It must have been doing some ridiculously slow number of rpms, but it just wouldn’t stop.

But for the race, we had a car that ran faultlessly, and Terry moved through the GT2s – no easy task at Lime Rock – and he eventually got by the privateer Corvette.

We made the stop for me to take over, and that turned out to be the only stop we made. I was going to pit for a four second splash of fuel under a later yellow , and even half way round that lap, I was getting the message to come in for a splash. Then the call changed, and I was told to stay out. Jeff made the call, and it was a racer’s decision. Had we come in for fuel, we’d have been fourth at the end, I’m sure of that.

At the Road Atlanta race, we did pit in a similar situation, and that probably cost us second place. At Lime Rock, I had to furiously save fuel by running in sixth gear under the yellows, and I had the ECU on MAP 3, as lean as it will go. But that meant I had a car I could go racing with at the end.

Then we had all the oil go down, as well as the incident with the safety truck on the circuit. I was near the front of the queue, with Lehto leading a couple of GTs, then me in the Saleen, then more GT2s, then Pirro. On the restart I had one of the Flying Lizard Porsches just drive into the side of me on the straight as he pulled out to overtake a Panoz. He hadn’t seen me and apologised later, but I was lucky he hit me squarely, side on, as it was a big hit. Then I saw Lehto sliding totally sideways into turn 1 in the Audi, so I backed off – there was oil everywhere! Whoever had dropped it must have driven an entire lap of the circuit, completely on line!!! So we went full course yellow again, all be it after a couple of laps of sliding around everywhere.

I was stuck behind the two Audis, third in the line, for the next 20 minutes – and that was fairly entertaining. I didn’t understand at the time why they were pointing at each other and waving each other by. I thought they were just mucking about, although they were side by side and touched at one point. But I gather that Pirro had got by Lehto under a yellow, so they had to get the order right to avoid a penalty.

Anyway, eventually they’d treated all the oil with cement dust, and there were 21 minutes of the race left. The Maserati was 11 cars behind me – and on fresher rubber. I asked the team to count down the minutes to the end of the race. The Audis just disappeared into the distance, but I had the #4 Corvette right behind me. I didn’t want to lose time defending – but with a big lead, they were cruising to the flag, so I was able to pull away from them, which was OK.

I used the first lap to feel my way on the oil and dust, then I went for it. After three or four laps, Babini was 10 seconds behind me, and with 15 laps left it was eight seconds. This wasn’t looking good. I must have done seven or eight laps then, all as if they were qualifying laps. I really nailed it, right up on the kerbs, and the car was really dancing over the bumps out of the last corner – but I was trying to get on the throttle at the earliest possible moment at every corner and then I wouldn’t let myself lift after that regardless.

Unfortunately he was still catching me! I’d made a small mistake during those hard laps and run wide at turn one, and I felt sure that if I kept going at that pace, I’d make another and he’d then just drive past me – so when he got within two seconds, I changed tactics. I backed off by half a second a lap, and waited for the Maserati to catch me.

I got him to go to the left of me on the pit straight, and then moved him over as much as was safe and then braked and turned in as late as possible, which left him on the outside, on all the dust and rubbish: that bought me a couple of laps. Fortunately there aren’t many passing places at Lime Rock, and as long as I defended hard at Turn 1, he wasn’t going to get by. Starting the last lap, I was very tough there, and that was it – he wasn’t getting by me after that. My Michelins were an hour and a half old by then, but our tyres held up incredibly well.

Afterwards, I had a word with Fabio, but he understood the situation. I was pleasantly surprised when the whole Maserati team congratulated me: there’s a good spirit in the ALMS. Jeff was delighted to beat one of the factory cars – but when I saw the #3 Corvette’s crash, I expected them to take a while to patch that up… not just send it on its way!

Lime Rock is, (as it turned out!), fortunately a very difficult track on which to overtake – but I’d argue that it’s not dangerous, not from a driver’s health standpoint anyway, because it’s not that fast anywhere. Somewhere like Mosport is way worse from that point of view!!

We had a huge crowd for the holiday weekend and it’s a very picturesque track. I know I’m probably in the minority, but I quite like the whole place, even with the bumps!!!
Johnny Mowlem


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