Banner Engineering Pontiac GXPs finish 7th and 22nd in Grand-Am Rolex 24 hour
Daytona Beach Florida (January 27, 2008): The Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.Rs finished 7th and 22nd today as the 46th edition of the Grand-Am Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona International Speedway. As is often the case the survival of the #07 Banner Pontiac of Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins and Jan Magnussen and subsequent 7th place finish left the team both thankful and filled with regret for what might have been in North America's longest and toughest major Motorsports event.
The #06 Banner Engineering/Shock Doctor Pontiac GXP driven by Leighton Reese, Marc Bunting, Robert Nearn and Andy Pilgrim struggled through a broken rear axel and a crash but were able to compete at the end of the race.
After a disappointing qualifying run on Thursday the Banner crew concentrated on race setup in an attempt to counter the significant straight line speed advantage enjoyed by the eventual race winning Mazda and the multitude of Porsche GT3s.
The effort paid off as Paul Edwards, starting the race in the #07 Banner Pontiac and Andy Pilgrim who began the 24 hour race in the 06 Pontiac survived the start of a 66 car field and steadily moved up through the strong field filled with road racing's elite.
The early tone of the race was set when both Banner Pontiacs pitted during an early caution and the Banner Racing crews did another magnificent job and their quick pit work, which would be a factor the entire race, Edwards and Pilgrim both advanced 9th position when exiting the pits.
From that point both Banner Pontiacs were in the top ten for most of the first 5 hours of the race. Edwards, Collins and Magnussen kept the 07 Banner Pontiac within the top five for the first 12 hours of the race and when the race reached the halfway mark Edwards had been leading the race for several laps and confidence was high with the team.
The 06 car had a broken half-shaft just after dark on Saturday set them back several laps as the repairs only took a half an hour but 30 minutes is a long time to lose even in a 24 hour race. Their misery was compounded when Marc Bunting spun into the wall coming out of the pits.
"It was a combination of cold tires and a damp track," lamented Bunting as he watched the Banner crew thrash away on his battered car in the garage. "No reminded me about cold tires when I was going out but I should have know that anyway. I went out thinking that I was on the track on hot tires I guess."
The crew thrashed hard on the 06 car several men working hard. Their labor made difficult by the urgency to make the repairs as quickly as possible all the time knowing that those repairs had to be correct to avoid any further hardship. Their work made even more difficult by all of the engine coolant covering the floor. At times it was difficult for them to remain standing on the slick garage floor.
With the 06 car many laps back and out of contention the focus fell on the 07 car as Edwards, Collins and Magnussen stayed within the top 3 or 4 GT cars as night fell and went past midnight.
But 24 hours at Daytona is if nothing else treacherous and just after 1:30 AM Edwards came hurtling through turn one in a 4 car group and when they blasted through the blind exit into turn 2 they came up on a prototype sitting backwards in the center of the track. The result was a great setback.
All chances for the Rolex win for the Banner racing team and to some extend Pontiac in 2008 came to a hard stop before they got to turn 2!
"The Krohn DP car spun and was sitting backwards in the track," said Edwards of the crash. "The two Porsches in front of us split apart and there was the car sitting there dead in the road! The Ganassi prototype got hard on the brakes and I hit him and then it seemed like everybody was hitting somebody else!
The Banner crew had just completed repairing the nose of the 06 Banner Pontiac after Marc Bunting spun on cold tires exiting the pits and had to reprise their effort again in the dead of night.
"I didn't see the car but I saw the parts so from where we were a 7th is a lot better than nothing," Reese said of the 7th place finish for the #07 Banner Engineering/Shock Doctor Pontiac GXP.R. "The drivers did a great job but the Banner Racing crew was excellent. They were just on it for all 24 hours and came up big all day.
"They hung two noses in record time, changed over 200 tires, changed red-hot drive shafts and brake parts, mounted over 200 tires. They made every pit stop without a mistake and kept us in contention. They were our US Army!"
When Kelly Collins finally returned to action he was 20 laps off the pace but no one in the Banner tent was giving up on anything.
In many ways the final 10 hours were a let down for the Banner Racing team but in many others the team achieved a win of sorts as Kelly, Paul and Jan rallied the 07 Banner Pontiac to a 7th place finish while making up three laps around a 3.5 mile track over the winning car in the process.
"It's Daytona, what can you say," said Kelly Collins after getting out of the #07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R for the final time in the 2008 Rolex 24. "Considering what happened we have to be happy with where we finished."
"It's been a tough one for sure and we use up a lot of good parts today," said Leighton Reese as the 2008 edition of the Rolex 24 hour race came to a close. "I can't believe how easy it was last year and to think that we felt disappointed to finish 2nd and 4th! This was an eye opener because it shows just how tough this race is."
"It could have been better but it could always been worse," said Marc Bunting. "It was one of those 24's. Luck is so much a part of these things and I guess we had our share of bad luck."