(Toronto, ON) - Sept. 9, 2002 - Arriving in Iowa at the Mid-America Motorplex for round four of the Fran-Am 2000 Championship, Dan McMullen was looking at continuing his string of podium finishes with the Phillips Motorsports team. For this race...
(Toronto, ON) - Sept. 9, 2002 - Arriving in Iowa at the Mid-America Motorplex for round four of the Fran-Am 2000 Championship, Dan McMullen was looking at continuing his string of podium finishes with the Phillips Motorsports team. For this race he would be in a new car instead of the now familiar yellow Tatuus that he had driven at Mosport and Montreal. This was good news for McMullen as the car he had been driving had problems at each of the previous events that hindered his performance. Getting in the cockpit of a newer and well sorted car was just what was needed and with ex-teammate Sean McIntosh now driving for the Gelles team, and no other driver for the third car, Dan had two cars available to him for the weekend.
Friday's schedule was a simple one, open practice for the whole day. The team decided that it was time to learn as much about the Formula Renault cars as they could and set out a plan to try some different things on the car. Throughout the day, they experimented with different setups in the hopes of finding a little extra speed and at the end of the day Dan and the team were very pleased with their efforts. They felt that they were now on pace with the very much more experienced French TCS team who have been running these cars for several years now. Going into qualifying on Saturday afternoon the whole PMI team were confident of a front row starting spot for the race.
Saturday arrived and the temperature was climbing, hitting 36 degrees Celsius by afternoon. Qualifying was scheduled for 4:00pm and everyone knew that the high heat was going to affect the cars greatly. During the practice earlier in the day an overheating problem developed and the mechanics worked to correct the situation. Also, as this track was new to the series, there was some confusion as the gears that were to be used for the event. One of the rules in Fran-Am is that the organizers dictate to the team which of three standard gear-sets is used for each race. On Friday, some teams had been using the short gear stacks while others were using the medium gear stacks. The series officials didn't decided until Saturday afternoon which gears were to be used and as it turned out the PMI mechanics had more work to do before qualifying began in changing the gear-set in the transmission. This took a little longer than anticipated and cut into the time McMullen would have for qualifying, as the change wasn't completed until the session had started. Once on the track, Dan set off on several quick laps right off the bat. It was a good thing that he did as on his fifth lap, one of the Team Reset cars spun in front of him forcing Dan to take to the grass to avoid the spinning car. Immediately he made his way into the pits to have the car checked over and to have the grass removed from the radiator air intakes. Unfortunately, all of the debris could not be completely cleared and the engine temperature started to climb and quickly rose to 115 degrees! This forced an early retirement from the qualifying session but his early quick lap still placed McMullen in fourth place on the grid for the race, just 0.814 seconds off of the pole time set once again by Bruno Spengler in the TCS/Basi car.
The twenty-lap race was set for 11:00am on Sunday morning and the skies were still clear and it was still hot, but not quite as hot as it had been with the mercury reading about 30 degrees Celsius at race time. Dan felt that tire conservation was going to be the key in how you finished the race. The organizers had decided for the first time that the race would have a standing start, just as all of the other Formula Renault Championships around the world do. They had allowed the teams time over the weekend in the schedule to have several practice starts for those drivers who had never done them before to ensure that everyone was up to speed on the procedures. The cars lined up on the grid in good formation and as the lights went green, Dan got a fair start, for him anyway, and slotted himself into third place ahead of Scott Jenkins and along side second place driver Sean McIntosh going into corner one. McIntosh protected the inside line in corner one and McMullen took to the outside line, remaining in third at the end of the first lap. The running order was Spengler, McIntosh, McMullen and Jenkins. Several laps later, after coming under continuing pressure from Dan, Sean McIntosh spun, almost hitting McMullen and this allowed Dan to move up into second place with Jenkins about three seconds behind in third. Now was Dan's chance to get on after Spengler who was still running at the front.
The gap to the leader was closing until there was a full course caution for the car of Sean McIntosh who had pulled off due to a suspected mechanical problem. The caution stayed out for about three laps and then on the restart, McMullen made his move for the lead into corner one. Spengler was not going to have any of this though and protected the inside line forcing McMullen wide once again. After only about 1/2 lap, another full course caution was displayed, this time for two cars that got together after the restart. A few more caution laps went by, but for this race the officials had decided that caution laps would not count in the total race distance, and when the race went green, McMullen did not get the jump he needed and had to protect his line in corner one from a hard charging Scott Jenkins. Entering the corner, Jenkins went in deep under heavy braking to Dan's inside forcing him wide. Right behind Dan was the third TCS car of Antoine Leclerc who gave Dan a bump from behind and gave him enough momentum to keep the second spot. With the battle in the closing laps with Jenkins, the leader was able to get clear by a few seconds and held it to the finish, the final running order being Spengler, McMullen, Jenkins and then Leclerc.
For McMullen it was a very good race, and as he said after, "it was probably one of my most exciting races in the Fran-Am series so far." The PMI Team had a great setup on the #15 Discount Car Rentals/Side Effects Graphics/MYE Consulting/Sum-It Club car that worked very well for this race, the proof being Dan's best race lap just 0.117 seconds off of the fastest lap of the race set by winner Bruno Spengler. Next though at Las Vegas, where there will be two races on that weekend, Dan will not be satisfied with another second place on the podium. He wants to be on the top step and he and the Phillips Motorsports team are going to do everything they can to make this a reality!