(Montreal, PQ) August 26, 2002 - Following his second place finish at Mosport the previous week, Dan McMullen went into round three of the 2002 Fran-Am 2000 North American Pro Championship this past weekend at le Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with the...
(Montreal, PQ) August 26, 2002 - Following his second place finish at Mosport the previous week, Dan McMullen went into round three of the 2002 Fran-Am 2000 North American Pro Championship this past weekend at le Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with the goal of being on the podium once again. With the opportunity to race on this famous track and in front of such a huge crowd, he was geared up to give his best possible performance. On hand were also many family members, friends and sponsors who made the trip to Montreal to witness the inaugural Molson Indy Montreal.
The Phillips Motorsports Team had an extra couple of days in which to try and sort out his #15 Discount Car Rental/Side Effects Graphics/MYE Consulting/Sum-It Club car in the hopes of avoiding the many problems that hindered his on-track time in the previous race at Mosport where the car caught fire and continually had electrical problems throughout the weekend. Since the team only received the car two days before the Mosport race, they did not have the time necessary to go through it as they usually would when getting a used car from someone else. The mechanics worked extremely hard to ensure that the car was the best it could be for this very important event and did a fantastic job in giving Dan a car that was very well balanced.
The first session for the Fran-Am cars was early on Friday and everyone found that the track was very slippery, as it had not been used since the Air Canada GP back in June. All of the drivers took their time coming up to speed and at the end of the half-hour, Dan stood in fourth place on the time sheets. As this was his first time in Montreal, he spent the majority of the session just getting to know the circuit. Friday afternoon's first qualifying session was scheduled for late in the day and everyone knew that the track would be totally different than it was in the early morning practice. As the session got underway, it was quickly obvious that the TCS/Team Basi duo of Bruno Spengler and Scott Jenkins were already on pace as they headed the time sheets. Dan found that he was having difficulty getting any heat in his tires and ended the session fourth quickest, 2.3 seconds off the pole. Work was going to be needed to find the extra speed to move up the grid. The second practice for the Fran-Am cars was slated for 11:30am on Saturday, and with the amount of rubber that was being laid down on the track, the times were expected to come down rapidly. Sure enough, Dan chopped 1.8 seconds off his previous best time and that put him into third place for the session, now 1.2 seconds off of the pole time. Next up was the second qualifying session later in the afternoon and Dan was feeling good about getting in a better lap to move him up the grid. Again he found that he was having trouble getting traction and fought the car, as it wanted to slide around everywhere, eventually putting in a 1:42.687 lap time that was good enough for the third spot on the grid for the race on Sunday morning and just 1.043 seconds away from the pole time set by Bruno Spengler.
After the session Dan said, "I just can't seem to get any heat in the tires! The car is well balanced but it is slow to turn in and has a bit of understeer mid corner, then a bit of oversteer on the exit of the corners. It was very difficult to put the power down when I needed it." With the ever-changing track conditions Dan and the team did not want to make any big changes to the car before the race. It was hoped that the track would come to them rather than them chasing it.
Sunday morning arrived to a wet track from an overnight shower, and it was still overcast as the cars headed out to the pre-grid. All of the rubber that had been laid down over the previous days was now mostly gone. The cars went out for their warm-up at 8:00am on a partially dry track but there were sections that were still quite damp. Dan put in only two slow laps to just check out the car and called an end to the session while many others pounded around the circuit. Both he and the team felt that it was a waste of time to run around on a track that was going to once again be totally different come race time.
By race time at 9:05am, the skies had cleared and also it was starting to warm up. Following the Viper Pace Car on the warm-up lap, the field formed up beautifully in the last corner in anticipation of the start. The SCCA officials had stated clearly in the driver's briefing that they were going to show a late green flag to start the race and that there were two pylons beside the track, which were there to indicate to the drivers when they could start to accelerate. As the field approached the starting line, pole sitter Bruno Spengler accelerated away from everyone into the lead, and as would be determined later, a bit too early in the eyes of the Clerk of the Course who would "Black Flag" Spengler on lap eleven for jumping the start. Spengler headed off into the lead and off-pole starter Scott Jenkins chopped over on McMullen on the run to corner one forcing him to back off a bit and drop into third place. Behind the front three though there were problems. In corner two, fourth place starter Marc-Antoine Camirand tried to make a move on Phillips Motorsports driver Sean McIntosh and the two spun, also collecting several other drivers in the melee, including the third Phillips Motorsports car driven this week by Chris Green, from nearby Beaconsfield, Quebec, who ended up with a very bent rear wing. This opened up a big gap to the front running three of Spengler, Jenkins and McMullen.
The race settled down for the next ten laps when the Starter displayed the number 17 along with the Black Flag at the start of the eleventh lap. The Stewards had determined that Spengler had jumped the start and he was being given a drive-through penalty. Spengler reported to the pits on lap twelve which promoted Jenkins to first and McMullen to second. Spengler rejoined in third place but was some ways back of the leading duo. As the laps wound down, McMullen started to put some pressure on Jenkins, whittling the lead down to just over one second at the finish. Dan stated that "the tires finally started to come in and get some heat into them and the car was getting better with each lap". At the same time, Spengler was closing on second place. In the end the laps ran out before any further changes in the order took place with Jenkins crossing the line the winner, followed by McMullen in second and Spengler third.
Both Dan and the PMI team were extremely pleased with the result, but they are all looking forward to finishing one spot further up the next time out in the #15 Discount Car Rental/Side Effects Graphics/MYE Consulting/Sum-It Club Fran-Am car.