Watkins Glen: SpeedSource race report

SpeedSource Defines Triumph at the Glen Emil Assentato smiled - really smiled. With young hot-shoe Jeff Segal taking the pole and long-time friend and co-driver Nick Longhi turning quick laps, Assentato's FXDD-sponsored No. 69 SpeedSource Mazda...

SpeedSource Defines Triumph at the Glen

Emil Assentato smiled - really smiled. With young hot-shoe Jeff Segal taking the pole and long-time friend and co-driver Nick Longhi turning quick laps, Assentato's FXDD-sponsored No. 69 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT at last came to the winner's circle at the Rolex Sports Car Series Six Hours at the Glen on June 7. The 2007 winner of the Bob Akin Award got the win he's been diligently chasing for many seasons.

"Watkins Glen is one of the few remaining traditional road circuits the Rolex runs and to win here in the history-filled Six Hour event is as exciting as it gets," Assentato said. "The No. 69 Mazda has shown speed at a few of the prior events, but something always seemed to go wrong before the finish. But this weekend the FXDD SpeedSource No. 69 Mazda RX-8 GT handled flawlessly all race and the team and my co-drivers did a stout job in record-breaking heat without the aid of power steering and driver cooling. A fantastic job done by all. The pit stops went smoothly, the drivers drove a clean race, and at the end were up to the fight. Special appreciation goes to SpeedSource and Mazda for their effort in preparing a fine machine, without which a win would be impossible."

Assentato's association with SpeedSource began with the purchase of his car in 2006. His chassis number, 002, reflects his early confidence in the RX-8 GT design. He tested in November '06 when the car was delivered, and committed to a full season schedule with the team for 2007. The year proved consistent and productive for the New York businessman, with a season-high finish on the podium in Mexico. His determination to race well and often earned him the Bob Akin Award for sportsmanship by season's end.

His victory at Watkins comes then, as no surprise. Even as the enormous champagne bottles sprayed the crowd, it all seemed right on schedule. The day belonged to Emil, Nick, and Jeff, and they smiled -- really smiled. Triumph definition #1.

For the No. 70 Mazda RX-8 GT, the roller coaster of racing took a bigger dip than usual. Practice on Friday posted the No. 70 at P1, with Assentato's No. 69 just behind. The 4th place qualifying spot put the team up front for the start. Team owner and driver Sylvain Tremblay felt confident.

"Our preparation for this race is paying off. The team is working very well, and we're pleased with the overall setup. This is a long race against a strong field, but the Mazdas are well-suited to this track and we're looking for a strong finish."

But the morning warm-up presented unexpected challenges. Team technical director and driver David Haskell took the wheel in preparation for his stints in the race. During long events, Haskell does double duty as engineer and driver, most recently winning the 24 Hours of Daytona GT class with Tremblay and Nick Ham.

During the session, approaching turn 11 Haskell gave room to let one DP go through, but didn't count on two. Hit hard and knocked off-line, he locked the brakes; but the 60-mph wreck straight into the tires folded the front end neatly in half. Haskell returned from medical before the flatbed reached the paddock at 9:15. With the race start 2 hours away, triage revealed heavy suspension and body damage; the oil coolers and radiator would have to be replaced. The somber crowd gathered behind the barriers shook its collective head 'no' and watched Haskell tell an interviewer it would be "difficult" to get the car back together.

The team chemistry and the will to never give up shone through. The crew finished the repairs in an hour and a half, only penalized with a start from pit lane for missing the reconnaissance laps. Triumph definition #2.

The car at first seemed miraculously flawless as Tremblay drove through the pack and brought the No. 70 into P2 in just over an hour. Ham took his turn at the wheel and kept the car up front, but by Tremblay's second stint, the car began to rebel. Complications in the steering and a broken terminal wire brought Tremblay in early. The unavoidable time in the pits lost the team valuable track position. The remainder of the race tested both Tremblay and Ham as they struggled with the car. The 8th-place finish was bittersweet.

Every team has a story of heroic effort, and some even have the privilege of standing high atop the podium. For SpeedSource, those stories converged in one day. Two definitions of triumph, two cars, one team. Zoom-zoom.

-credit: ss

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Emil Assentato , Nick Longhi , David Haskell , Sylvain Tremblay , Jeff Segal , Nick Ham , Bob Akin
Teams SpeedSource