7th podium in-a-row Tommy Riggins and Dave Machavern put themselves on the podium with a third place GTS finish at 8:30PM Friday night, 8 August, at Watkins Glen International raceway in a race which started under a steady rain. This makes their...
7th podium in-a-row
Tommy Riggins and Dave Machavern put themselves on the podium with a third place GTS finish at 8:30PM Friday night, 8 August, at Watkins Glen International raceway in a race which started under a steady rain. This makes their seventh podium in a row, with nine of twelve races now completed in the 2003 season. Currently leading the points race for the ROLEX GTS category - drivers' points, team owners' and manufacturers' points, their hold on the championship seems to be firming up.
The rain started just as the 27 ROLEX teams were hauling their equipment from the paddock area to the pits, but it was intermittent and the sky gave mixed signals. Tough call. The plan was to put on rain tires and be prepared to change to slicks even during the formation laps if the heavens relented. Everyone scurried to know what the front runners were on. And Riggins was on the pole, shod with rain tires.
Tommy had determined, before the race started, to run conservatively if the track was wet. With the championship nearly in hand, there was no need to create risk on a wet track. When the green fell, he held to his strategy. By turn one on the first lap Riggins had allowed two or three rear engine prototypes to pass him. In the early laps, Tommy continued to lead the GTS class with only 3 prototypes ahead. But the GTS lead was tenuous, the number 6 GTS Porsche GT1 of Gunnar Racing, driven by Jeannette, Kyle Petty and the actor, Paul Newman, bearing down on him.
Lap nine brought out a caution and the safety car, which allowed Riggins to pit and hand the car over to Machavern for the latter continue his own points accumulation. Rain was still teasing the course, some parts wetter or dryer. The rain tires stayed on the 48 GTS Mustang. Other teams elected not to pit and this put the Mustang further back in the field by the time Machavern exited the pits. What happened in the next 20 laps may be one of Dave Machavern's most frustrating drives.
Parts of the Watkins Glen course got drizzle and parts were drying. Mostly drying. The plan would be to depend upon a caution, the probability of which was high, to bring Dave in to switch to slicks. Probabilities don't always consummate and this was one of those times. In the dry rain tire compound rolls up on itself, effectively creating its own marbles. Very poor grip. With no yellow/caution Heritage Motorsports crew chief, Joe Harrell, continued to urge Machavern to "find some water" to keep the tires cool. Finally, at lap 30 Machavern was forced to pit for slicks, on green-flag laps. His lap-times seriously improved and he began working his way up from the 12th position to which the Mustang had fallen.
At lap 50 the no.6 Jeannette Porsche GT1 spun, apparently in a wet spot, with Newman at the wheel. The car suffered almost no damage because of huge styrofoam blocks and continued, but styrofoam chunks littered the track and had to be cleaned up and replaced. Thus a caution. This allowed the Jeannette/Petty/Newman Porsche to pit and return to the field without much time lost. Machavern pitted the Mustang and got out, returning the wheel to Riggins' hands.
When the green fell Riggins began making up time on the Porsche GT1. It seemed he would be in position to pass for a second place GTS finish. But, on lap 62 Riggins was one of two faster cars overtaking the slower number 53 GT Mustang. Everyone saw it on the giant screens. It appeared the 53 car would hold the middle-line and both the faster cars would pass on either side. Tommy went to the inside on a fast kink. When the 53 went low at the last moment, Riggins backed off. But, it was too late. A tap, which left only a hint of orange paint on the blue in front Riggins' left-front tire, sent the 53 Mustang hard across a damp track into the guard rail. Although the car continued, there was enough debris to bring out a late caution. The incident was what the no.6 Jeannette team needed to slow down the race and hold off the Riggins challenge. When the green came out for the final laps, there was no longer time to track the Porsche down.
The race ended with Daytona Prototypes in the top four spots, the Chevy powered Doran of Barber/Borchellar claiming the big trophy. The 33 Ferrari GT finished in fifth having run a solid race, with the no.3 Toyota/Fabcar with Robby Gordon in sixth; then 2 GTS's (no.5 Corvette and no.6 Porsche), and the no.48 Heritage Mustang GTS in nineth, for a 3rd-place GTS finish.
Look for television coverage of this ROLEX race on SPEED Channel, Sunday August 10 at 5PM eastern. The next ROLEX race is scheduled for Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada on the weekend of September 19-21.