Craig Stanton – Grand Am GT Champion
© Gary Horrocks

dailysportscar.comCraig Stanton finished the 2005 season as a champion in the GT class of the Grand Am series, but his way to go about it was rather unusual. Make that unusual on two counts.

First of all, Craig won the drivers’ championship despite not winning a single race all season long. But what was most unusual was that Craig watched the final round of the battle, of the season long war, from a prime vantage point - from the driver’s seat of a car that was literally following the championship battle.

Much like in 2004, when he won the Grand Am Cup GS title on the last lap of the last race, Craig went into the last race of the season needing to finish in front of another entry – in this case the TRG Pontiac GTO of Andy Lally and Marc Bunting - to clinch the title.

dailysportscar.comCraig, running with long time friend David Murry, started the race and ran the first stint in #80 (left), whereupon he handed the car off to David Murry.

“I was out of the car for about five minutes or so. I watered up and had my glyco, then jumped into the other team car, as had been planned - but unfortunately I had a tire go down, forcing me to pit and change all four tires. When I came back out and things settled down, I found myself about 2-3 car lengths back of the battle for the championship."

Regis Lefebure caught the two Synergy 911s (Murry ahead of Stanton) - with Andy Lally closing in.

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"David was ahead of Andy, but not by much. David was just doing an amazing job and Andy was doing what he was paid to do. He was keeping the pressure on, trying to pressure David into a mistake. It was close racing but it was also clean racing. There was no hitting or banging going on. Just clean hard racing.

dailysportscar.com“To me, I feel a race track is from guard rail to guard rail. Maybe it is from my days in motocross and in off-road racing, but I see no problem with getting a wheel in the dirt if that’s what it takes. Well, there were times when Andy had two wheels in the dirt, trying to get past, but eventually he was able to use the superior torque from the Pontiac to pass David, after they had been side by side for what was something like two turns. Well David was not going to allow that, so he countered. I guess it must be explained that at Mexico, the curbs were quite high, so when David attacked and went over the curbs, he got airborne. He had no idea that he would get that high. The car launched up and over the hood of the Pontiac. Andy spun and I expected to see David up the road with a dead car from a broken suspension. I was amazed to see him still going, and that is when I knew I had won the championship. Later I spoke with some Grand Am officials concerning the pass, and they told me that if that contact took place earlier in the race, they would have done something about it, but with the championship on the line, they wanted it to be settled on the track, not with some penalty.

“When I knew that the drivers’ championship was ours, I just couldn’t wait to see the faces of the team. When I saw them, the looks on their faces were just priceless. Everybody was hugging each other in the pit lane. I’m not even sure if the car had stopped when I jumped out. I just wanted to be with my team. They had put their hearts and souls into this effort and it was great to see everybody rewarded.”

dailysportscar.comCraig started the season in the Tafel/Baldwin Porsche for Daytona, but had signed with Synergy for the remainder of the season. “We had a great run in the Tafel car at Daytona, but a fuel problem put us out very late in the race. The problem cost us a spot on the podium, but the points I did earn at that race were enough to give me the championship. I wish I could have shared it with David, but that is how it worked out.

“After Daytona, I joined Synergy. They (Synergy) did not have room for me at Daytona as they were running the Team Seattle, but for the full season, we would be running two cars, shared between David, myself and Mae Van Wijk. David and I would trade off starting a car and Mae would start the 81 car. It was an unusual arrangement but it worked. We would act as coaches for Mae. She is from an amazing family and did quite well for herself.”

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From the beginning, Craig knew that they would be at a disadvantage all season long, especially with the Pratt & Miller developed Pontiac GTO coming part way through the year. “We knew if we were to have a chance to compete for the championship, we would have to get everything out of the car and finish well. What we had was basically a stock Cup class car. We were low on horsepower and we had a small contact patch, so we worked hard at getting top three finishes. To accomplish this, we had to drive the wheels off of the car. We called it “being up on the wheel”, much like in NASCAR, when the drivers are told to get up on the wheel or to just go faster. That was our mode all season long.

“When the GTO appeared, I knew it was going to be tough for us. GM doesn’t do anything half way and Pratt & Miller is crafty. I’m not saying they did anything illegal. They were just crafty. They know what to do within the rules and they know how to play the game. Here we were with a maxed out Porsche motor and they had a restricted V8. Because of that, they had much more room for latitude, but they played the game well. When they came out of the box, they were slower than expected. It was almost like they were sandbagging. They had no power and no handling. Something had to be up, because they had tested for a year and a half before they joined in. You knew soon that they would have the potential and once they got the bigger restrictor, look out. I could already see the future at that point. Then you toss in the drivers they had. Yeah, I was a little nervous.”

