Sunday
Jun102007

TEAM NEWS: Banner Pontiac GXP.R comes back from two lap deficit to finish on the podium at Watkins Glen

Photo by John Thawley Watkins Glen New York (June 9, 2007): Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins rallied back from an electrical problem that dropped their #07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R over two full laps behind the leaders to finish 3rd in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International raceway Round 7 of the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve.

The #06 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R driven by Leighton Reese, Tim Lewis Jr. and Andy Pilgrim finished a disappointing 7th after a late race penalty dropped them out of the lead group with just under 20 minutes remaining in the 6-hour race.

Paul Edwards, of Fort Collins Colorado, started the #07 Banner Pontiac GXP.R from the pole position and early on ran a comfortable pace in a race that saw all too much action as the race was marred with several accidents.

After a caution period on lap 20 and a subsequent pit stop while following the pace car Edwards noticed that he was getting an alarm indicating low voltage in his electrical system just as the field was getting the green flag restart.

The primary battery was dying and Edwards made a quick stop to allow the crew to switch to the alternate battery. The problem worsened and later in the race forcing Edwards to limp the #07 Banner Pontiac into the pits as his fuel pumps didn’t have the voltage to adequately feed the motor.

“I almost didn’t make it in (to the pits),” said Edwards after being replaced by co-driver Kelly Collins while the crew replaced both batteries. “I lost radio communications about 4 laps before that so I couldn’t tell them (the crew) I was coming in. We should have a battery just for the radio.”

The stop put the #07 Banner Pontiac down 3 laps on the GT leaders but Edwards and Collins got one of those laps back when it was determined that the electrical outage had caused the on-board transmitter not to register one lap.

The crew temporarily resolved the problem by disconnecting the on-board TV cameras and the headlights and for the next few hours at least the Banner Pontiac seemed as strong as ever.

The Banner Pontiac GXP.R needed to strong because being two laps down on the 3.4 mile long course at Watkins Glen means you are just shy of 7 miles behind the leaders!

Kelly Collins of Newport Beach California began whittling away at the gap and with excellent driving and pit strategy Collins got one lap back while the leaders were pitting under green for fuel and tires.

A timely full course caution allowed Collins to pit for tires and fuel under caution and start working on the final lap deficit which was erased when another caution period flew later in the race.

Paul Edwards got back into the Banner Pontiac and while working to make up ground on the leaders had contact with the #69 Mazda RX-8 of Emil Assentato causing Assentato to spin off track. Edwards was assessed a stop and go penalty for that infraction dropping Paul back to 8th.

“Make one little mistake in 6 hours…,” quipped Paul Edwards about his contact with the #69 Mazda. “Seriously it was all my fault and I deserved the penalty!”

Once again Edwards had to battle back and by lap 135 Edwards was up to 2nd place and working on the leader and eventual race winning Porsche of Lally, Pumpelly and Valentine.

When the final caution period came out on lap 143 for a big crash involving Vic Rice’s Corvette in turn 9 both Banner Engineering Pontiacs headed to the pits for what both Edwards and Pilgrim thought would be their final visit to the pits.

Unfortunately that would not be the case as the electrical problem would resurface on the #07 Banner Pontiac of Edwards and an all too familiar penalty would bite the #06 Banner Pontiac of Pilgrim.

Both Banner Racing Pontiacs pitted together and during the stop Pilgrim hit one of the tires from Edward’s car while exiting his pit stall. It was a grim revisit of the same problem from the Laguna Seca Race less than a month ago and Pilgrim would have to serve a 1 minute penalty when the course went green again.

The penalty dropped Pilgrim back to 9th but more importantly dropped him a couple of miles behind the top 5 cars with whom he had been racing. Andy would finish a disappointing 7th.

“That was the second 1 minute green flag penalty we have gotten,” said Leighton Reese team owner and co-driver of the #06 Banner Pontiac. “We pit the cars simultaneously and today it cost us. It ultimately cost us 3 or 4 positions because we couldn’t race for them. It was a shame. We had a good race car and it is tough in a six hour race to come up that short in the end on an error really hurts.”

Andy Pilgrim started the race in the #07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R and after two successful stints where he kept the car in or near the top 5 for nearly two hours turning over the car to Tim Lewis who continued maintaining a front running position for the #06 Pontiac.

“The car was good and for the first couple of laps we were just trying to stay out of trouble,” Pilgrim said of the early going. “You have to be fast but somewhat conservative. You can’t win a 6-hour race in the first 2 hours of the race!”

Lewis drove a steady middle of the race never falling out of the top 8 and often finding racing well into the top 4 or 5 as Tim managed to find himself driving the portion of the race that went the longest without a caution period and as he had at Lime Rock drove flawlessly.

Leighton Reese took over for the third stint and again raced within the top 5 the entire time as the race sped into the final two hours.

“The Banner Pontiac GXP.R was good today,” Reese said with a smile when he turned over the wheel to Pilgrim for the end of the race. “Ever since Laguna Seca I love this car!”

For Edwards following behind the pace car for many laps while Rice’s major crash was cleaned up caused the electrical problem to resurface causing Paul to have to pit again to have the batteries replaced one more time. And prompting the Banner team to sweat out the final 25 minutes when the race went green again.

The batteries held up as Edwards was held up trying to get past the #81 Porsche of Johnson and Westbrook which allowed the Porsches of Lally and Farnbacher to build a generous gap from which Edwards could not recover and the #07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R finished the 6-hour event a well deserved 3rd.

“Once again we had everything thrown at us that made our lives more difficult,” Edwards said after the race. “It was every little thing. It has been that way throughout the year. But we worked through it and the Banner Pontiac was strong and the crew did a great job keeping us in the race.”

“When you are two laps down and thinking that all you want to do is finish, man, to come back and finish third, that is just great,” said Kelly Collins. “It is almost like a victory. Disappointing yes because we wanted to win the race but to finish 3rd after all we went through was great!

“The Banner Racing Team did a fantastic job calling the shots and the Pratt and Miller guys in terms of trouble shooting and figuring out what was wrong with the car they did an awesome job today. Hats off to everybody on the team!”

“We will just re-group and get them at Mid-Ohio,” concluded Leighton Reese of a very up and down race weekend for the Banner Racing Pontiacs at the 2007 edition of the Rolex Grand-Am Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen.

For additional information about the Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R race cars and the Banner racing Team go to their website at www.BannerRacing.com or www.LeightonReese.com .

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