Following the success that the Pontiac GXP.R has enjoyed, winning a record five of six GT races, so far this season Grand-Am officials have added weight and balance sanctions against the teams. One hundred pounds has been added to the overall weight, bringing the total to?? and a balance percentage of no more than 49% of the cars weight on the rear wheels.
“The adjustability of the GXP.R combined with the quality of the teams campaigning the cars has resulted in the five wins so far this season,” Steve Wesoloski, GM Racing, road racing manager said. “The new Pirelli tire has offered the series better competition and the team’s better performance. The ability of Banner Racing, Stevenson Motorsports, Autohaus and PR1Motorsports to fine tune their GXP.Rs to take full advantage of the new series spec rubber is a tribute to their professionalism, driver talent and competitive edge. The free flow of information between these teams has accounted for five times as much setup data to be shared. This has lent itself to a well balanced car able to take full advantage of the performance attributes and consistency of the Pirelli tire.”
The No. 07 Banner Racing team of Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards are leading the GXP.R charge with three wins on the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Laguna Seca and Lime Rock Park. The duo leads the GT drivers points and realize that every championship season has its obstacles.
“The 100lbs. and balance difference will affect us everywhere,” Edwards said. “Watkins Glen has been a good track for us in the past. We won the race two years ago in the GTO.R. The weight is a negative at any track you go to. We will do the best we can. We need to focus on maximizing our points in the rest of the races. The weight distribution will affect the car all the way from the entrance to the exit of the corner and then the weight will slow us on the straight. We will be pretty slow down the straights. This will also affect tire wear. The Glen could be our last track to have a strong result. The race is long, our pits stops are faster than our competitors and in six hours there are a lot of stops. Kelly and I run consistent laps times which helps over a long race. I love The Glen, I hope we are not running mid-pack and having to make desperate moves to stay in contention.”
In the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports camp Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis have accounted for two of the Pontiac’s five wins. There victories came at Mexico City and again at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). The pair has also stood on the podium at Lime Rock.
“I think that you could look at the results from the last five or six races and draw a number of different conclusions,” Liddell said. “At a purely cursory glance, Pontiac has won five of the first six events so you could be forgiven for thinking that they have dominated. On closer inspection this has been achieved through a combination of performance, reliability, strategy, driver skill, consistency and good luck, even when the lap times achieved by the Pontiac were not the quickest. At the end of the day the Pontiac GXP.R as built by GM Racing and Pratt & Miller is fundamentally the best racecar in the field and so in one respect it is always going to be penalized in order that the other cars can compete. The challenge for Grand-Am is not overdoing that process so that they handicap a good team package and hand an unfair advantage to a lesser team package. The penalties will clearly slow the car down, of that there is no doubt. How much they slow it down and how it affects the balance and handling of the car remains to be seen. From my point of view I will be as committed as ever and working hard with both Stevenson Motorsports and Pontiac to ensure that we are as competitive as we possibly can be in the upcoming races.”
In the No. 72 Autohaus Motorsports Pontiac the high point of the team’s season came at Lime Rock Park a week ago when Tim Lewis Jr. put the GXP.R on the pole. Together with Lawson Aschenbach the team is on the cusp of having a break through weekend.
“I think the weight will hurt us the worse,” Lewis said. “It will make us even slower down the straights than we already were. Grand-Am is trying to equalize the field, I am not sure if this is the right way. This will not help in our overtaking opportunities. Watkins Glen is a long race, good strategy and pit stops will keep us in the top five. A top five would probably feel like a win after these adjustments. At Lime Rock we ended up having a rod end on the rear sway bar break, which affected our tire wear. That was just some more tough luck for us. We are stuck in fourth and fifth place finishes. Other than that we had a podium car. I really like The Glen, it is similar to Laguna in the way you approach a driving style. I hope to be quick there, but with our weight and balance issues it may be too much to overcome for a win.”
The No. 06 Banner Racing team has Leighton Reese back behind the wheel this weekend. Reese is joined by Marc Bunting and sportscar ace Andy Pilgrim.
“We take pride at Banner in our association with Pontiac and Pratt & Miller,” Reese said. “We have an excellent staff of engineers and crew that can translate data to a great setup. We also have fast drivers who can maximize the setup. We are getting penalized for doing a good job. I understand the series wanting parity. We fell into a win at Laguna where the weekend was dominated by the 70 car. At Lime Rock the Pontiac has always been strong. We are taking it as a challenge and are moving forward. There are a lot more races left. The Glen is a classic track and it is a long race. We are going to have some of the same issues we had at Daytona - the lack of straight line speed. Which also just got magnified a bunch with these adjustments. Marc Bunting and Andy Pilgrim are back with me and both did a great job at Daytona. Marc was also fast at VIR. We are looking forward to having some fun. It will be a tough race, maybe it rain all weekend and equalize things.”
In the No. 32 PR1Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R Mike Forest and Thomas Merrill return to the series for another run. The pair have raced together at Homestead and Laguna Seca, with the car entered one more time at VIR.
