KnightHawk wins championship with dramatic Petit finish; popular privateer team also earns coveted IMSA Cup. October 21, 2002 Englewood, CO -- Steve Knight and Mel Hawkins' KnightHawk Racing team challenged adversity all season long, racing...
KnightHawk wins championship with dramatic Petit finish; popular privateer team also earns coveted IMSA Cup.
October 21, 2002 Englewood, CO -- Steve Knight and Mel Hawkins' KnightHawk Racing team challenged adversity all season long, racing with a lightening-quick but temperamental racing thoroughbred -- the new purpose-built MG Lola 675 LMP.
Motorsport fans worldwide cheered on the team with their hopes for an ultra-competitive 675 class -- secretly, and many not so secretly - hoping that the sleek prototype would prove to kick some sand in the face of its bullying 900 brothers.
When the privateer team placed their #11 MG Lola on the grid at the season-opening Sebring an amazing 3rd overall -- it looked as though it was going to be a very exciting season -- it seemed as though a new line had been drawn.
When the classy team brought their new car to Le Mans, with a newly designed wicked looking black and reflective-orange livery -- fans sensed that the team was in sync with the rebel reputation the MG Lola was earning. KnightHawk Racing, with their new MG Lola, had become the "James Dean" of motorsports.
But like a thoroughbred, the MG Lola was proving to be stunningly quick -- yet demanding, and at times, very difficult. Many times this season the KnightHawk team found themselves in the race lead, only to end their day in back of the pack - from hero-to-zero in the course of a single race.
Like a prize fighting championship contender who shows bursts of brilliance -- only to get repeatedly knocked down -- the KnightHawk owners, drivers and crew had a choice. Throw in the towel? Claim "No Mas, No Mas"? Or answer each and every round with new vigor and ultimate will to win.
KnightHawk not only answered each round, but jumped off their stool the instant the bell rang. They would not give up.
With two straight hard-earned wins, at Laguna and Miami, KnightHawk suddenly saw their resolve paying off. They may have finally come to an understanding with the cocky yet unpredictable prototype. The addition of Claudia Huertgen seemed have harnessed the wild rebel car. Behind in the team championship points for most of the season, KnightHawk entered the last race of the year, the 10-hour/1000-mile Petit Le Mans, with a 9 point lead over their rivals Intersport Racing.
The American Le Mans Series 675 LMP Team Championship would be decided at the last race of the season. The team and their car needed only to finish 4th in class to secure the title. KnightHawk was battle-honed after facing adversity at every single race of the season. KnightHawk was tired of going to the prom with the best looking gal -- only to leave without the crown. Adding to their determination was their bittersweet year spent as a team that lost last year's championship title -- by a single point.
You would think, that maybe, for at least one race this season, the team would be given a reprieve from the ups and downs, the gut-kicking challenges that they had faced all year long. Yeah, right.
Race day found the team with a cracked bell housing after the morning warm-up. Lola didn't have a spare. Fellow competitors Dyson Racing provided them with a new rear end. The race was to start at 11:30am, at 11:07am the car's repair was still unfinished and stuck in the team's paddock. At 11:27, with only 3 minutes before the start of the race, the car was on pit lane and ready to go.
Andy Lally joined team co-owner and driver Steve Knight and team regular Chad Block in the #11 Gestetner/DNTLworks 675 LMP MG Lola - Lally started the race.
The car, team and drivers were performing well, very well in fact, taking third in class, then second in class, then first, and then back and forth again with rivals Dyson and Intersport -- a classic battle for position, an exciting race worth watching.
At 5:18pm, Lally brought the car behind the wall. He had heard a misfire a few laps before -- then a very loud pop -- and he put the car in neutral and coasted in.
The MG Lola's plenum had exploded, and while they had a reserve, and could make a very difficult and lengthy repair - they didn't know the reason for the event and could not predict the car's performance, or longevity, after the symptomatic repair. But repair they did.
