Rotary reliability brings SpeedSource two top 10 in largest class in Daytona Rolex 24 history
(02/11/2007) - With the off-season days clicking by at SpeedSource, team hopes and confidence were high for the 2007 Rolex 24 two-car effort, though the time was short to build and prep these 3-rotor big brothers to Mazda's distinctive RX-8 road car. 2006 had proven to the team the GT package had the right stuff, and with the added support of Mazda and Mazdaspeed, the team had the tools to compete head-on with the very stout 2007 GT field.
January Test Days again proved the GT RX-8 ready for competition, with the 8th quickest time in the field. Problem-free practice sessions allowed the team to focus on race prep, and from the drop of the green flag, team car No. 70 hummed through its paces for the first 8 hours with only a fuel rig problem to slow the team down. Starting off the driving rotation, team owner Sylvain Tremblay handed off to endurance racing veteran Nick Ham, followed by driver and team technical director David Haskell, with Mazda team driver Randy Pobst anchoring the line-up.
Tremblay compared the two seasons. "We came into this year's qualifying session with a time over 1.5 seconds quicker than in 2006, but qualified again in third. The 2007 GT field has clearly improved and raised the competitive bar." It is also the largest field of cars in the Rolex 24's 45-year history.
In its Rolex debut the No. 69 car, driven by Emil Assentato, with co-drivers Nick Longhi, Matt Plumb, and Jeff Segal, set a quick pace in the January Test Days and followed up with a 7th in class qualifying run by Plumb. The FXDD-sponsored car shadowed the field leaders throughout the race and came home in 7th. The motor ran flawlessly and only an errant traffic cone that punched a hole in the radiator slowed down the drivers' efforts. In a middle-of-the-night radiator change, the No. 69 crew led by car chief Marty Kintzi returned the car to racing conditions with minimal down-time.
Tremblay expressed his pride in both his crew and co-drivers. "We have grown as a team in the last year and I am proud of the effort of the entire crew. We overcame the difficulties of last year, and put two cars solidly in the top 10 in GT. That's a big turn around for the team and the entire Mazda program."
Though the cars were flawless, the team worked throughout the weekend to focus on and resolve the few problems they encountered. "When the No. 69 car had a pit road exit mishap during practice, the crew stepped up and got the car ready without missing a beat. Early in the race, we had fuel rig problems, but our guys were focused and rebounded."
Tremblay is especially proud of long stints put in by Haskell and Ham in the rainy hours of the night. "My co-drivers had their hearts in this race, and their efforts proved it. They drove consistently and took care of the car. Plus, driving in the middle of the night in the rain is tough, and they never let up."
On the restart following the lengthy red flag, the accordion effect of cars bunching up brought contact between the No. 70 and the No. 85 car. "The damage we sustained was more severe than we initially thought, and we lost straight line speed after the hit and the aerodynamics were not what the designers at Mazda had worked so hard to perfect. We hated to have the damage for our car, and hated it just as much for the No. 85, which was running a strong race."
The rain also played havoc with No. 70's radios. Following the red flag, and for the remainder of the race, the crew battled to reestablish communication with the car.
No. 70 car chief, Matt Martin kept the drivers and pit stops on pace despite the loss of radios. Pit signals and a cool head kept the car in the hunt.
Of the race end, Tremblay said, "With Randy in the car to finish out the race, we had no way to communicate that the No. 06 was gaining for position. After 24 hours, we lost fourth place by .26 seconds on the last lap, less than a single car length. That was tough, but to come within less than 4 minutes of winning one of the world's toughest endurance races, I am very proud of the team and the effort.
Technical Director and driver David Haskell summed up the race: "I guess overall everything went well for us in the race. You always try to prepare the best you can, but this race always seems to come up with something that catches you by surprise. The car and rotary engine preformed flawless. Everyone involve with this program did a great job. We just have to cross some more things off of our list, come back next year and win this thing. We're not that far from doing it."
SpeedSource now looks south of the border to build on the momentum of Daytona. "The Mexico trip will be somewhat of an adventure, but we anticipate the Autodromo Rodriguez to be better suited to our braking and aero packages, so we are looking forward to the race."