Monday
Jul142008

Chasing the Checkers: Lime Rock Edition

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Following a thrilling Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, there were a number of noteworthy cars that didn’t finish on the podium. These teams’ trials and tribulations did not go unheard though, as this week’s “Chasing the Checkers” feature will highlight the runs made by Dyson Racing, de Ferran Motorsports, Andretti Green Racing and Tafel Racing.

The past weekend’s American Le Mans Series race was extra special for Dyson Racing. This year, the Poughkeepsie, New York-based squad is celebrating its 25th year in auto racing, and its home race featured fireworks on and off the track. Guy Smith in the retro-liveried No. 16 Porsche RS Spyder enjoyed a solid run in the two-hour and 45-minute race until the midway point when contact was made with the No. 44 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche, sending both cars hard into the wall and out of the race.

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photo by: John Thawley
Dyson’s only other hope lied with the sister No. 20 entry of Butch Leitzinger, who was in third place overall in the closing moments of the race. However, with three minutes to go, Leitzinger was hit by the No. 6 Penske Racing Porsche of Sascha Maassen, sending the Dyson machine into the tire barriers. Leitzinger rejoined, but he soon suffered a left rear puncture caused by the spin. This sent the No. 20 car caroming into the pit wall on the front straight, ending the team’s day. Leitzinger and co-driver Marino Franchitti were classified seventh overall at the end of the race.

“This was the second time this year that Butch was taken out by the same car late in the race,” said Chris Dyson.  “It was not a racing incident, but a hopeless and amateurish attempt to get Butch out of the way. It smacked of pure desperation and is a real shame. Butch really had the measure of him and it is disappointing to have it come down to being shoved off the road with less than three minutes left in the race. It will be a busy week. We have five days to turn around two badly damaged race cars in time for Mid-Ohio next week.”

Andretti Green Racing’s No. 26 Acura ARX-01b finished one position higher in sixth, but had small problems of its own throughout the race. The new pairing of Franck Montagny and Marco Andretti was quick in all of the weekend’s sessions, including the Andretti’s third-quickest time in his only practice on Saturday morning. With the IndyCar star not turning a lap before qualifying, the car was forced to start from the rear of the field.

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photo by: John Thawley
Andretti worked through traffic very quickly, moving up to 15th by lap 2 and inside the top-10 in the first 15 minutes. However, the car lost three laps while making a long pit stop for repairs midway through the race. Afterwards, Montagny rebounded and set quick lap times, but he wasn’t able to make up too much ground on track. Andretti’s double-duty day didn’t get any better as he crashed out of Saturday night’s IndyCar race, only completing two laps.

“I was disappointed with my run,” Andretti said of his American Le Mans Series race.  “My radio wasn’t connected right and I couldn’t hear the team for awhile.  Then I was able to run pretty well through the traffic after fixing the radio.  It’s very tough to come from behind here.  I had to drive through all of the GT cars.  The P1 cars are very hard to pass too, because of their straightaway speed.  The leaders got a huge gap early at the start and we were running through traffic, so that made it difficult.  It was fun to drive the XM Acura again.”

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photo by: John Thawley
The newest Acura outfit, de Ferran Motorsports, also had a lightning fast car during the weekend but suffered electrical problems in the race. The No. 66 car of Simon Pagenaud started from the outside of the front row but made early race contact with the eventual race-winning Patron Highcroft Racing Acura of Scott Sharp. The Frenchman was penalized for avoidable contact, serving a stop-and-hold penalty.

Things went from bad to worse as the car made frequent – and sometimes long – visits back to the pits with gearbox issues. However, co-driver and team owner Gil de Ferran returned to the fray to finish 14th overall, over 17 laps behind the race-winning machine.

In the GT2 category, Tafel Racing’s No. 71 Ferrari F430 GT of Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher finished fourth in class, but the Prancing Horse was in position for a podium in the closing stages. The Tony Dowe-led team gambled on fuel but was forced to make a late-race splash-and-dash while running in second.

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photo by: John Thawley
“From the middle of my stint on I was trying to save fuel; looking towards the end of the race,” Muller said. “We worked our way up to third and then got lucky and moved into second. Then we got very unlucky and ran out of fuel at the end. We finished fourth and that is better than a DNF. We lost big momentum in the points but we are still second in the championship. It shows that everything needs to go right. We win together, we lose together. We need to look forward and just take it as it is. We nearly finished second and now we are fourth. That’s OK.”

Before Muller’s final stint, Farnbacher was at the wheel of the car when he made contact with another GT2 car. The German was penalized for avoidable contact and was awarded a drive-through penalty. However, the car also suffered damage from the contact, making the driver’s side door unable to open. This caused problems during the driver change, costing the team a lap in the pits. All in all, the duo lost 10 points in the drivers’ championship to point’s leaders to Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Jorg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler.

With the fifth round of the American Le Mans Series season now in the books, teams pack up and head west to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Acura Sports Car Challenge next Saturday. After yet another exciting battle to the wire, the fight in the Buckeye State is shaping up to be a barnburner.

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