“I have never been to the Glen or even watched a race at the Glen,” Forest said. “From what I’ve heard from the people I’ve talked to it’s a great track and certainly has had a lot of history. I just ran into an old racer who raced with my dad and they talked about racing it back in the early 70’s. So I very much look forward to getting to log some time there. I think PR1 is a very consistent team. We have improved our speed with each outing and now better understand what it takes to succeed in the Grand-Am series. So I think it will play into our hand as long as we can learn the track quickly and then stay clean and on the lead lap of the race. This will be by far the longest race I will have ever run! With all of the conditioning I have put in I look forward to putting myself to the test of doing two, three or even four stints in a single day. It will also be the first time for the team as a whole that we have participated in such a long event so it’s brand new again in some senses. It makes for a high level of excitement knowing our progress each event, new challenges that need to be tackled and just getting a chance to be in the car and have some fun.”
In DP competition the Riley-Matthews team has been carrying the Pontiac performance banner this season. Jim Matthews and Marc Goossens are second in points and have a win at Mexico City and two other podium finishes at VIR and Laguna Seca highlighting their season of consistency. Sportscar veteran Marcel Tiemann joins the duo for The Glen.
“I think the team has proven that we can win both in shorter and longer races,” Goossens said. “The main factor will be that we don't make any errors both on track and in pit lane, none at all. We have had some pretty strong runs so far and we just have to keep working hard and hopefully the results keep coming our way. Also, having Marcel Tiemann with us at the Glen will sure benefit the team's effort. He just won the Nurburgring 24 Hour and he has many times proven to be a successful endurance driver. So I am really looking forward to hopefully score another strong finish for the Riley Matthews Motorsport team.”
Wayne Taylor’s bad luck on the track spilled over to the open-road following the Laguna Seca race. The team’s transporter caught fire just out of Amarillo, Texas destroying all of the team’s equipment and their new Dallara. A village of Grand-Am competitors and suppliers overwhelmed Taylor with calls for support and equipment which will allow them to compete this weekend at The Glen. The team has taken their Riley DP car out of the show room and will race it at The Glen.
“It’s been really, really tough,” Taylor said. “We certainly have support from SunTrust, my biggest partner, Toshiba, Pontiac and the whole motor racing industry. People have really stood up, the Target Chip Ganassi team, along with everybody else, including Bill Riley, Rum Bum, Mike Shank and Mark Patterson. Just about everybody you can think of in our series has offered to help in whatever way. We’re going to be running the Riley we raced in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the car that we‘ve got for sale in all of the magazines – thank God nobody bought it.”
Michael Valiante and Max Angelelli have taken on the track contact and crashes in stride. The duo have been competitive on the time sheet every event, starting on the front row at Homestead and on the pole at VIR.
“The Dallara has exceeded our expectations and we have threatened to win nearly every event,” Valiante said. “It is a bit frustrating because we want to develop the car and it hasn't even had a full test day. [The Glen with the Riley] will be business as usual. We are going to the race to win like we have every other one. A lot of what has happened has been out of our controls so we will see what happens.”
The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings team is hungry for their first win. The 99 team dominated in 2007 and have run at the front this year, but have not been able to stand on the top step of the podium. Last year the team won the six-hour race from the pole.
"This year, the competition with some of the car/driver combinations looks to be maybe even more competitive than last year,” Gurney said. “Many teams seem to have upped their game. We are really hoping that some luck falls our way because we feel we've been caught out a few times this year by some ill timed yellow flags and that's kept us from the top step of the podium. We've had a very fast race car all year long. Watkins Glen has historically been so good to us though, we've been on the podium nearly every time we've been there so we feel very confident that we'll be in the hunt for the win in the last hour. We've improved dramatically on the long races since we entered this series and finishing second in the 24 hour was proof of that. There are definitely more variables in a long race like this. You have to plan a lot more for fuel mileage, strategy, reliability, more pit stops, and fatigue to name a few. We've been able to win in short and long races and we feel very well prepared as a team for this race. We are all determined to get back some of the magic of 2007."
The Krohn Racing drivers have a very busy month of June. All four are also competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Tracy Krohn and Eric van de Poele were able to lead several laps at Laguna Seca. The team’s new Lola will have its first endurance test this weekend.
"For me Watkins Glen is one of the most fantastic tracks I’ve driven,” van de Poele said. “I really love the layout of this kind of track with the fast corners, all different type of corners, and of course, up and down. It’s really challenging and I love that. But firstly, it is a very special track for me because I was a big, big fan as a kid of Francois Cevert. Cevert had his first victory there in Formula One in 1971. Three years later he died there in an accident. So, it’s a very special track. I have a special emotion when I go there. Of course, I’m looking forward to driving there because it’s a fantastic race track like all drivers love. We don’t have many of this type of race track in Europe and the ones they do they put in chicanes everywhere. Watkins Glen is very natural."
The race will be televised on the SPEED Channel in two segments, the first starting at 11:00 a.m. and then rejoining the action at 2:30 p.m.