Heritage Motorsports locks up Drivers' points for 2003 ROLEX GTS Championship.
The Heritage Motorsports Mustang GTS finished 2nd in the GTS category Sunday at the very beautiful Virginia International Raceway. Out of 26 Daytona Prototype and assorted GTS and GT category cars to start the race, the number 48 Mustang finished 12th overall.
The 48 Mustang was forced to go to the rear of the starting grid due to a late engine change which caused the team to miss qualifying. The number 40 Corvette of Derhaag Racing, driven by Simon Gregg and Kenny Wilden had taken Saturday's GTS pole position with a blindingly fast 1minute and 49+ seconds. With a sprint engine and well-built chassis, a cross-over from the Trans-Am series, this team was the mark at which Heritage would aim.
At Sunday's 12:30PM green-flag, Riggins (starting) began what would be a delightful romp up through the field. At the end of lap one, however, just at the last turn, Riggins went to pass (on the inside) of another GTS competitor, the number 19 Camaro of Trinkler & Shaffer. Unknown to Riggins, the Camaro had been black-flagged for jumping the start. Being that the Camaro was on the outside (fast) line in the turn, and the pit entry was on the inside of the same turn, when the Camaro slowed to dart into the pits for the penalty, it cut across the 48 Mustang's inside passing path. Riggins punted the Camaro, causing more damage to the Mustang's nose than to the Camaro's rear bumper. The Camaro to exit the event later on with a blown differential gasket.
Despite the contact, Riggins pushed the blue 48 Mustang hard and by lap 2 he was already in 9th place overall. By only lap 8 of this 77 lapper he had caught the leading GTS Corvette (no.40). Laps 9 and 10 Riggins used to size up his competition, and on lap 11 he passed the orange number 40 for the GTS lead, assuming fourth place overall in the race with only 3 of the 7 Daytona Prototypes ahead of him! But as the Mustang passed the pits, the Heritage crew could see a heavy stream of steam and water shooting up from the over-flow port and across the right side of the windshield. At lap 12 Riggins pulled into the pits, heart-breaking, out of the GTS lead for his crew to find the water pump belt had come off. Could it have been a shard of carbon-fiber nose which flew inside the engine bay from the lap one contact? Who knows?
Getting water back into a very hot cooling system during a pit-stop is VERY difficult. A brave crew risked scalded hands and faces to tackle the job and put the Mustang back onto the track with a new pulley belt installed, more water, copious racing tape on the nose, and Machavern at the wheel. The Mustang was fast, but still not cooling down, Machavern radioing the temp readings too high. During the next 7 or 8 laps Machavern would frustratingly bring his Mustang in for coolant 3 more times. A full-course yellow which happened during this time eased the pain for the team, and by lap 20 the temperature in the Mustang's engine bay seemed to have stabilized.
By this time, however, too many laps had been lost for the Heritage team to have hopes of catching the number 40 Corvette. The number 06 Corvette and the 07 Porshe Turbo had also gotten around the Mustang. So, by the end of hour one of a race which would run just short of three hours, it seemed that a podium finish for the 48 car might be out of the question.
The Porsche would only complete 24 laps, however, and Machavern soldiered on through the long heart of the race, driving all the way to lap 58 when he pulled the Mustang in for fuel and to hand the wheel back to Riggins. He had pulled the Mustang up from 21st to 17th position in the field.
During Riggins' second tour the number 40 Derhaag Corvette dropped out. Team owner, Jim Derhaag, after the race would say to Riggins & Machavern, "The change engine light came on. It's the one right next to the 'there's a hole in your oil-pan light.'" This put the 06 Corvette of Alderman/Lisa/Rosenblum in the GTS category lead and the Mustang in second.
With only a handful of laps remaining the black & red 06 Corvette began a short series of pit stops. That team seemed to be having fuel delivery problems. Incredibly there seemed to be a hope that the Mustang might win the GTS top podium position after a day of terrific racing and overwhelming frustration. But, a late yellow flag came out, giving advantage to the beleaguered Corvette, and the race ended with the Mustang taking a very close second-place and the 06 Corvette 1st. First-place overall was taken by the Pilgrim/Barber/Borcheller Chevy-powered and Doran-chassis'd Daytona Prototype. The race ran a full 77 laps and was broadcast on SPEED Channel, tape-delayed same-day.