Wednesday
Jul232008

Chasing the Checkers: Mid-Ohio Edition

Photos by John Thawley and Chris ClarkAudi dominated last Saturday’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. But there was more to the race than just the podium finishers in each class. A number of teams had noteworthy runs in the two-hour and 45-minute race that are worth mentioning. For this edition, we’ll focus on the efforts by Andretti Green Racing, B-K Motorsports and Risi Competizione.

Andretti Green Racing had high hopes entering this weekend’s sixth round of the American Le Mans Series season. Fast Frenchman Franck Montagny was making his second start, partnering the team’s Indy Lights star Raphael Matos. Montagny set the early weekend place on Thursday, ripping off lightning quick times in the No. 26 Acura ARX-01b. However, race day would bring other fortunes.

photo by: Chris ClarkMatos started the LMP2 car from the fourth position overall but quickly ran into trouble. The Brazilian and the Drayson Barwell Aston Martin Vantage GT2 made contact with each other, damaging the front suspension on the Acura. The team worked in the pits to repair the car and got Matos back out, but eight laps down and out of contention for a podium finish.

“I came up to lap one of the Aston Martins, which was the first car I was going to lap,” Matos explained. “I wasn’t pushing at all. I was side-by-side with him and he just turned into me. I don’t know if he didn’t see me or what. It’s just very frustrating for the XM Acura guys and everybody at Andretti Green. We were hoping for a good result and I think we had a good shot at a podium finish or better.”

photo by: John Thawley Montagny brought the car home in 14th overall, seventh in class. The rest of the race was turned more or less into a test session for the team, giving the Frenchman more laps in the car.

“I am 100 percent certain we had the car to win today,” Montagny said. “I am absolutely sure. But, the car was a mess after the crash, so I treated the rest of the race like it was a test. I still pushed like I do when I’m racing and tried to do my best. But, it was quite difficult. Two hours in the car and it was hot. So, it’s not easy. You don’t have the same motivation because you’re not fighting for places. It is difficult to drive around for many laps when you want to race to win.”

Another LMP2 contender to suffer bad luck in the race was B-K Motorsports. The Wisconsin-based team had undergone a switch to Dunlop tires this weekend – proving to make a real difference in its Lola B07/46 Mazda. However, the weekend didn’t start off to plan as the car suffered two engine failures in practice. This forced Ben Devlin to start from the rear of the field, but the Englishman quickly got the car into 11th overall before the first pit stop.

photo by: Chris ClarkThe call to bring Devlin in during the wave-by lap while under yellow proved to be key, as he was able to get back on the lead lap. This promoted Devlin up to eighth overall, ahead of both Dyson Racing Porsches and running lap times consistent to the race leaders. However, trouble struck with about an hour remaining when the car pitted for the final time. Gerardo Bonilla got in, but the team noticed a problem with the fuel vent hose – at the same time of the de Ferran Motorsport blaze a few pit stalls up. The long pit stop to replace the throttle output valve on the car cost Bonilla 12 laps, but the Series rookie returned to the track and completed the race in 20th overall.

“When I got in for my stint, we obviously had a big delay because of the long pit stop,” Bonilla explained. “The fuel vent valve wasn’t working correctly, and there was no way we were going to take a risk on a fire. At the same time we were having our problem, an inferno broke out two pit boxes in front of me. It happened simultaneously. I feel bad for the de Ferran crewmember who was injured, and I hope he recovers quickly. Besides that, our guys kept focus on our problem during that distraction. I’m thankful that they found it because we would have had much worse problems if they hadn’t caught it.”

photo by: John Thawley While the results didn’t show it, B-K did have a very encouraging day. Devlin’s best lap time of 1:12.100 placed them right amongst other P2 cars’ best times in the race.

“I think we proved today that we can race with these guys,” said John Doonan, Manager, Motorsports Team Development for Mazda. “Ben had a great first stint and the tires were fantastic. The crew did an awesome job fighting through a lot of adversary this weekend with two engine changes. Then we just had this fluke fuel issue with the vent not returning. The boys did a good job and stayed calm and got the car back out there. Gerardo was running lap times right with the leaders there at the end. We’re very encouraged to be heading to tracks like Road America, Mosport and Road Atlanta where our little package can shine.”

photo by: Chris ClarkAfter scoring its first podium of the year last race at Lime Rock, Risi Competizione headed to Mid-Ohio with added confidence. The team was especially excited after Jamie Melo’s fast lap on Friday that put the No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT on the pole. Melo led the opening 15 laps and remained in close contention for the win. During the first pit stop, the car went a lap down because of Tafel Racing’s clever strategy to leave its car out until the wave-by lap. This put all of the GT2 contenders a lap down to the No. 71 Ferrari.

The No. 62 Ferrari, now in the hands of Mika Salo, rejoined the race and was in a solid podium position until a pit problem occurred in the set pit stop. Salo dragged pit equipment outside of the box, forcing a stop-and-go penalty to be assessed a few laps later. This dropped the car out of the top-three, with Salo finishing the race fifth in class. The team’s sister No. 61 Ferrari of Patick Friesacher and Harrison Brix wound up one position further back from their teammates in sixth.

photo by: John Thawley “We entered the race at the head of the field and in the right frame of mind to challenge for a win,” said team principal Giuseppe Risi. “Unfortunately, the results did not fulfill the promise of the pole position. We still have lots of work ahead of us. On the positive side, the car ran beautifully, there were no mechanical issues; the new suspension was excellent, the Michelin tires superb and it was quite rewarding to see Patrick Friesacher turn some very competitive laps. As he becomes more comfortable with the car and the series, I am confident he will become more of a force with each race.”

These three teams, and the rest of the American Le Mans Series squads, will be back in action at Road America in just over two weeks’ time for the Generac 500 Presented by Time Warner Cable. The four-hour endurance race on one of America’s classic road race circuits will certainly provide a lot of storylines, as they continue to chase the checkers.

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