The repair took 3 hours and put the team behind to 5th in class -- with the 4th in class car 15 laps ahead. It was 8:18pm when they got back on the track. They had to make up 15 laps quickly as the race was soon to end, and to do that they had to go fast and the engine had to last -- but for the engine to last with an undiscovered problem -- they had to turn the boost down. Go fast with no turbo? Make up 15 laps with less speed?
KnightHawk had yet another adversity, another challenge - why would this race be any different? Give up -- hell no! Lally took the car back out and went to work. By then the race end could be predicted by laps and by time -- with knowledgeable racing veterans claiming that 9:00pm, plus or minus, would see the checkered flag. That gave Lally a mere 42 minutes to make up 15 laps. KnightHawk took the flag 4th in class -- with 6 laps to spare -- and became the 2002 ALMS LMP 675 Team Champions.
"I am so proud of my partner, my team and my co-drivers," said team co-owner and driver Steve Knight. "Throughout the entire season, when they faced adversity, they met the challenge head-on and never quit. The final challenge was the Petit Le Mans, and again, they were tested. With the drive and determination to win they overcame what seemed like impossible odds and came out bruised and battered; but in the final analysis, they came out winners. I am honored to have been part of it all."
"We had a really frustrating week there," said team co-owner and driver Mel Hawkins. "We'd been there since Wednesday and have had very few successful sessions on the track because we had engine problems from day one. On Saturday, in preparation for the race, we went for the warm up and broke the bell housing. Nobody had a spare, not us, Lola, or any of the other MG Lola teams. As a result, we made a last minute deal with Dyson Racing to get a whole rear end in order to get us in the race. We had to start the race with an engine that had already had half of its life used up -- not a good idea going into a race like the Petit. After about 5 hours into the race, as suspected, the engine started to go away on us. We struggled with 3 hours in the pits for repairs and dropped from a 5 lap lead in class to 5th in class. We finally got back in the race with about 40 minutes to go and we're able to reach 4th in class -- which earned us the team championship. Although I'm disappointed that we didn't finish this race in first, I'm very happy that our team has won the championship."
"I'd like to give an extra atta-boy to our mechanic Sean Mitchell. When some others on the team seemed almost willing to throw in the towel after the plenum explosion at Petit - Sean never gave up. He made the repairs in less than half the normal time and was the one person we can credit the most for getting us back into the race in time to secure a 4th place finish and the season points championship. All year Sean has been the backbone of the team in preparing the car. We are very proud to have been associated with him," added Hawkins.
"Petit was tough -- it was probably the most stressful race we've ever had," said Chad Block. "It was definitely the longest and most stressful race I've ever had. The team did such an awesome job all season long. I'd like to thank Dyson Racing for giving us their rear end -- without it we would not have been in the race. I'm glad that I could be a part of the KnightHawk organization this year, and I'm thankful for the support that both Steve and Mel have given me."
"The KnightHawk car was running without problem until about 8 laps or so before the plenum blew up, " said Andy Lally. "We saw a bit of a rise in the water temp and had a slight misfire on the bottom end of the rpm range. When the plenum broke it was a huge bang but the engine kept on running. I shut it off and was lucky to be close to pit lane. The guys found the problem and then started working on it right away so we could get back out there. The crew worked as quickly as they could to get the car back together and when they did we knew it was going to be close on getting back out there and finishing where we needed to help secure the team championship for KnightHawk. We were able to get back into 4th in class just a few minutes from the end of the race and that locked up the championship by only 1 point. I would like to thank KnightHawk racing for inviting me to drive at Petit - it was a great car and a great race to experience."
On Sunday, October 14, at the American Le Mans Awards Gala, KnightHawk Racing was proud to accept the American Le Mans Series 2002 LMP 675 Team Championship and the 2002 LMP 675 IMSA Cup -- marking an end to a season that defined KnightHawk as champions in the truest sense of the word by demonstrating the best teamwork that motorsports has to offer. KnightHawk Racing was equally as proud to have contributed to the securing for Avon the LMP 675 Tire Manufacturer's Championship, for Lola the LMP 675 Chassis Manufacturer's Championship and for AER MG the LMP 675 Engine Manufacturer's Championship.