Wright Motorsports - The Little Team That Thought It Could - Finishes Third in Rolex 24 at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 25 - It was up against huge multi-car teams with much bigger budgets. It had a brand-new car, but brand-new race cars usually need to run a few races before all the kinks are out. It was competing in the longest race in professional endurance sports car racing in North America. It was running on a high-horsepower course that favors other marques over the car it brought. And one of its four drivers was making his first Rolex Series start, and even his first start in a 24-hour race.
Despite all that, Wright Motorsports of Batavia, Ohio thought it could finish this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, and perhaps even get on the podium in the tough, 30-car GT class that was part of the 49-car field. And on Sunday afternoon, that's just what the little team that thought it could did.
Drivers Phillip Martien of Finksburg, Md. and B.J. Zacharias of Cincinnati, along with Porsche factory drivers Sascha Maassen (a native of Aachen, Germany now living in Lontzen, Belgium) and Patrick Pilet (Le Chesnay, France), withstood a throttle that didn't work quite right in their Phillips Way Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, No. 33, throughout the 24-hour enduro. Pilet had the scare of a potential flat tire in the last hour of the race, which caused him to pit and have the crew tear off the car's rear bumper and some bodywork in case anything was rubbing. They had a couple drive-through penalties too. Despite all that, and a few other less dramatic problems, the team finished third in GT and 11th overall.
Martien, who helped team owner John Wright organize the team's participation in this race and was the driver making his first start here, said it was the best day of his life. It was also a wonderful present for his 50th birthday, which he celebrated earlier in the week.
After qualifying 11th in class, the team dropped to 17th in class in the first hour due to the problem with the throttle, which was sticking periodically. After some WD-40 was applied that problem disappeared, but the drivers said they only had between 90 and 97 percent throttle throughout the race.
By hour two the team was up to fifth in class, and by hour four it was second. It was primarily in fifth or sixth place until it moved into fourth place on Sunday with four hours to go, thanks to great driving, great pit stops and great race strategy by Wright. The team was in third place by Hour 21, and ever relinquished that spot the rest of the way even though fourth place was just 30 seconds behind at one point.
The potential flat tire and the subsequent bumper rip-off, as well as a drive-through penalty for being out of line on a restart, all occurred in the last hour of the race.
The team finished 691 laps in all, four less than the GT winner, three less than the second-place car, and two more than the Pontiac that finished fourth. They also contributed to a one-two-three sweep for Porsche in the GT division.
Pilet was driving when the car ran its fastest lap of the day, a 1:52.267 (114.156 miles per hour) on its 477th circuit of the 3.56-mile, 14-turn road course.
Phillip Martien: "It's the best birthday present ever! Third place in my first Rolex 24! It is the best day of my life. I still don't really comprehend what's going on. It's going to be tomorrow morning before I really realize what we did. I can't thank John Wright and the Wright Motorsports team for all their work that enabled us to bring the car to the podium. It's a total dream come true. I also want to thank Porsche Motorsports for giving us Sascha and Patrick. And of course Wright Motorsports' lead driver is B.J., who is wonderful.
"The best moment was to see us in P3 on TV. We had the good sense to not get rattled when we had problems in the last hour. We got a drive-through penalty, and then a potential flat tire, but we managed to hold onto third place. The last hour was so exciting. It's true what they say; it's never over until the fat lady sings. And what do I want for my next birthday? To come back here and win!"
B.J. Zacharias: "Of the six Rolex 24s I've done, this one was the biggest rollercoaster. We were second pretty early, and then we fell behind a bit. We didn't have full throttle all day, and of all the tracks where you need full throttle, Daytona is it. I'd say it was about 97 percent at best. The crew worked hard to make the car handle better all day, and John Wright called a great race. We also had one problem when we changed a brake caliper; only one front caliper was working after that stop, so we had to make another stop to change the right front caliper again. That was at about the 15-hour mark.
"We're an independent team. There are some advantages to running a big, multicar team, and I think there are some disadvantages too. We're the little team that could. We had a great car and a great driver line-up and great support, and we want to thank everyone involved."
Sascha Maassen: "We had a plan. First, we wanted to finish the race, but I thought that wasn't going to be easy. Then we wanted to try to get on the podium, and I thought that was going to be hard too. Phillip hasn't even done a 24-hour race, but I'm happy with his performance because he made no mistakes. You can only finish a race in a good way if you do not make mistakes. Wright Motorsports is a great crew; they didn't make any mistakes either, and that's why we got on the podium. It was a great result!"
Patrick Pilet: "This was only my second Rolex 24 and my first podium in this race, so the day was a great success. The team did a very good job. I knew John Wright had a good team. The car was very consistent. The pit stops were very quick. The podium finish was a very nice present for Phillip. We don't know why the throttle wasn't working correctly. It was only about 90 percent. Next time we'll come back with it 100 percent and maybe we can win!
"I don't know exactly what happened at the end; I don't think I was hit. There was a vibration in the rear and smoke came out of the left rear. We thought it was a puncture. We came in and tore off the rear bumper in case something was rubbing the tire, but luckily it was OK.
"I hope to be here next year with the same team, only next time we want to win!"