Doran-Lista's Theys wins drivers' championship in top class of Grand Am Rolex Series for 2002. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Nov. 10 - Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz. earned the 2002 Grand Am Rolex Series Sports Racing Prototype drivers' championship...
Doran-Lista's Theys wins drivers' championship in top class of Grand Am Rolex Series for 2002.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Nov. 10 - Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz. earned the 2002 Grand Am Rolex Series Sports Racing Prototype drivers' championship by finishing fourth in the Dark Dog Grand American Finale at Daytona International Speedway Sunday afternoon in the Doran-Lista Dallara Judd #27.
Doran-Lista Racing finished second in the team entrants' standings in the series' top class for the second year in a row, ending the 10-race season with four victories.
Sunday's three-hour race was broadcast live on SPEED Channel.
The Doran-Lista Dallara Judd won the pole but unfortunately the fastest car doesn't always win the race, especially in endurance sports car racing. Both Theys and his co-driver, Fredy Lienhard Jr. of Santa Barbara, Calif. and Niederteufen, Switzerland, experienced problems which cost them time in the pits, allowing the two Dyson Racing Riley & Scott Fords to finish first and second and the Robinson Racing Riley & Scott Judd to take the final podium spot.
Things got off to a great start for the Lebanon, Ohio-based team, as Theys led early and easily. He had over a minute and a half lead when he pitted on lap 24 for the first time for four fresh Goodyears, fuel and a driver change.
Lienhard had only done two laps when his problem occurred. He was pushed onto the grass in the dogleg before the second horseshoe by a slower car, picking up grass from Daytona's infield in the process. He restarted under his own power but team owner Kevin Doran wisely brought him in a few laps later so the crew could clean the car's radiator. They added fuel on that stop too, and Lienhard Jr. stayed in the car. Although the clean-up was accomplished in about 20 seconds, the #27 had dropped to fifth after the stop, and was running at the tail end of the lead lap at the end of the first hour of the race.
"A blue Corvette forced me off," Lienhard Jr. said after his stint. "I didn't spin but I cut through the grass, or else we would have crashed. I don't know if he didn't see me or what, but when I got off I got a lot of grass in the intakes and the engine didn't like that. We changed the engine's mapping to get it restarted and then we changed it right back when I got underway again. I just got off course though; I didn't spin."
Lienhard Jr. did spin in the entrance to the chicane on lap 44, but he made it back to the pits that time too. It was time for a driver change, fuel and tires at that point anyway.
"The brakes were a little soft, and I just went into that turn too fast," he said.
When Theys retook the wheel the team was running fourth, more than a minute behind the leader, but by lap 50 Theys was third and flying. He set his fastest lap of the race, a 1:43.002, on lap 52, and by lap 59 he was back in second place behind the Butch Leitzinger/Rob Dyson entry and gaining.
On lap 63 team manager Kevin Doran radioed to Theys that he'd be pitting in 10 laps for fresh tires, but two laps later Theys spun in turn one when he lost his brakes. Some traffic cones got lodged under the car and with smoke pouring out, Theys ridded himself of the cones and made his way back into the pits very carefully.
The left front brake had to replaced, which the crew accomplished extremely quickly. Theys was back out on the track on lap 70 but now the team was in fourth place, four laps down. That was too much of a gap to recoup, so Theys rode out the rest of the race and brought the car home in one piece in fourth.
"I'm very pleased with the drivers' championship," Theys said in victory lane. "We'll have a break now, and it will be good to go into next year with this accomplishment. We're going to compete in the ALMS series next year and not this series because of the rules changes, but going there with this title will be very good.
"We had the speed to win, but it's not always speed that wins races," he noted. "It's unfortunate that we didn't win the team championship and I feel bad about that, but we still had a great year really.
"The heat was a factor today, but this is Daytona and we know how to deal with the heat here. It made the grip difficult, but our Goodyear tires were perfect. After 10 or 12 laps I tried to see if I could get away from the Dyson cars and I could; our car was perfect really. Without that brake problem we would have won the race.
"I noticed that the brake pedal was quite long after Fredy got out of the car and I got in. I had to start to pump the brakes more than usual, but I still had brakes. Then going into turn one on that lap I pumped them and nothing was there; I only had rear brakes. I spun out in turn one, and I got many cones stuck under the car. I had to go into reverse to get them off so I could get going again, and that took some time."
"The brakes were soft when I was in the car, but at least it was still braking OK," Lienhard Jr. said. "The track was very slippery, and like driving on ice. That was due to the heat mostly. Under these circumstances our car was very good.
"There were no full-course cautions," Lienhard Jr. noted. "That just shows how fast this race was."
Fredy Lienhard Sr. was on hand too, and he was very pleased that Theys won the drivers' title.
"Didier is number one; I've always said that, and it's nice that he got the drivers' championship so everybody else knows it too," he said. "Fredy Jr. did a good job this year too, and he'll get better with more experience. Didier is an excellent teacher.
"I'm impressed with how fast the crew was able to change the brake," he added. "That really did make a difference, because if they hadn't done that so fast, we wouldn't have finished fourth and Didier wouldn't have won the drivers' title. So you see, it's the team and the drivers together that make everything happen; it's teamwork, and I think we have the best team."
Doran was matter of fact about the season.
"I think we had the fastest car in every race, but we only won four times," he said. "We won the big one [the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona], and then we had some set-backs in the middle of the year. We came back strong, but we just made too many mistakes to win the team championship. The fastest car doesn't always win in racing, but I'm glad that Didier got the drivers' championship because he did a fabulous job all year. I think it's that championship that everyone looks at and talks about, so I'm glad that he got it and I want to thank Lista and Goodyear for all their help this year.
"We changed the brake caliper pretty quick," Doran added. "One guy had to get back to the transporter for a part, and he was back with the part when we were ready for it. I think it only took us four laps to change the caliper, so it was done in about six minutes and I think that's pretty good. It was a pretty odd failure; I haven't seen a failure like it in years. But like often happens in racing, it's those $3 items that can take you out of contention in a race, and that's what happened to us today."