Collins and Edwards finish Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R in 2nd in Rolex Grand-Am race at VIR Alton Virginia (Saturday, April 25, 2009): Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards over came two minor problems and survived the Bosch Engineering 250 ...
Collins and Edwards finish Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R in 2nd in Rolex Grand-Am race at VIR
Alton Virginia (Saturday, April 25, 2009): Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards over came two minor problems and survived the Bosch Engineering 250 at VIRginia International Raceway in Alton Virginia to finish their #07 Leighton Reese Performance Group Pontiac GXP.R in second place in GT.
"We finished our Pontiac GXPs one-two and Pontiac won the Daytona Prototype class as well so all in all it was a great day for Pontiac here at VIR," said Kelly Collins.
Round 2 of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 at VIR was won by the #57 Pontiac GXP.R of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell and the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototype won the race overall.
Collins, of Newport Beach California, started the race from his 4th place qualifying position and right at the start Kelly started applying heavy pressure on the #87 Porsche of Leh Keen for 3rd. It took Collins a couple of laps to slip past and set out after the two leading Mazdas.
"I think the tires start getting a little hot on the Porsches and I could get off Turn 17 better and I could get a run on him," Collins said of the pass. "The first time he blocked me but the second time he thought better of it and I got by him. When I got by him I went after the two Mazdas and we were pulling away until the first yellow came out."
The first caution period of the race came out when the #69 Mazda spun and got center punched by the championship leading #67 Porsche of Justin Marks. Most of the leading cars pitted for fuel and tires but Collins remained on track and assumed the GT lead.
When the course went green again on lap 13 Collins held the lead until the pole sitting #70 Mazda slipped past down the straight on lap 17. Collins pitted about 45 minutes into the race and Paul Edwards took over the car. Since the stop was under green the #07 Pontiac dropped to 10th.
The first issue Edwards had to deal with was a sway bar problem caused when a small part broke on the adjustment mechanism for the rear sway bar. While the problem wasn't necessarily major the drivers had to set the rear bar to full soft to balance out the car. The issue first arose while Kelly Collins was driving his opening stint.
"The car still handles pretty because we just set the rear bar to full soft to balance out the car," said Collins. "But the car really rolls over particularly on transition turns."
"It wasn't really bad but you really had to watch yourself particularly when you were going up through the esses," Said Edwards. I don't know if they showed it on TV but I was really hanging it out a few times."
But Edwards was still racing hard and making up ground until the second caution flags flew on lap 23.
The unseasonable 90 degree heat in Southern Virginia was bad enough but when the air conditioning unit motor seized up the race got much hotter for Paul Edwards. First Paul had to deal with the smoke caused by the failing motor during caution number two and then summon everything he had to stay focused in the extreme heat.
"During a caution the car started filling up with smoke," said Edwards. "The motor for the air conditioner was burning up and our AC turned into a 200-degree heater and started blowing hot air. Actually the hot air didn't feel all that bad because as hot as it was at least there was some air flow in the car."
When the track went green again Ham still led in the #70 Mazda and Edwards was back up to 3rd as several of the leaders pitted for fuel, tires and driver changes.
After the restart Ham opened up a fairly sizable gap as Edwards was trying to solve the #40 Mazda of Joe Foster with a group of GT Pontiacs, Porsches and Mazdas right behind. Edwards finally solved Foster to take over the 2nd position on lap 30 and almost immediately the double yellow flags flew after the #13 DP slammed into a tire wall.
During this caution the #70 Mazda pitted and when the course went green again and after Liddell dove past the Porsche of Werner Edwards and the #07 Pontiac was leading a GXP 1-2.
Edwards maintained a 4 to 5 second gap over Liddell and as the race progressed there were many continuous green flag laps so the GT cars began making green flag stops for fuel and tires.
The #66 and #87 Porsches began the stops under green and on lap 49 Edwards pitted the #07 Pontiac GXP.R giving the lead to Liddell's Pontiac. Paul returned to the track in 5th and still well ahead of the two Porsches that had stopped a few laps earlier.
Finally Liddell completed the cycle of pit stops for the leaders and as he moved the #57 Pontiac towards the end of pit road Edwards thundered past to re-claim the lead.
Edwards held form but the heat and his minor suspension malady allowed Liddell to slowly creep up on the leading GT car until Edwards, after getting balked by a group of prototypes, had Liddell all over him.
Edwards gamely fought off the heat and Liddell but he made a slight misstep at the top of the hill in turns 15 and 16. Paul bobbled and Liddell tapped him sending the yellow #07 Pontiac briefly into the Virginia countryside. Edwards recovered but was 6 seconds out of the GT lead he had held for so long.
"I was pushing pretty hard keeping Robin [Liddell] behind me and I made a little mistake and got a little wide," said Edwards. "He got into me and pushed me off. After than I really didn't have anything for him."
There was a late race caution that bunched up the field for the final 10 to 12 minutes of the race and while Paul Edwards couldn't catch Liddell he was able to drive away from the #70 Mazda of Tremblay who filled out the podium in the 3rd position.
"Paul said he made a little mistake and that was the race," said team owner Leighton Reese after the checkered flag fell on the torrid affair. "We had a couple of systems quit but nothing major fell off the car and we had a good finish for the points chase so while I am disappointed that we didn't win overall it was a strong finish for us."
"Going into the race we thought we had the dominant package here," said Paul Edwards. "The car was super strong and the crew really hit the sweet spot here and the car was just perfect for me this weekend. I have never felt so good in the car and really have our Pontiac GXP dialed in this year. But a couple of little things went wrong and that was enough to keep us from winning. It is amazing what a couple of little things can do to upset the program.
"As disappointed as I am that we didn't win today we did show that the team is strong, stronger than we were last year I think, and that we are going to be a strong contender to repeat our championship this year. It is still too early to say but we have better finishes this year than we did in the opening two races in 2008 so we can take that positive out of this race."
"At the moment our Leighton Reese Performance Group Pontiac GXP is handling great and we have a strong car underneath us for the long run," Kelly Collins said after turning over the wheel of the #07 Pontiac to his co-driver Paul Edwards. "In the beginning I just tried to stay clean and keep up with the two Mazdas at the front. There were people putting wheels off everywhere and there seemed to be grease and dirt everywhere.
The 2nd place finish by Collins and Edwards coupled with the win by Liddell and Davis has all four drivers tied for the GT Drivers' Championship with 60 points each with Ballou and Pumpelly, who finished 6th today, close behind with 57.
The next race will be the Verizon Wireless 250 presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 at New Jersey Motorsports Park on May 3rd.