Daytona24: Banner Racing race report

The Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R finishes 4th in Grand-Am Rolex 24 hour at Daytona Daytona Beach Florida (January 25, 2009): After 24 hours of racing's most grueling contest Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins and Jan Magnussen brought the Banner...

The Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R finishes 4th in Grand-Am Rolex 24 hour at Daytona

Daytona Beach Florida (January 25, 2009): After 24 hours of racing's most grueling contest Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins and Jan Magnussen brought the Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R to the finish line in 4th position today in the Rolex 24-Hour at Daytona International Raceway. The race began the 2009 season of the Rolex Grand-Am Road racing Championships Presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.

The Banner Racing Team recovered to finish 4th from a pit lane collision during the late night hours and a broken muffler, that threatened to light up the right rear tire, that dropped them out of the top three for the second time.

To finish in the top four Collins, Edwards, and Magnussen drove nearly flat out for 24 hours to try to maintain pace with the Porsches and Mazdas who have a significant top speed advantage on the big Daytona banked track.

"We ran as hard as we could go for the entire race, there was nothing left," said team owner Leighton Reese. "We just don't have the speed here and it is very, very frustrating but we had a hard fought fourth and these Banner Racing guys should be proud of that. Of course we want to win but the alternative is to wind up in the garage and today we won some good championship points so it was a strong effort from everyone on the team."

"Oh, yeah, very happy with a fourth place finish," said Paul Edwards. "Considering that we were in the garage twice and the guys turned around the car faster than anyone else out here could do it. They knew exactly what they were doing at all times. When I came in (with the broken exhaust) they knew what was wrong and what they needed to do before I got there. We had two 8 minute turnarounds to two 20 minute jobs.

"Considering the contact we had in the pits, which is unforeseeable, and the exhaust problems and a couple of little problems that put us into the garage twice, fourth is a fantastic finish," said driver Kelly Collins. "Particularly considering that at any given time we were racing a car that was between 12 and 16 miles an hour slower than the cars that won the class. Fourth is better than the seventh we had here last year when we won the championship so we have this one under our belt and we are on our way to trying to defend our championships. The car is in one piece so that is always a good deal."

But for team drivers Collins and Edwards who will try to repeat their Grand-Am championship run from 2008 in 2009 the crew were the stars of the 4th place finish of the Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R.

"Totally hats off to the Banner Racing crew," said Edwards. "They took care of our sore car and kept us out on the race track as much as humanly possible. Of course we would all like to win but everything considered, a fourth here at Daytona is a pretty good thing and it keeps us in the championship race."

Leighton Reese echoed that sentiment saying, "The drivers and crew did an awesome job today, and night come to think of it. We have good camaraderie and the kind of team work necessary to run well in races like this where everything isn't necessarily going to go your way. I also have to thank our great sponsors like Pontiac, GM Racing, Mobil1 and Shock Doctor."

"Congratulations guys, you are the best," Collins said to the crew as they were busily packing up their pit stall. Because, for the crewmen who service the race cars in the Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona the work day doesn't end when the checkered flag falls. It ends when the car and all of the bits and pieces that keeps a race car going for 24 hours are packed into the transporter.

"It looked like we were going to be strong 4 or 5 hours in," said Leighton Reese. "We held a pretty commanding lead for awhile but this is a long tough race and so many things can happen. We had that accident on pit road with the Mazda and we lost four laps fixing that deal but the crew did an awesome getting the car to the garage and back and only losing five or six laps. We managed to work our way back up to 3rd when the exhaust system exploded."

Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins and Jan Magnussen raced the Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R for 2,453 hard miles (689 laps) in a little over 24 hours and the Banner Racing crew kept the Pontiac GXP.R running and the pit stops short and that is how a team finishes and finishes well in the Rolex 24-Hour race at Daytona.

Extended Race Report:

Starting from the 15th starting position Paul Edwards took a conservative approach and kept the Pontiac GXP out of trouble but was barely staying in the top 20 as the early pace was torrid. Paul moved up to 8th 20 laps into the race and turned over the car to Kelly Collins on lap 54 after a double stint well inside of the top ten.

"We are fighting it a bit because we did all of our practice here at Daytona in cold weather and I think as the night comes our setup will come to us," said Edwards. "It is a long race so I'm happy that I kept it out of the wall and kept it from hitting anybody. For sure the opening laps were a matter of survival. I wasn't taking any risks."

By 7 PM Collins had the No. 70 Pontiac GXP into the top 5 and as the double yellow caution flags flew the top four cars pitted leaving Collins in the lead. The Banner Racing Team chose to leave Collins out on the track using risky strategy to gain the lead.

A few laps later a timely yellow helped the risk pay off as it allowed Collins to pit the GT race leading Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R under yellow. Kelly turned the controls over to Danish driving ace Jan Magnussen. The pit stop dropped the #07 Pontiac GXP.R into the 3rd position.

