Birmingham, AL (April 1, 2012) - With the constant, sweeping turns of the Barber Motorsports Park circuit as the predominant feature of the track, this weekend’s Porsche 250 was assumed to favor the lighter GT vehicles such as the Mazda or the Ferrari, if for no other reason than tire wear. In spite of the deficit, Magnus Racing drivers John Potter and Andy Lally had their eyes firmly set on getting the best possible result.
“With the Rolex 24 at Daytona victory behind us, the focus is very solidly on the championship,” stated John Potter, Team Owner of Magnus Racing. “Obviously the best way to achieve that is winning as many races as possible, but we also don’t want to take any risks that can cost us big points.”
After being forced to switch engines during Thursday practice due to a rare engine failure, the team was hoping that the worst of their luck was behind them. Following a smooth qualifying effort on Friday by John Potter, the team came in to Saturday’s race with high hopes.
Brumos Racing always enjoys returning to Birmingham’s scenic Barber Motorsports Park, but the Porsche 250 offers added incentive. The first Grand-Am Rolex Series event at Barber that was sponsored by Porsche was in 2004, but a Porsche has yet to claim the victory there. Brumos was hoping to reverse that trend, but well aware of the challenges they would face in doing so. Although they did not reach the top step of the podium this year, Brumos did put their #59 Porsche GT3 in Victory Lane with a hard-fought 3rd place finish.
In a weekend shared with the IndyCar Series, track time was limited and conditions were less than optimal. Warm temperatures, a rough track surface, and rubber buildup from the IndyCars all made for low grip. Struggles continued as the #59 ended qualifying in 8th place following a session cut short by a yellow flag.
Starting driver Andrew Davis is very familiar with the challenges of Barber, given his role as a Porsche Sport Driving School instructor, and found the result particularly meaningful.
“I am thrilled with our podium here at Barber,” he said. “Many of my family members are here, so it’s nice to be able to spray some champagne and have them here to enjoy the podium with me. I am so proud of Brumos Racing – the race was a tough one, but the strategy calls and the pit stops really made the difference. I’m not sure we had the car that was going to win this race, but we obviously have a winning team. I do have to give special thanks to our driving mentor, Hurley Haywood. When we qualified poorly, he told us what he wanted us to do and what he expected from us. I also have to thank Leh Keen for another superb job. To be able to drive a car that was handling the way it was and hold on to the podium, despite the fierce competition, was quite an accomplishment. I am really proud of his effort and to have Leh as my teammate.” For Leh Keen, the weekend was all about never giving up.
“I can’t say enough about the Brumos guys,” he said. “When we came off the truck, the car was actually pretty decent, we just didn’t realize it at the time, since we were slipping and sliding around due to low grip. We made a lot of changes and got closer to where we needed to be, but the guys never quit. They kept working hard and kept a good attitude. We all came to the track on race day with smiles on our faces and ready to do a good job, all the way through the last lap. Andrew did a great job in the opening stint and drove a smart race. We had good strategy and the crew delivered clean, fast pit stops that put us where we needed to be leaving the pits. In the end, it all paid off with a podium. Now, Brumos has two podiums in a row for the first two races of the season, so we are off to a great start for 2012.”
The third place finish moves Brumos into a tie for 2nd place in the GT standings, just three points out of the lead. Action resumes on April 29th, as the Rolex Series heads south to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Round 3 of the 2012 season.
Starting the no. 44 Porsche GT3 Cup in 11th, Magnus Racing’s John Potter put in an impressive opening stint. Not putting a wheel wrong during the first 45 minutes, John not only drove mistake-free, but also kept within sight of the lead pack, turning lap times on par with everyone in front of him. Most importantly as it would turn out, John did a great job of taking care of his fuel use.
Around the 45-minute mark, many of the GT teams had already pitted for fuel and tires, however the no. 44 and a handful of other teams managed to stay out. When an opportune caution period was thrown, the group of cars who had yet to pit were handed a major advantage as their position on track allowed them to cycle around to being almost a lap up on their GT competition.
Using this opportunity to pit for fuel, tires, and driver change, it was now up to Andy Lally to drive the rest of the way, hoping to continue his 100% win rate for the team so far.
As the race unfolded, Lally made remarkable work of the field in front of him, taking part in a strong battle among the top-four. As the race wore on and tire wear began to show, Lally was at his best. Pushing fellow Porsche driver Leh Keen’s no 59 Brumos vehicle to the limit, the two would be involved in a several lap battle that struck a delicate balance between over aggression and patience.
As pit stops cycled through, it was clear that many of the teams, including the no. 59, would have to pit early enough that they may have needed to make a third stop for a “splash” at the end. As Lally circled around longer and longer, the no. 44 would only have to make a second stop.
With pit stops cycling through, the no. 44 team would lead briefly before making their own error-free stop. With only 45 minutes to go, the Magnus team would look comfortably in the top-five, now playing “the waiting game” as they hoped for the cars in front to either pit again for a last gasp of fuel or risk running out entirely.
Unfortunately, with only 10 minutes remaining, a late race caution would buy the leading cars much needed fuel mileage, thus eliminating Magnus’s strong strategy call. When the green flag fell again, only three laps remained, and though Andy Lally would put together a strong run for the podium, patience prevailed and the team settled for a strong fourth-place finish.
While not a podium, Magnu still walks away as the points leader with 63 points over the now-tied no. 59 Brumos drivers of Andrew Davis and Leh Keen and no. 60 Speedsource duo of Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito with 60 points.
For John Potter, a productive points day is a good way to leave the track.
“Obviously we’d like to leave the track with a trophy, but we’re not disappointed at all,” stated Potter. “The guys did a great job getting the car turned over and ready after Thursday’s engine change, and Andy gave it a great effort as well. Overall I think we proved ourselves well, and it’s a good to race this well at a track that traditionally doesn’t favor the Porsche.”
For Andy Lally, a strong car was the most rewarding part of the day.
“It was great to have the car as competitive as it was all weekend long,” stated Andy. “Between Thursday’s problem and the ability to not only turn the car around, but turn it around and keep it as fast as it was is a good sign moving forward. John also did a fantastic job in the opening stint. There were some really strong guys up front and he stayed in the thick of it. We’ll head to Homestead now and push as hard as we can.”
In the overall GT results, Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito lapped the GT field in the No.70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8, denying the No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD drivers Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal from giving the new Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am its first victory.
Horton Autosport rolled out a brand-new No. 73 Neo Synthetic Oil Porsche GT3 that turned its first laps in Thursday’s practice. Eric Foss then qualified fourth on Friday. The team’s only previous Rolex Series race was at Watkins Glen in August in an older Porsche, with Foss and Patrick Lindsay set to run the remainder of the season in the new car. Foss ran third before an off-course excursion led to an unscheduled stop. They finished 14th.
“I was getting feedback, so I turned my radio off. I had no idea of how I was doing in qualifying. Thursday was the first time this car turned a wheel, but John Horton came to the track prepared and our setup was good right out of the box. This race is like our shakedown for Homestead and the rest of the season.” Eric Foss, No. 73 Horton Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
The TRG Porsche 199 GT3 Cup of Steve Bertheau/Spencer Pumpelly finished tenth in GT, but Pumpelly did turn the class’ fastest race lap at an average speed of 90.701 mph.
Headed in to the next round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, twelve rounds still remain in the championship, and it remains anybody’s game. The Grand Prix of Miami will take place on Sunday, April 29, at Homestead Speedway with live coverage featured on SPEED TV.