Sebring: Genoa Racing race report

Genoa Racing Finishes Second in LMPC Class In Saturday's Twelve Hours of Sebring SEBRING, Fla., March 21 - Saturday's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was a rollercoaster ride for Genoa Racing, but the Zionsville, Ind.-based team ended the...

Genoa Racing Finishes Second in LMPC Class In Saturday's Twelve Hours of Sebring

SEBRING, Fla., March 21 - Saturday's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was a rollercoaster ride for Genoa Racing, but the Zionsville, Ind.-based team ended the American Le Mans Series' season opener at Sebring International Raceway on a high with a second-place finish in the LMPC class.

The team was originally scored in third place in class, but early Sunday morning when the final revised rundown was posted Genoa Racing rose to second in class. One of the drivers of the car that originally was thought to have finished second did not have the minimum amount of time required behind the wheel during the event, and that entry was excluded.

Genoa Racing had clawed its way up from a sixth-place starting position in class on Saturday morning to lead the class standings at the halfway point on Saturday afternoon, but a few minutes later J.R. Hildebrand of Sausalito, Calif. whipped backwards into a tire wall off Turn 15 and the car suffered extensive damage to its rear and left side. Luckily Hildebrand wasn't hurt.

The reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion made it back to the pits and then drove the car to the paddock for repairs with its bodywork flapping. The team worked heroically, and about an hour later Hildebrand was back in action, although now instead of leading the class the entry was third in class.

"I was following a pair of GT cars and I don't know if I had pick-up on the tires or what, but as soon as I went on the gas pedal to get around them I instantly lost it," Hildebrand said.

The build-up of rubber debris played a major factor in the team's run. Hildebrand's co-drivers, veteran Andy Wallace of Oxford, England and the youngest driver in the race, 20-year-old Tom Sutherland of Los Gatos, Calif., both made unscheduled pit stops prior to Hildebrand's crash because of the way the car was reacting to rubber buildup. Salad-plate size globs of rubber were banging around in the car's wheels and the louvers on the car's front fenders until the car's speed increased enough for the rubber to fall away. The v ibrations and the way the debris affected the car's balance were one thing, but the unscheduled pit stops occurred when Wallace was sure he had a flat Michelin tire and Sutherland was convinced a suspension piece had snapped. In both cases the car was fine and the culprit was rubber buildup.

Near the end the team had to deal with electrical problems too. As the live SPEED cameras were capturing Scott Sharp's Ferrari erupting into flames, Wallace lost power, rolled to a stop and had to wait to be towed back to the pits. The pit crew members diagnosed the problem and solved it on pit road. They also changed the bulbs in the car's headlights, which had burned out and were making it extremely hard for Wallace to see.

"If you slowed down because you couldn't see very well, you got more pick-up on the tires, so it was a double-whammy," Wallace explained.

Sutherland was in the car for the final leg of the journey and he took the checkered after the entry turned its 281st lap of the day, finishing 26th overall at first but then 25th in the final rundown. Sutherland, a junior psychology major at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, is sponsored by ClickAway.

As far as the hourly class race reports went, the bright-red Genoa No. 36 was third at the end of the first and second hour, second for hours three, four and five, and first for hour six. It ran in third place in class the rest of the way until the other team's rules violation vaulted it to second.

The Level 5 Motorsports team of Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Mark Wilkins won the class by finishing tenth overall with 327 laps complete.

Trailing the Genoa entry was the Primetime-Braille Battery Race Group of Joel Feinberg, Kyle Marcelli and Tom Weickardt in third place with 234 laps complete. Intersport Racing and its drivers, Mitch Pagerey, Brian Wong and David Ducote, were fourth in class with 232 laps complete.

Excluded in the final rundown was the Green Earth Team Gunnar team of Christian Zugel, Gunnar Jeannette and Elton Julian, which was the class's fastest qualifier and the car that originally was thought to have finished second in class and 17th overall with 311 laps completed.

Also excluded for the same type of infraction was a Level 5 Motorsports car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Gue and Scott Tucker, which completed 224 laps but got no credit for them.

The event was a rollercoaster ride for Genoa Racing during the race and even after the checkered flew, and the same could be said for the preliminary action too. Sutherland had a crash in practice on Monday and the car missed Tuesday's sessions, but the team proved it was one of the ones to beat when it topped the charts in the important Thursday night practice session.

Hildebrand qualified third in class and 11th overall on Friday, but then the car didn't make the minimum weight requirements during the post-qualifying tech inspection so its time was thrown out, and Wallace had to start 33rd in the 34-car field on Saturday morning. He carefully worked his way through the field at the start, however, and had the car in fourth place in class and 11th overall in just 15 minutes.

The next event is April 16-17 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. It will be televised at 8 p.m. Eastern time April 17 on SPEED.

Post-race quotes follow:

Andy Wallace: "We had lots of problems along the way but the 12 Hours of Sebring is a hard race, and I'm happy we're on the podium in our first effort.

"The team is not new to racing but it's new to endurance racing, and I think it put in a really good effort. Everybody worked really hard since we got here, and we're on the podium because of those guys."

J.R. Hildebrand: "It's bittersweet. It's great that we ended up on the podium. It was a really valuable experience for me as a driver. It's unfortunate that I got caught up by the GT cars and the problem with the rubber and had the crash, or I think we could have been going for the class lead at the end.

"The team did an awesome job, and I think they deserved to be on the podium. We were able to bounce back from all sorts of problems.

"Even after the crash, I could deal with the car when it was on new tires. It was a handful when the tires started to go away. But I was still able to run in the 57s in traffic, so all things considered I think it was a pretty strong run. I want to thank Genoa for giving me a chance to do it."

Tom Sutherland: "I can't believe it; even with all these people here, an opossum crossed the track in front of me tonight. Luckily I didn't hit it. I must have a thing with animals; in 2005 or 2006 I almost hit a beaver during a race in Montreal.

"Anyway, I think it was a great first start for the team. The team is new to the series and the car is new, so to be running at the end and to be as competitive as we were was an accomplishment. All together, I think this was a big success.

"Every Sebring has its problems, but the guys turned the car around in an hour after the crash, and that's not easy for any team, let alone a privateer team.

"I got used to the tire build-up problem and the lack of lights. I had one spin during my first stint but I didn't hit anything, so that's good.

"Sebring is about doing laps. All I wanted was to stay out of trouble and do laps with a nice rhythm. It's a team effort, and that's how it works."

Thomas Knapp (team manager): "I thought it was an awesome display of teamwork. I'm very proud of the job that everyone on the crew did.

"This was my first time as a team manager for an endurance race. Everyone worked hard and everyone worked as a team and tried their best. You can't ask for anything more than that.

"We had all sorts of challenges but we persevered. We were running at the finish and we got on the podium. It was an excellent first effort."

Steve Ragan (crew chief): "It was a brand-new car that hadn't run a 12-hour race before so I didn't really know what to expect, so I think finishing the race was pretty big. It's a small, private team, but to fix the car in an hour after the crash and get it to the finish was an accomplishment.

"Last year was my first time here. I was a member of the de Ferran team and we didn't finish, so I have to feel proud that we persevered and finished this event despite the challenges we faced."

-source: genoa racing

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Scott Sharp , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Gunnar Jeannette , James Gue , Christophe Bouchut , Tom Weickardt , Elton Julian , Tom Sutherland , Joel Feinberg , Christian Zugel , J.R. Hildebrand , Scott Tucker , Kyle Marcelli , Brian Wong , Mitch Pagerey , David Ducote