Chris Gleason early season notes

Gleason follows up his sixth-place GT Class finish at Sebring with a victory in a PCA race last weekend at Road Atlanta. JOHNSTOWN, Pa., April 10 - Chris Gleason knew his 2003 racing season was getting off to a good start, but even the...

Gleason follows up his sixth-place GT Class finish at Sebring with a victory in a PCA race last weekend at Road Atlanta.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa., April 10 - Chris Gleason knew his 2003 racing season was getting off to a good start, but even the Johnstown, Pa.-based driver didn't know exactly where he'd finished in the prestigious Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring last month until this afternoon.

Gleason, president and chief executive officer of Gleason Financial Ltd., a leading independently owned property and casualty insurance broker, figured that he'd have a competitive ride in the biggest race of the 2003 season in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, when he signed to drive one of the bright blue Porsche 911 GT3 RSes of the Racers Group. In February one of that team's cars collected both its class victory and the overall triumph in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sanctioned by another group, the Grand American Road Racing Association.

So when Gleason and co-drivers Cort Wagner of Pacific Palisades, Calif. and Marc Bunting of Monkton, Md. took turns behind the wheel of a similar Porsche fielded by the Racer's Group at this year's 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla., on March 15, they thought their chances for a good finish would be pretty good. They were proven correct when they finished the race in sixth position in the GT class half a day later.

They were surprised when they were moved up to fifth place five days later when the original second-place car was excluded from the final race results. The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), the sanctioning body for the ALMS, ruled that the on-board fuel capacity of that car, another Porsche, exceeded the maximum allowable capacity of 100 liters. That team appealed the decision and the ALMS announced the team had won its case this afternoon, so Gleason finished sixth in one of the most grueling motorsports events in the world.

As it turned out it was Gleason's best finish ever at Sebring, as he bettered the tenth place in the GT class that he earned at the famous airport course in 2001.

What's more, last weekend Gleason was a force to be reckoned with in two Porsche Club of America-sanctioned races at Road Atlanta Motorsport Park in Braselton, Ga. He won one of those races outright, leading most of the laps. He sat on the pole for the other one and was leading it convincingly too until the next-to-the-last lap, when his car's right rear tire let go. He had to scramble to keep from crashing, but he brought the car to a safe stop and went back to Pennsylvania knowing that he'd been the driver to beat in both races.

Although Gleason said taking the checkered flag at Road Atlanta was a thrill, when caught at his office at Gleason Financial this week he was most animated about his experiences at Sebring. He said that was primarily because that race attracted a world-class field of endurance sports car racers, and it was great to do well when the competition was so intense.

Things didn't start out too well for Gleason at Sebring this year, however.

"Frankly, we struggled with the car all week," he said. "This car had an enormous accident at Daytona and basically it was a new tub with most of the old parts bolted to it. As a result, it needed sorted out.

"The crewing of the #68 car was contracted out to Blackforest Motorsports Group of Delan, Fla.," Gleason said. "The owner, Brian Nott, and his merry gang were very competent and with the exception of not understanding some of the IMSA rules, did a terrific job. Brian was a crewmember of the winning car at the 1996 Indy 500, so his motorsports profile is excellent. A first-rate guy!

"From Monday through Thursday Cort Wagner did most of the driving in an attempt to get the car sorted out," Gleason continued. Wagner, a professional race car driver, was the inaugural GT class champion of the ALMS in 1999 and he's a past GT class winner at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans, so his set-up expertise was very helpful to the team.

"By Friday I had only done 15 or so laps in the car and I was not satisfied with my pace," Gleason said. "I did get some additional laps on Friday and basically we all agreed to a race set-up, with Cort starting the Porsche. Marc Bunting would drive the second shift and I the third.

"Actually our race pace was pretty good," he noted. "By the third or fourth hour we were up as high as sixth, but then we fell foul to some pit lane infractions, a series of which cost us at least five to six minutes throughout the race. On the track our Porsche ran like a clock, however, and I drove the last night session, and we took the checkered in sixth place.

"Sebring is such a grueling race," Gleason said. "Turns 17 and one are long-radius, 100-plus-mph turns with huge bumps throughout the turns. The car bucks and lurches over the bumps, with my job being to hang on, contend with the G forces, keep the rear end in place and avoid hitting the outer walls at the exit of the turns. As a result, doing this lap after lap subjects the driver's body to a constant beating. The heat, the bumps, the setting sun, the dark, and the lack of a long straight to collect yourself or chill a bit makes this race one of the most grueling in the world. All in all, we're very pleased to have finished sixth in this prestigious event. It was the toughest field we'll face all season because there were a lot of GT cars in the race. Le Mans will only take 12 GT cars, but 25 of the 55 cars at Sebring were in the GT class."

At Sebring Gleason's car was sponsored by mail2web.com, Monster Cable, rennlist.com, Adobe Road Winery and Gleason Financial.

Although the competition wasn't nearly as stiff last weekend, Gleason said it was "still nice" to take a checkered flag in the PCA race at Road Atlanta on Saturday. He could have done without the scare on lap 17 of Sunday's 18-lap race, however.

"I was in sixth gear, going about 160, when the right-rear tire blew while I was leading," he related. "I got it off in the grass. It was a DNF [did not finish], but it could have been a lot worse."

Although Gleason may compete in another event before it, the next ALMS race is scheduled for June 27-29. He's optimistic about his chances of doing well in that race too, since it's going to be held at Road Atlanta, the same place where he already has posted one victory this year. That race, called the Atlanta Grand Prix, will be televised by CBS Sports in North America at 4 p.m. Eastern time on June 29.

For more information on Gleason, see www.gleasonagency.com and www.restartcommunications.com. For more information on the ALMS series, see www.imsaracing.net, www.americanlemans.com and www.roadatlanta.com.

-lm-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Chris Gleason , Marc Bunting , Cort Wagner