"The timing was excellent," said Leighton Reese. "We had to stop for fuel and better doing that under a yellow than a green. Kelly did a great job keeping our Pontiac GXP in the lead. We almost got lapped but this last sequence of pit stops really worked out for us. I was thinking optimistically that we would try to get into the lead by midnight but we surpassed that by getting the lead five hours into the race so it is good so far."

"Everything was good and the car is working great," said Collins. "Steve and Jim (race engineers), talked with me and let me know what was going on and they made the decision (to stay out during the caution) and it was obviously a good one."

Working the 5th and 6th hours Jan Magnussen moved into P-1 when race leader Henzler pitted the #87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche and course immediately went yellow when the #55 Daytona Prototype had suspension failure of sorts on lap 156.

The sequence put Magnussen into the lead by almost a full lap but that generous lead evaporated when the yellow flags flew shortly thereafter. The generous lead Magnussen enjoyed as what the yellows had given has now been taken away. Such is 24 hour endurance racing where 1 minute and even lap leads evaporate quickly.

Magnussen held the lead in GT and was 16th over-all as the seventy hour drew to a close as he soon turned the Banner Pontiac back over to Paul Edwards.

"I'm very happy, we got up near the front again," said Jan Magnussen. "It was a very uneventful run, but it was very, very hot out there. It was a problem when I was behind a Mazda or a Ferrari which have really high top speed because I was faster than they were on the infield but I couldn't do anything on the straight because they just open the gap back up and I would have to catch back up and try to pass.

"The Pontiac is running absolutely perfect and the guys are making great calls and so far so good. It is still early but we qualified fifteenth, we are no longer fifteenth so right now it is perfect!"

But fortune can turn in a heartbeat at the Rolex 24

Edwards upon exiting the pits after his pit stop made contact with the #69 Mazda as Paul was exiting his pit and the Mazda was entering his. The suspension of the #07 Pontiac was damaged and the Banner Racing team took the GXP into the garage area to repair the damage which took about 8 minutes. The team also replaced the front brake rotors and pads.

The incident dropped the 07 to 8th and later 10th but some 5 laps out of the leader, the #86 Farnbacher Porsche. Porsches then occupied 8 of the top ten positions with only the Pontiacs of Davis, in 4th, and Edwards, running in 10th, invading the Porsche parade at the front of the running order.

"I was pulling out of the pits and I didn't even see him coming," said Paul Edwards. "When I did I kept the car straight and low but he cut right across in front of me and clipped my nose."

Edwards, Collins and Magnussen spent the night running strong and consistent laps and closed the lap gap down to 3 and sometimes 4 depending on how the pit stops fell. The Banner Pontiac GXP.R was running a similar pace as were the leaders but just couldn't erase the deficit.

During hour 21 the Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R which had just taken over the 3rd position after the problem suffered by the #86 Porsche dropped back to 5th due to a mechanical issue with the exhaust system. The muffler on the right side of the car split apart and broke in half.

When Paul Edwards took over the #07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R he noticed something seriously wrong with the pitch of the usually strong Pontiac V8.

"When I got in the car and drove out of the pits it sounded like I was in a tunnel as soon as I went out," said Paul Edwards. "I was losing 1.4 seconds down the pit straight here and another second down the back straight and here wasn't much I could do. Something fell off (part of the muffler) and I ran over it in the banking and I came in to the pits. But when I went back out it was 100 times worse."

The Banner Racing team took their Pontiac to the garage and replaced the exhaust system. Between the extra pit stop and the garage time they lost more laps to the leaders and fell to 5th position.

"We are still losing a second over here and another 8 tenths on the back straight because we just don't seem to have the same power," said Edwards. "I drive it hard on the infield but when get I to the banking I am just sliding all over the place because the broken exhaust was melting the right rear tire and when I tried to go anywhere it slid all over the place. Hopefully we can pick up a spot or two before the end."

When Edwards came in for a routine pit stop he was again suffering from an overheated right foot but when he got out of the car he collapsed. The team feared he was overheated but Paul said that wasn't the case.

"I'm fine," Paul smiled as he soaked his injured foot and ate fruit and had a cool drink of water. "When I got out of the car my right calf cramped up so badly that it almost made me pass out. I've never had anything hurt that bad. But I'm fine now!"

As the 22nd hour ended the Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R was in 5th in the GT classification and 13th overall seven laps down to the class leading #67 TRG Porsche of Jorge Bergmeister..

Kelly Collins and then Jan Magnussen finished up the driving chores as the crew had to make extra brake repairs and Magnussen had to make driving allowances as he was having trouble getting the transmission to utilize 3rd gear.

The frantic pace the drivers had to set on the infield portion of the course to make up for the speed differential on the high Daytona banking was taking a toll on the equipment but the Banner Racing Crew kept the number 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R running to the checkered flag for a hard fought and well deserved 4th place finish in north America's toughest race. The Rolex 24 Hour at Daytona.

-credit: br

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