Birmingham: RJR Racing race report

RJR Racing Group Finishes 12th in Rolex GT Race Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park BIRMINGHAM, Ala., July 21 - The RJR Racing Group had a competitive race car and a unique race strategy that could have paid off with a top-five finish ...

RJR Racing Group Finishes 12th in Rolex GT Race Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., July 21 - The RJR Racing Group had a competitive race car and a unique race strategy that could have paid off with a top-five finish in Saturday's Rolex Series GT race at Barber Motorsports Park. The Cincinnati-based team and drivers Rene Robichaud and BJ Zacharias went home with a 12th place finish instead after one little bobble in the pits and a caution flag that fell one lap too late to help them.

The team, which carries the colors of the RJR Racing Group, the Motorsports Country Club of Cincinnati and Wright Motorsports, finished ninth in its first Rolex Series race ever last month. Despite having some problems finding the optimum set-up for its Porsche GT3 Cup No. 96 in practice this weekend, the team had a good car on Race Day and hopes were high for a top-five finish in the two-and-a-half-hour race that was broadcast on SPEED.

They almost pulled it off, except for a problem on lap 53 of the 95-lap race on the challenging 2.3-mile, 16-turn road course.

Robichaud started 16th and drove the first stint, getting a high as tenth on lap 27. He made the mandatory pit stop in the event's first 45 minutes with four minutes to spare, and soldiered on despite track temperatures that hovered around 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

The team's strategy was to conserve fuel as much as possible throughout the race so that after the car made its second pit stop and driver change it would have enough fuel to go the rest of the way without stopping again. Robichaud stretched it until lap 53, an hour and 20 minutes into the race, when he pitted again to allow Zacharias to take over. He was 13th when he headed down pit road that time.

Unfortunately the car edged a little too far forward during the stop, and when the crew pulled it back into place the Porsche ran over two air lines. That infraction drew a 30-second penalty, which translated into lost time that the team never made up.

As luck would have it, one lap (two minutes) after the team's second pit stop the full-course yellow they'd been waiting for flew after the throttle stuck in Dominic Cicero II's Corvette and he slammed into a tire wall off Turn 1. If that had happened just a bit earlier and the RJR Porsche could have made a leisurely pit stop under yellow, the results would have been far different. It was the only full-course yellow during the race, too.

Zacharias served the penalty on lap 60, one hour and 36 minutes into the race, and he ended up three laps down at the checkered. Still, he ran laps comparable to the ones the cars in second through fifth place were running during his stint, giving the team confidence that it's on the right course for even better finishes in the future. His fastest lap was a 1:32.330 recorded on lap 64, just 36 minutes before the checkered.

For more information on the team, see rjrracinggroup.com. The series' Web site is at grand-am.com.

Post-race quotes follow:

BJ Zacharias: "I don't think Hallmark makes a card for 12th place.

"Rene had a very good stint. We had some problems in practice and we didn't h ave it set up too well, but the changes we made before the race gave us a very good race car.

"When we had to do the mandatory stop in the first 45 minutes we put 45 seconds of fuel in. Our strategy was to try to be one of the only cars to do the race with only two stops. The only problem was when we made that second pit stop, he released the brakes and the car pulled forward.

"When they pulled the car back it went over two air lines, and that was a 30-second penalty. Then a full-course yellow came out the next lap.

"We had some fuel in there and we could have gone a couple more laps, but Rene was getting hot in the car. It was blazing hot. It was about 90 degrees, but no humidity.

"What we found out was that the leaders were about a second quicker than we were for about eight laps, but then their cars would fall off and we'd be running the same times as they were. The only exception was the Banner Pontiac that won; it was in a class by itself.

"In my stint we ran 32s and 33s, and we were running comparable times to the second and third place cars the second half of the race. We had a really good race car. We didn't have a great practice car, but we were good during the race.

"We continue to learn. The car is in much more of one piece than it was after Mid-Ohio. Other than the hose thing, everything went fairly well. But that 30-second penalty hurt us.

"There was only that one yellow for the race. We didn't even drop a wheel off the track; there was nothing too exciting going on, really. The second half of the race we ran consistent laps the rest of the way. We just kept hammering away. The car went away a little bit, but not too bad. It was a little disappointing, but I love everybody."

Rene Robichaud: "We were waiting for a yellow, and if we'd waited two more laps we would have had a better race. We came in under green, rolled back over a hose, and that just set us back horribly. That's just the bad luck of racing with a little mistake.

"The car was absolutely competitive right to the end, so we feel that this car can run with the second through fifth-place cars out there. Forget the winning car today; it was in a different league. We learned a lot; we had fun; and I just love working with this team.

"With a little bit of backing, this team can absolutely be competitive for the entire 2008 season."

-credit: rjr

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers BJ Zacharias , Dominic Cicero , Rene Robichaud
Teams Wright Motorsports