WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., Aug. 23, 1998: Ross Bentley, Marc Duez and Peter Cunningham battled their way to a third-place finish in the No. 6 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 coupe at today's First Union Six Hours of The Glen to clinch the first-ever United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) GT3 team championship for Prototype Technology Group BMW M3 team.
The third-place finish, which came despite a pair of mishaps that cost a total of four laps in the pits for repairs, also put Bentley in position to clinch the first GT3 driver's championship and BMW the first GT3 manufacturer's title in USRRC history. Officials from the series, revived this season after a nearly 30-year hiatus, announced that they are attempting to add one more race to the schedule - the late-October date at Laguna Seca that recently was awarded to rival sanctioning body Professional Sports Car Racing, Inc. Whether it succeeds will determine whether today's six-hour endurance contest over the 3.4-mile Watkins Glen road course was the USRRC season finale.
The No. 6 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 coupe lost three laps due to a broken refueling valve early in the race, and another lap due to a broken wheel late in the race. It finished behind only two Porsche 911s belonging to Alex Job Racing, which scored Porsche's first victory of the season.
The No. 10 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 four-door of Bill Auberlen, Mark Simo and Andy Pilgrim, meanwhile, retired after the second hour with mechanical problems, ending a PTG BMW M3 winning streak at 12 races, dating back to last season and including a record eight straight SPORTS CAR-sanctioned events.
"This shows that the level of competition we've reached doesn't allow you to make a single mistake," said PTG team owner Tom Milner. "This is the first time in a long time (since 1995) that we've had an engine problem. And you can't count on the kind of problem we had with the refueling valve. Fortunately, our championship situations are looking very good regardless of whether we have another USRRC race."
"We've wrapped up our championships ... I think," Bentley said. "It's not quite the way we wanted to do it. It sure would've been nice to finally win one here. But considering the incredible streak this team has been on, something had to break eventually. Unfortunately, it had to happen today.
"As for prospects of locking up the driver's championship, it shows how much of a team sport racing really is. I haven't done anything differently this year than I've done in all my 20 years of racing. But when you have the best cars, the best team and the best co-drivers, you're in position to win championships, and that's really a great feeling."
"We came here well prepared," added Scott Doniger, M Brand Manager, BMW of North America, Inc. "But, unfortunately, we weren't able to overcome the Watkins Glen hex (PTG BMW M3s have yet to win here in four attempts). We had two very unfortunate and unexpected occurrences. But you have to credit the kind of persistence these guys have shown all year in being able to run strong at the end and salvage third place."
Next up for the PTG BMW M3s is the Napa Auto Parts Sebring (Fla.) Classic Presented by Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Sept. 17-19. It will be Round Six of SPORTS CAR's GT Series Presented by Virgin Interactive.
USRRC GT3 POINTS STANDINGS (After Round Five*)
DRIVER MANUFACTURER TEAM Ross Bentley 146 BMW 85 PTG 85** Danny Marshall 134 Porsche 74 Alex Job Racing 52 Mark Simo 110 Bill Auberlen 100 * One more race may be added to schedule Marc Duez 100 ** Clinches title regardless of possible added race
BMW WINS SPORTS CLASS, McMILLIN WINS MOTOROLA CUP TITLE Mike Fitzgerald and Jeff McMillin drove a BMW 328is to the Sports Class victory in Saturday's two-hour, 45-minute Motorola Cup race at Watkins Glen. It was Fitzgerald's eighth Motorola Cup win in 10 races this year and clinched the Sports class driver's championship with two races left on the schedule. It was the ninth win for a BMW 328is this season.