Daytona Beach, Fla. (January 24, 2009) -- The plan for the PR1 Motorsports team going into the Rolex 24 at Daytona was to stay consistent and knock out laps throughout the race, with an eye on picking up the pace after daylight on Sunday. After...
Daytona Beach, Fla. (January 24, 2009) -- The plan for the PR1 Motorsports team going into the Rolex 24 at Daytona was to stay consistent and knock out laps throughout the race, with an eye on picking up the pace after daylight on Sunday.
After eight hours of racing, that plan hasn't changed -- though the gap to the leaders has widened without the fault of any driver in the No. 32 Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R.
With 16 hours remaining in the twice-around-the-clock race, drivers Jeff Westphal (San Carlos, Calif.), Thomas Merrill (Salinas, Calif.), Al Salvo (Arcadia, Calif.) and Mike Forest (Edmonton, Alberta) sit 18th in the GT class, 29 laps behind the leader.
Almost all of those laps were lost during the third hour of the race. Salvo had just taken over driving duties from Merrill and was running 13th among GT cars under a full-course caution. Following the restart, Salvo was entering turn three when a Daytona Prototype hit Salvo in the right rear corner. The contact damaged the suspension on the Miracle Sealants Pontiac and also sent the No. 45 Daytona Prototype of Bill Lester to pit lane for repairs.
Salvo limped the Pontiac to the garage, where the PR1 crew made the necessary repairs in just over 40 minutes.
"That's not the way you want to start your first Grand-Am race," Salvo said. "I don't know who was in the DP car, but they came from nowhere. I had looked in my mirror and went for the apex, and it was just a big bang.
"The PR1 team is just phenomenal, though. Not only were they able to put the Miracle Sealants Pontiac back together quickly, but being with team for a while, I know they did it right. I felt comfortable with it and knew I could push it hard."
The beginning of the race went according to plan for PR1. Westphal started in 21st and climbed as high as 15th in the opening 1 hour, 55-minutes before passing the car to Merrill.
"The Miracle Sealants Pontiac is running great," Westphal said following his stint. "Its pretty tough out there with the DP's coming in all over the place, but we did the best we could for the time being. It was a lot harder than I thought out there. As the sun goes down, its tough to see. I had a little issue with the seat and my back, so I'm going to work that out before my next stint so it's not an issue."
Merrill capitalized on Westphal's successes, steadily climbing to 13th before passing the car to Salvo for his unfortunate incident. Merrill made his run while dealing with the challenge of a setting sun over Daytona's 3.56-mile road course.
"The challenge during my stint was dealing with the sun as it went down, the glare was pretty bad," Merrill said. "It was hard to tell who was coming from behind, and I had a couple of close calls. I was surprised at the lack of yellows (early in the race), everyone is doing a good job of behaving themselves."
Salvo was able to recover from his incident enough to stabilize the PR1 Pontiac, and passed to Forest to double stint the first segment of the race run fully under the cover of darkness. Forest moved from 41st overall to 36th, but not without some challenges.
"My stint definitely didn't go as planned," Forest said. "There was a problem with the shift-without-lift system, and it would lurch the car on the exit of every corner. I lost a bit of confidence, but as we sorted that out it put some comfort back in the car and we turned some decent laps. Hopefully we've got it back on track and plug away.
"We've got plenty of time left, that's for sure. I don't think we're too bad. In the middle of the night it will cool off, and we'll see how the car reacts to that."