Laguna Seca: GT race report

Lally and Valentine Record First Rolex Series GT Class Victory of the Season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca MONTEREY, Calif. (May 19, 2007) -- With just a few drops of fuel left in his tank, defending Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented...

Lally and Valentine Record First Rolex Series GT Class Victory of the Season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, Calif. (May 19, 2007) -- With just a few drops of fuel left in his tank, defending Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve GT champion Andy Lally delivered the TRG team a home state victory in Saturday's U.S. Sports Car Invitational delivered by Luggage Express, leading TRG teammate Daniel DiLeo in a 1-2 finish under caution in the two-and-a-half hour, 92-lap race.

Cautiously working his way through the field all afternoon, Lally chased Kelly Collins around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn track for several laps before getting by Collins in Turn 5 on Lap 90. Fortunately for Lally, he was able to save a little bit of fuel as a caution came out moments after he passed Collins when Andrew Davis spun the No. 72 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 in Turn 11, forcing the last of four caution periods.

Officials could not get the track cleaned up in the time remaining to go back to green flag conditions, giving Lally--and his co-driver RJ Valentine in the No. 66 TRG CRG/Maxter/Rotax Porsche GT3--the victory over DiLeo and his co-driver, Ross Smith, in the No. 65 TRG Maxwell Paper Products Co. Porsche GT3. Lally and Valentine also picked up the "SunTrust Improve Your Position Award" after moving up 15 spots from the 16th-place starting position. The event marked the first GT class team 1-2 finish of the 2007 season, and the team's first 1-2 since last year at Lime Rock Park.

"It is a huge deal," said Lally, whose only lead came in the final three laps of the event. He was also the final of nine drivers and nine lead changes, and did not stop during the final 66 laps. "The really cool thing is, this is my first win here. I've had two second-place finishes in Rolex and I had a third-place finish here in Barber Dodge a long, long time ago. I just mentioned to (team owner) Kevin (Buckler), we've got two seconds and a third, and we really need a win here. It was wonderful to come through. It's one of those things where it clicked just right, and our guys just did an awesome job. I've got to thank RJ, my engineer and Kevin for the three of them getting together and helping me build a real good car this weekend. I've got to say the handling was just unbelievable. I've also got to thank the guys who raced me clean, because the last three guys that we picked off were all very much gentlemen, and nobody was trying to cut my nose off."

"It's obviously a privilege at my age," added Valentine, who helped the pair scored its second podium in three races. "You begin to wonder, 'The older you get, the faster you was.' Having Andy as a teammate is a real privilege. To have the guys around me with TRG and all the group of people that prepare the car, sometimes it looks easy just driving. The reality is, you can't drive something if it's not set up properly."

Lally ran up front all day, breaking into the top five shortly after taking over the car during the first 15 laps of the race. He also didn't drop too far from the leaders after his second stop on Lap 36, returning to the track in ninth. Lally then quietly worked his way into the top five with patience. He used passes on Lap 61 (Jean-Francois Dumoulin) to take sixth and Lap 73 (DiLeo) to take fifth. Then, he reaped the benefits of late pit stops from two drivers, and made a daring inside pass on Collins for the victory. The win put Lally and Valentine into a ninth-place tie in the latest point standings.

DiLeo took over the reigns of the No. 65 machine early in the event, after Smith had an adventurous start. Smith entered the race in 13th but stayed out when many drivers pitted during an early caution when debris was found on the track. He ran as high as fifth before falling back to seventh on Lap 10, and was nearly involved in a collision before handing the car off to DiLeo during the mandatory pit stop, scheduled within the race's first 45 minutes.

Several one-car spins, slide-offs and an incentive kept the team in contention. DiLeo fell a lap down on Lap 37 before officials waved him by, as he earned the first chance award for being the top running lapped car. DiLeo then played the same game as Lally, patiently waiting for the right time to pounce.

DiLeo ran fifth as late as Lap 73 before Lally passed him. He then watched as several competitors fell out of contention for the victory, and evened his front wheels with Lally's rear wheels as the pair crossed under the checkered flags.

"It's a great feeling," DiLeo said. "To do this in our second start is definitely an accomplishment. We came in this weekend and, like the trend has been, every time we get in this car, Ross and I get a little quicker. To be second in our second start, I don't think it's too shabby. To do it on such a great track like Laguna Seca with one of my best friends here beside me is a special feeling. I've got to give a lot of credit to everybody that makes TRG. It's a first class organization. To have teammates like the guys here goes a long way. You look to Andy Lally as a veteran and learn with him in the limited time that you've got. Again, I appreciate everything that's happened. To consider that when I got in the car, we were a lap down, and they say in sports car racing, I guess, 'It's never over 'til it's over,' and I finally experienced it. It's a great feeling and hopefully the first podium of many."

"We started out in the race with a phenomenal car," Smith added. "It was very, very good. It took a little while to get the tires up to temp, but once they set in, the car was just phenomenal. There's no other way to describe it. I charged a little hard early and I was running up to fifth at one point, but I went off and we ended up going a lap down. I guess I went against team orders. I came in when I was supposed to, but it related, and we ended up getting the 'Lucky Dog' because of it. In one theory it's bad, but in the other theory, we got the 'Lucky Dog' and got the lap back and we got on the podium. This is the best feeling to me. Dan did a great job, as did our whole team, TRG, and Maxwell Paper Products funding the car. Without Maxwell, we definitely wouldn't be here. We had no money to do it. Everybody did a great job and I compliment all of it."

