Grand Am – Watkins Glen 6 Hours – Race Report
Eventful Weekend
Win For The Tall Team
© Gary Horrocks

Did Grand Am just race at Spa? It seemed that way, as the weather was very Spa like, but in the end, if this race is discussed in the future, Krohn Racing will forever be linked to it.

Yes, Jorg Bergmeister, who was paired with super-sub Boris Said for this race, combined to take the win in their Krohn Racing Riley Ford, but what may very well overshadow their win is the way that this pairing came about.

After six hours of racing, the Bergmeister/Said Riley won over the Gainsco Riley, closely followed by the SunTrust Riley and the Michael Shank Riley. Best finisher of the non-Rileys was the Boss Crawford Pontiac of Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger which faded to 5th at the end, after running in 3rd with 40 minutes to go. This win was the first in the class for a Ford-powered car since the first year of the class, other than a victory earlier this year in a 30 minute qualifying race.

In the GT class, it was all Tafel Porsche, as Robin Liddell and Wolf Henzler led the majority of the race and won the class by over a lap.

As the race weekend came up, it became apparent that there was another problem for the Krohn team, owing to the fact that one of their drivers, Colin Braun, is only 17 years old. Just like earlier in the year, when Grand Am raced with the IRL, Colin was forced to sit out the race, as it is mandated that a minor is not allowed to race at the facility when it has sponsorship by a tobacco company. Never mind that Grand Am is sponsored by alcohol (Crown Royal) and that Playboy is rather prominent on the sides of many of the cars in the race.

When the entry list came out, Colin Braun was on the list, suggesting that the entry had been accepted. This indicates that the money was accepted and that Grand Am thought a compromise might be reached, where Braun could indeed race. But just in case, Said had been contacted, asking if he might be available, just in case. "They called me Tuesday when I was testing my NEXTEL Cup car in Atlanta and they asked me if could come stand by just in case something happened.” Well, something did happen.

Tracy Krohn fought for his driver and actually received a court ruling which would allow Braun to race, but by doing so and until a proper agreement could be reached, it meant that on track activities for the Prototype class were off until possibly Monday.

As it became evident that the IRL and Phillip Morris (Marlboro) would not compromise, it looked like it would all fall upon the shoulders of Tracy Krohn and how far he wanted to push the entire situation. In the end, Krohn decided to drop his case and let the racing go on as originally scheduled. “It was never our intention to disrupt the competition, but instead to provide a mechanism for Colin Braun to be racing here this weekend. Circumstances have ultimately prevented this, but it is important that the race goes on.”

An appreciative Roger Edmondson was “pleased that we have been able to reach an amicable settlement with Krohn Racing over this matter. On behalf of Grand American and all of our Daytona Prototype teams, I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Krohn Racing for deciding not to pursue this matter further this weekend.”

As the schedule was a shambles by the time the settlement was reached, it was decided to scratch qualifying and base the race grid upon the points standings. If the grid had been determined by practice times, it would have been Porsches heading the grids for each class, as the Ruby Tuesday/Alex Job Racing Porsche Crawford of Patrick Long and Mike Rockenfeller was fastest in the Friday sessions, while in the GT class, it was the eventual class winning Tafel Porsche of Liddell and Henzler.

When the cars took to that track for the start of the race on Saturday afternoon, the track was dry, but also very green, as a large amount of rain was dumped in the area overnight. But rather like Spa, the conditions never stayed the same. Many times throughout the race, the conditions would change, often being dry on one part of the track and wet at another. This caused much in the way of changing strategies and tires in reaction to the changing conditions.

At the start, there was the usual bumping on the first lap, as the drivers treated the start of the six hour race as a 30 minute qualifying race. In the melee, the Gainsco Riley suffered damage to the nose, and the resulting stop to replace it dropped them back a lap early.

This was significant, as they ended up second at the end, less than 3.5 seconds back, after seeing Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty combine to lead 45 laps of the 154 lap race. But in the end, it was a late stop for fuel with 21 laps left dropped them from the lead.

"It's really a shame, we were feeling like we could win this race," Gurney said. "What we knew and what we were doing with the tires really helped our pace. It felt like that at the start of the race. It was just unfortunate that we got into some contact. We actually damaged the exhaust a little bit. I think it hurt us a little bit on top speed. Jon was incredible in the wet. I'm sure you all saw that. I wish we could have gotten the win for him. It was very tough holding off Max (Angelelli) at the end. I was just lucky to do it and happy to do it. I just hope to put up a stronger fight at the next race." By the end, even keeping second was not easy, as Gurney and Angelelli ran side by side for a few corners with about five minutes left in the race.

But up front, in the winning car, it was Bergmeister carrying the load. Said said, “He probably drove about four hours. I just drove about an hour-and-a-half in the middle, and he gave me a win so I feel pretty happy. Hopefully, I'll be sitting up here in August. I'm pretty happy." After the race, the exhausted German commented, "it definitely was exciting. Our team did an awesome job. After the trouble we had at the beginning of practice, where my usual teammate couldn't compete today, Boris did an awesome job with his stint in the middle of the race under difficult conditions. It was just awesome today." Most importantly, this win vaulted Bergmeister back on top of the points, where he now leads by four, over Scott Pruett/Luis Diaz, who finished 7th.

Post-race technical inspection revealed that the race-winning No. 76 Riley was too low, and the team was fined $2,000, which will be donated to Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, Fla., the preferred charity of the Grand American Road Racing Association. The team and drivers keep the victory, as well as all championship points earned in the race. By the time this was announced, Krohn and Bergmeister were aboard Krohn’s jet to Le Mans for testing.

Both Porsche-powered Crawford chassis (Cheever and AJR) were in position to have top five finishes, but a late race altercation between the two dropped them to 13th and 15th respectively.

In the GT class, the Tafel Racing duo of Liddell and Henzler were in a class all their own, despite the changing weather conditions. Liddell started the race and led the first 61 laps, before handing off to his teammate. "I must say the slick tires performed very well. In the end, in the damp, you could stay on slicks. We drove the whole race on slicks. We did consider going to wets a couple of times, but the way the weather was moving in, it was clear that it was raining here but it was dry on the back. Then when it was raining on the back, it was clear on the pit straight and the esses. We came into this race and we made a deliberate effort to set the car up in such a way that it would handle a better situation for the wet conditions. In the end, this played very well. It was a good strategy all around."

Henzler added, “for sure it was a very hard race, especially under these conditions. It's very hard to drive. The team did a very good job and we had a pretty good set up. Our pit stops were very good on time and she was perfect today. This was the key to win the race. We were ahead of the other guys and I think it was because of the strategy."

This win brought the Tafel pair within 10 points of the class points lead as they were followed home by the Randy Pobst/Ian Bass TPC Porsche, with Kelly Collins/Paul Edwards 3rd in their GTO.R, and points leaders Andy Lally/Marc Bunting 4th.

 

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