But it wasn’t just the GTOs that Craig had to worry about. It was the always potent PTG BMWs and the other Porsches that were out there running too. Synergy may not have been the fastest when compared to the others on the track, but they as a team made it work by running the races smart and efficiently.

“The season went on and later in the year we actually put some paint on the car and we then upgraded the brakes with about three races to go. That was about all we did all year to improve the car. As a team, we worked on getting the best out of the car. We had a good consistent run going, then we stumbled. In mid-season we had some tire pressure issues and we also had what appeared to be good strategy at Watkins Glen that did not work for us, when the pit lane closed just as we ready to dive in. We went from a hero to a zero pretty quick when we lost a lap. Actually, we just did not have good luck at The Glen, as we also had an accident there in one of the other races.”

Team work and loyalty is important for Craig. He has been racing with David Murry for quite some time, going back to ’98 when they were team mates at Reiser-Callas. Another person who featured in that equation with both Craig and David is Harry Haggard. “Harry is old school. No frills. He is just Harry, but he is the best. We, David and I, owe him so much. He is rock steady and never gets flustered. He’s been an engineer for both of us and really knows the importance of politics. He came with us to Synergy and there was no way that we would have been where we are without him. He’s a pilot and in his spare time he’ll be out flying his old Stearman Bi-plane. He is also of the old school engineering mindset. Recently he and a friend decided to buy one of those huge pipe organs and change it from mechanical to digital. So they rented a truck and drove it from the east coast back to California. Why? For the challenge.

“Sam White was also a tremendous help this last season. He has been with Synergy for well over 10 years and was sort of the go-between for us and the team, making sure we had whatever we needed. There is nothing like having racing friends. Your friendship that you develop in the trenches is something special, and that was very much what I’ll remember from this season with Synergy. Cole Scrogham and Price Cobb have put together a good team that was enjoyable to be around and to be in the trenches with.”

So, what’s next for Craig? “My goal is to make it into a DP next year, but not with just any team. It has to be a situation that is right. I don’t want to be an also ran. I want to be in a situation where I feel I can be ready to win the championship in the second year. So far, I haven’t had too much success though. It boils down to money and politics. This is an aspect of racing that I have not had to deal with before, but it is all a part of the game now. I’ve hired a marketing guy and while we have made great progress, we don’t have quite enough quite yet to pull things together. I’m looking at going back to the Rolex GT class as Plan B.

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“I realize how the game is played now. It is sort of like a survivor game that is run by the sponsors and the teams. Now you have to create your own destiny. I look up to what Wayne Taylor has been able to accomplish. He has created his own destiny. He is adept at going into a boardroom and making it happen. Now, the hunt for sponsorship is much different than it was. It is not just about signage. There are so many other opportunities and ideas out there now. We just need to come up with the right one.”

In addition to running in Grand Am, Craig also hopes to be able to come back into the GT2 class in the ALMS. “I’ve been talking and I think it looks pretty good, but we’ll see.”

Between racing, chasing sponsors and working out, Craig is also a driving coach. Because of that, he is able to sample quite a few different cars out on the track. And one of them has been the new 997 Porsche, which is the basis for the new car that Porsche has developed for Grand Am.

“It is quite amazing to see how hard these current generation street cars can be driven on the track and still get the drivers to and from the circuit. Street cars have come quite a long ways in the last few years. Recently I had the opportunity to drive a 997 in Super Cup trim. I have to say that compared to the older 996, the new car is much more like a RSR. It has a wider stance, a sequential box and something like 15-20 more hp. For a gentleman driver, it might be a bit of a challenge. It takes a different driving technique, especially with the lack of ABS, but eventually I think a well sorted 997 will be 1-2 seconds a lap quicker than a comparable 996. It’ll just take a bit of sorting out to get there.”

During his career on both bikes and in cars, Craig has learned what it takes to get the most out of himself, both on and off the track. Somehow in his busy schedule, he has managed to keep in good enough shape to compete in 27 triathlons and enjoy other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking and surfing. With that kind of drive and dedication, seeing Craig add to his already impressive championship totals in the near future would not be too surprising.

 

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