The race was also special for TRG owner Buckler, a former resident of Monterey, Calif. and whose shop is now headquartered not far away in Petaluma, Calif. TRG put four cars on Saturday's grid, and the other two cars finished 12th and 14th.

"Special is an understatement," Buckler said. "When my wife, Debra, and I moved here from the Midwest, we moved here to Monterey. We lived here for almost four years, right across the street in those hills. We started our company here in our garage, and I did some of my very first racing here ever. I love this place, so from that side, it's special. I love coming here; I couldn't be more proud.

"Dan and Ross did a great job. They used good judgment, they're good drivers, and there's a good future with these guys. RJ and Andy also did a great job, and the 1-2 thing, you dream about this. I mean, finishing 1-2, to me, that's dominance. We did it several times with the Pontiacs and we also had a really special 1-2 at Watkins Glen in our Daytona Prototypes when we came out our first year, but this was a hard-fought one. This might be the best of all, because we've really worked hard on bringing these Porsches up to speed and getting all the tricks back in our toolbox. We've got them. The team did a great job, too. The pit stops and the strategy were just flawless. We didn't make any mistakes and that's what you have to do with this competitive of a field, so we're happy."

As has been the case nearly the entire season, the Farnbacher Loles Motorsports two-car team dominated the race after the first round of pit stops. Coming in with top cars which have led more than half of the laps contested in GT class competition this season, Craig Stanton put the No. 85 Shoes for Crews/Recaro Porsche GT3 out front for several laps again Saturday, as the car sat atop the results for 33 laps, and led by as many as seven seconds.

However, Stanton didn't make his scheduled pit stop and driver change until Lap 77, with less than 30 minutes left in the timed race. His crew feverishly changed tires and put enough fuel to get co-driver Leh Keen back into the race, but he reentered the race in 10th, with many of the other teams ahead of him no longer in need of a stop. The duo was scored as sixth at the finish.

Teammate Dirk Werner--who along with co-driver Bryce Miller in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Marquis Jet/IPC Porsche GT3 scored the last race victory last month at Virginia International Raceway--inherited the lead, and was nearly 10 seconds ahead of Collins before he too needed to stop for a splash of fuel. That stop--which added a couple seconds when Werner locked up the wheels and spun while making the turn in the pits--enabled Collins to regain the lead for the No. 07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R, but his mirrors were full of Lally's No. 66 until the Dacula, Ga. driver made the winning pass.

Werner dropped to fifth during the short stop and managed to get by Collins and Drew Staveley in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R before the checkered flag flew, giving himself and Miller their third straight podium finish after leading five laps near the end.

"After the race in Daytona, we had a big gap because our engine blew, so for us, the most important thing is just to collect points," Werner said. "Every time we are in front of the Mazdas, the championship gets closer. We are here to win the championship, so that's our aim. I think this race here was really the hardest one we've had. We got 75 pounds extra and an air restrictor, and this was one point we really struggled with. The other thing is, this race had the most incidents up to now. I had contact with the Mazdas, the (No.) 70 car as well as the (No.) 69 car. The car had a little problem with the toe because of the contact in the first lap, so it was really difficult to drive it. I think the key to our success here was the great work of the pit crew. They did very good work. In the end, I'm very confident with the race."

"It's a great feeling to be back on the podium," Miller contributed. "The Farnbacher Loles team just gave us such a great car coming here. We showed up for the first practice session with such a good baseline. Unfortunately, we had some contact in the opening lap (of the race), which knocked the right front toe out. It was a little bit difficult to drive, but we were still able to drive it all the way back from last to sixth. I think that if that contact did not happen, we may have been looking at victory here today. Still, all things considered, we feel really great about today's result, considering everything that happened. It's a good feeling."

The No. 07 machine led more laps (35) than any other car, with Paul Edwards pacing the field for 27 of them. Edwards led from Lap 5 until 25, when he made the mandatory pit stop, and again from Laps 38 to 43, when he pulled in to give Collins the wheel. Collins gained the lead back when Werner stopped, and held off Lally as best he could until Lap 90. After Lally got by, Collins brought the car in the pits for fuel, and he dropped to fourth--where the team started--by the checkered flag.

No. 30 co-drivers James Gue and Staveley spent much of their day in the top 10, and were rewarded with a fifth-place finish after starting seventh. Gue pitted within the 45-minute mark after running as high as second, and turned the car over to Staveley just before the halfway point of the race. Staveley stayed in the top 10 the rest of the way, and also accepted the late-race pit stops by others as benefits, leading the team to its highest finish of the season by far. Their best finish heading into the race was a 15th-place result at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Points co-leaders Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham were also frontrunners for nearly two-thirds of the race, with Ham leading early and Tremblay working his way to the front, trying to run down Stanton. After a long battle with Werner, the two touched on Lap 53 in Turn 2. Tremblay never challenged for the spot again and fell to seventh at the checkered flag.

However, the duo still holds a 12-point advantage (152-140) over Werner, heading into the May 28 Grand-Am GT Classic at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. Edwards and Collins are tied for fourth at 135 points.

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Kelly Collins , Andy Lally , James Gue , Sylvain Tremblay , Andrew Davis , Craig Stanton , Nick Ham , Lehman Keen , Ross Smith , Dirk Werner , Daniel DiLeo , Bryce Miller
Teams Racers Edge Motorsports