With the end of the Sahlen's 200 at Watkins Glen International in sight and the rain-drenched track beginning to dry, the race leaders faced a difficult decision during the race's final caution period: pit for slick tires or try to nurse their rain tires to the finish. Jan Magnussen, running in sixth at the time, opted for slicks and passed five cars in the final laps to give Kevin Doran's Lexus Doran its first ever Daytona Prototype win.
"Jan was running around when that yellow came out and he said that he thought that we might be able to go slicks, and I didn't even think twice," Doran explained. "I said, 'Pit, pit, pit.' And he was right at pit in and just barely got into the pits. So we hit it perfect.
"Last year we ended up running second out of the lead here staying on rains (tires) for one stint too long, so we're kind of sensitive to it this year and we wanted to make sure that we got on to slicks quick enough because it get dry quickly here. As long as it stayed dry, we had it in the bag."
"Kevin wanted to go with slicks even though it was still a little wet for Jan," added Magnussen's co-driver, Didier Theys. "In the end it was the best strategy."
Burt Frisselle also chose to put on slicks, and he parlayed that move into a much needed second-place finish for the financially strapped Michael Shank Racing team. "When the stint started out, it was really wet," said Friselle, who shared the driving duties in the team's Lexus Doran with Oswaldo Negri Jr. "We started off with a stiff dry setup, so I could run hard with the guys when it was really wet. But when the track started to dry, I just killed my rain tires and we were going backwards. So when the yellow came out, we were faced with a tough decision, but we had toasted our rain tires so I said, 'Hey, lets just throw on slicks.' And luckily it paid off.
"It's enormous for the team, too. All season long, we've kind of been the underdog. Michael Shank has put together such a good team with such a small amount of money. To come out here to get a result like this for Lexus and Michael Shank Racing is unbelievable. We hope that this is enough to put us over the top so that we can finish the season." Their second podium finish of the year may allow them to make it to at least one more race this season.
While Magnussen and Frisselle gambled on slicks, Max Angelelli decided to stay out on his rain tires. As a result, he could only watch as Magnussen and Frisselle sailed past his SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley in the waning laps, though he did manage to hang on to finish third. "I said we should stay on rain tires instead of switching to slicks, so it's my fault," Angelelli admitted. However, Angelelli's teammate, Wayne Taylor, refused to blame anyone for the decision to remain on rain tires. "We probably made the wrong decision on the tires, but you never know if you're making the right decision at the time."
The Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran of Terry Borcheller and Oliver Gavin and the Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Max Papis and Scott Pruett rounded out the top-five. Their fifth place finish enabled Papis and Pruett to retain their lead in the drivers' championship. But, Taylor's third place finish also enable him to gain some ground on the Ganassi duo.
Boris Said and Joey Hand drove their Team PTG BMW M3 to victory in the GT class. In doing so, they put a halt to teammate Bill Auberlen's six-race winning streak. It was Said's sixth class win of the season, and Hand's first. Auberlen and Justin Marks finished second, followed by the Orbit Porsche of Jay Policastro, Joe Policastro and Mike Fitzgerald, who finished three laps behind the class winners. "There are no team orders on our team," explained Said, who gained ground on Auberlen in the GT drivers' championship. "It's all egos. We stayed on rain (tires) and duked it out with Bill and Justin. I had a blast racing them hard. Joey just keeps getting better and better with each race. I love driving with him. It's a great result for Team PTG."
"We've had some problems this year, but we've hung in there," Hand added. "Boris and I work well together. We're about the same size, and our setups are about the same. In the dry today, the car was really good. But when it started raining, I started backing off a little bit. Then I slowed up get on to the pit lane to get rain tires, but by the time I got to the last corner before pit in, I did a half spin and I saw cars going off everywhere. They seemed like they were all around me. It was slickest thing I've ever felt in my entire life. It was a mix of water and oil. It was a mess. But I got out there clean, and that's all that really matters."
Indeed, as he struggled to regain control of his spinning BMW, a number of cars, including Kevin Buckler's Racer's Group Porsche, flew off the track and slammed hard into the foam barriers ringing the outside of the final turn before the entrance to the pit road. This melee, caused by a thick sheet of heavy rain and dense, impenetrable fog that enveloped the Glen's 2.45-mile short course around lap 34, took a number of laps to untangle. All of the drivers involved walked away from the wreck, but Buckler, who showed signs of a limp as he crawled out of his battered racecar, was later transported to a local hospital for precautionary x-rays.
In SGS, John Littlechild and Spencer Pumpelly led a TPC Racing sweep of the top two spots in class, finishing on the same lap as their teammates, Marc Bunting and Andy Lally. It was the first win of the season for Littlechild and Pumpelly. However, by finishing second, Bunting and Lally retained their lead in the SGS drivers' championship standings. "It was extremely wet out there," Pumpelly exclaimed. "It was very difficult. And when it got dark, it was tough to see. But we kept pushing and held off our teammates." The Orison Planet Earth Motorsports Porsche of Joe Nonnamaker, Will Nonnamaker and newcomer Craig Stanton came home third, two laps down to the TPC boys.
The Rolex Sports Car Series will return to the track on September 12 at the Miami Homestead Speedway.