Miami: Duncan Dayton race report

MIAMI, Sept. 27 -- Intersport Racing's colorful "Junkyard Dog" Lola ...

MIAMI, Sept. 27 -- Intersport Racing's colorful "Junkyard Dog" Lola #37 had what can only be called a "rough trip" in Saturday's Grand Prix Americas, an American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race on a temporary street course laid out on the streets of Miami.

Duncan Dayton of North Salem, N.Y. was in third place in the LMP 675 class in the late stages of the two-hour-and-45-minute race until a Porsche hit him near the end. He and co-driver Jon Field of Dublin, Ohio ended up fourth in class and 20th overall at the checkered, on the same lap as the third-place finisher in that class but 1:42.561 seconds behind him.

Although the podium finish evaporated at the end, the pair still have a chance to win the class drivers' championship for themselves and their team, which is sponsored by Banana Joe's, Highcroft Racing and Goodyear. Unofficially Dayton and Field are still tied for second place, 20 points behind Chris Dyson, with 26 points available at the season finale, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta Motor Sports Park in Braselton, Ga., on Oct. 18. Some of their other rivals are still breathing down their necks too, as Jason Workman, Andy Wallace and James Weaver are also still within striking distance.

Just being able to compete in this race was somewhat of a miracle for Dayton and Field, let alone finishing fourth in class. After setting the third-fastest time in the second practice session before quals on Friday, Field set the fourth-fastest time overall in qualifying and then crashed hard in turn nine at the end of the session. Although he escaped with only cuts and bruises, the "Junkyard Dog" looked more like a heap of broken parts in an actual junkyard than a race car the night before the race.

The Intersport crew worked all night just to get the car back into the show. They scrambled for parts and had the most problems trying to improvise a radiator out of what they could salvage and borrow to piece the Lola EX257-MG back together.

Using ingenuity and tenacity, the team's mechanics and engineers fabricated some carbon fiber pieces for the radiator assembly from the team's pitboard. Then they were able to fit and install a radiator that they borrowed from JML Team Panoz, to whom they were most grateful.

Field started the race from pit lane and was carefully making his way up the standings until Emanuele Naspetti hit him from behind in a Ferrari about 45 minutes into the two-hour-and-45-minute race. Field spun out and was left stopped in a runoff area facing the wrong way until he could be pushed off again. He made his way back to the pits so the crew could check the car over and add fuel.

He pitted again about 45 minutes later for fresh Goodyears, more fuel and to let Dayton take over. The stop itself went well, but the team did get nailed with a 20-second penalty for a visor infraction at that point.

"I know we got a stop-and-go, but I'm not sure what that was for," Dayton said afterwards. "It must have been something with Jon or one of the guys on the crew during the drivers' change."

About 15 minutes later in the race Dayton was 23rd overall and fourth in class and he had his sights set on catching Scott Bradley, who was 1.977 seconds ahead of him and in that last podium spot in class in the Essex Racing Lola.

Driving masterfully and very carefully on the tight, twisty track, Dayton whittled the gap down until he passed Bradley and settled into third in class and 19th overall.

Dayton and Johnny O'Connell had contact a little later. That started when O'Connell hit Dayton in the rear, and ended with O'Connell hitting the wall and then having to spend many laps in the pits to make repairs to his Corvette's front end. O'Connell expressed his frustrations by blocking Dayton repeatedly when he got back on the track, and then further showed his anger in the pits after the race.

"I told him to calm down and look at the tape," Dayton said. "As far as I know, it's still the responsibility of the car that is doing the overtaking to make a clean pass, and he hit me in the rear."

The Miami street course is the smallest and tightest course the ALMS races on, and there were many such incidents throughout the race as drivers ran out of room. To make matters worse it rained during the race too, and the high temperatures and oppressive humidity made for sweltering conditions and short tempers.

One of the rain storms developed right at the end of the race, further complicating things since most of the drivers were still on slicks. With just a few minutes to go a Racer's Group Porsche hit Dayton and spun him out, which allowed Bradley to get third place in class back.

James Weaver had a mechanical problem after that but he was still too far ahead to help Dayton's situation at that point, and the Intersport team ended up fourth in class at the checkered.

Although they doubled the gap they're behind in the class point standings here at Miami, there is still hope for Dayton and Field to win the LMP 675 championship at Road Atlanta if they can win that event and Dyson has the kind of problems the Intersport team had here.

Dayton, Field and a third driver, Michael Durand, won the class at last year's Petit Le Mans, so they know they can do it. Their regular car has been repaired from the crash in Sonoma, Calif., and will be fresh and ready to race so that the "Junkyard Dog" hopefully won't have to be put into service any more this year.

Larry Connor of Centerville, Ohio will join Dayton and Field in their entry at the Petit Le Mans next month.

That race will be covered live on the SPEED Channel just like Saturday's race from Miami was. The times to tune in will be from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern and then again from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, Oct. 18.

For more information see www.americanlemans.com, www.intersportracing.com and www.restartcommunications.com. Both Dayton and Field are in the running for the series' most popular driver award, and fans can place a vote free of charge for that distinction at www.americanlemans.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Duncan Dayton , James Weaver , Johnny O'Connell , Jon Field , Larry Connor , Scott Bradley , Michael Durand , Emanuele Naspetti , Jason Workman , Chris Dyson