Chasing the Checkers: Road America Edition

When the checkered flag flew after four hours of racing at Road America, some of the early favorites fell short of a podium finish. In fact, the seventh round of the American Le Man Series season provided heartbreak and disappointments to many teams, whether it was mechanical problems or accidents on track. These trials and tribulations helped shape the Generac 500 into a unique event, as there was more to the race than just the morning headlines.

This week’s edition of Chasing the Checkers profiles three teams’ promising, but turned disappointing runs in Saturday’s race. First, we’ll take a look at de Ferran Motorsports, then dive into the efforts by Panoz Team PTG and Drayson-Barwell.

De Ferran Motorsports was particularly looking forward to this weekend, as it was the team’s first race longer than the traditional two-hour and 45-minute format. Gil de Ferran started the No. 66 Panasonic-sponsored Acura Arx-01b from seventh but struck trouble very early on. With only ten minutes complete, de Ferran and the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Doran Ford GT-R of Tim Pappas collided, leaving de Ferran’s car with moderate bodywork damage.

photo by: John Thawley “The car was running well at the start but we hit traffic after six laps,” de Ferran said. “While passing a GT2 car I got hit in the left rear, went off and hit and wall. There was quite a bit of damage but I managed to get the car back to the pits.”

After the crew made repairs, de Ferran returned to the track but found trouble again – this time with the other Doran Ford GT-R of Robertson Racing. With further repairs made, and a stop-and-hold penalty for too many men working over the wall in the pits, de Ferran rejoined but lost close to eight laps in the process.

De Ferran handed over controls to co-driver Simon Pagenaud midway through the race, and the Frenchman brought the car home in 18th overall, a position certainly nobody would have hoped for prior to the green flag.

“We lost a lot of time while the guys replaced the front and rear body work, then I went back out and then got hit again,” de Ferran added. “Our day was really hit hard by two penalties from race control which, frankly, I didn’t understand what they were for, but we lost more time sitting at the end of pit lane for minutes at a time. That really cost us any chance of a good result. We had a lost a couple of laps after the contact but that really sealed our fate which is a shame because the car was running very well. Despite the damage to the bodywork, the car was still very quick.”

While the result wasn’t what the team hoped for, encouraging news came from Indianapolis, as their refueler, Keith Jones, has been upgraded from serious to fair condition following last race’s fire in the pits. Many ALMS teams ran “Get Well Jonsie” stickers on their cars this weekend, and we wish him all the best in his recovery. 

photo by: John Thawley Panoz Team PTG has also high hopes heading into Saturday’s race, given its strong run in practice and qualifying. After switching back to Yokohama tires, the team’s Panoz Esperante proved to be very quick on Thursday and Friday, turning the third quickest lap time in GT2 on two occasions.

The car remained in the same aero configuration since Lime Rock, when new rear bodywork was introduced. This was on top of the new front nose the team has used for the bulk of the season. The team had hoped to also receive an upgraded engine package for this race, but it did not materialize in time.

“The balance of the car right now is just perfect right now,” said driver Tommy Milner before the race. “The tires are working well, the motor is working well, everything is working well. I do think some of it is the tire, some of the [improvement] in speed. The car doesn’t feel drastically different. It doesn’t feel like its better or worse in any way.”

Race day brought even more reason for optimism. The car had to start from the rear of the field because co-driver Joey Hand had not turned a lap in practice due to his Grand-Am commitments. Milner thundered through the field and inherited the lead an hour in after clever pit strategy. He stayed out front for a brief period of time before settling in the top-three. However, trouble struck during the second pit stop when the car had problems re-firing. Hand, who was then behind the wheel of the car, finally got going after a lengthy delay.

Things went from bad to worse for the team, as Hand later slowed on track and took the Panoz behind the wall with a broken rear control arm. What looked to be a very encouraging day for the Tom Milner-led effort turned into an early retirement.

photo by: John Thawley Another GT2 team that enjoyed its strongest run of the season until hitting trouble was Drayson-Barwell. Still struggling with its new Aston Martin Vantage GT2, the British team led by Mark Lemmer had hopes to carry the momentum it got at Mid-Ohio, as drivers Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker scored their first point of the season there.

Prodrive’s technical director, George Howard-Chappell, attended this weekend’s race in hopes of spreading a little bit of his magic upon the team. Things looked to be going in the right direction, as Drayson and Cocker were up to 10th in class for much of the race, and even overcame an exhaust fire.

However, heartbreak hit with just 12 minutes remaining when Drayson collided with the LMP2 class-leading No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Acura of Franck Montagny at Canada Corner. The incident ended the days for both cars, which were on their way to well-deserving finishes.

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