(Mosport, ON) August 18, 2002 - From being on fire to being on the podium, that sums up the weekend for Gormley, Ontario resident Dan McMullen in his first professional race on home soil before a large contingent of family and friends at the historic Mosport International Raceway near Toronto.
After spending the better part of the past two years racing in France, McMullen signed a deal to race with the Phillips Motorsports Team out of Portland, Oregon to race in the new Fran-Am 2000 North American Pro Championship sponsored by Michelin. The Fran-Am series run the same cars that he has been racing in France this season with the Hexis Racing Team, Formula Renault 2000, and with a break in the French schedule for the month of August, the opportunity to race in Canada for the first time in his career was an opportunity he couldn't turn down.
On the Thursday before the event, the track had scheduled an open test day for all the support classes to get a chance to dial in their cars. As this was McMullen's first time at Mosport, he was anxious to get in as much time on the track and learn this very demanding and challenging circuit. The car that he was to drive had just arrived from Sweden on the previous Tuesday and hadn't turned a wheel in some five months. The car was still in 2001 specification so the PMI Team had it's work cut out to go over the car and get it in race ready condition. The crew worked extremely hard to prepare the car and was also faced with installing the updated 2002 spec diffuser and rear wing. As it turned out though, Dan would have to run the car in last years specification for the test day as the new parts were stuck in U.S. Customs and wouldn't be available in time.
It wasn't until late morning that the car was ready to go with all of the work that the car needed so already he was well behind all of the other drivers in getting to grips with the track. With the car finally ready, McMullen headed onto the track but after only one and a half laps disaster struck as he headed down into the daunting corner four, he had smoke billowing out of the cockpit. He pulled the car quickly off of the track realizing that the car was on fire and made a hasty exit, hitting the kill switch and on-board fire suppressant system as quickly as he could. Unfortunately the on-board fire extinguisher didn't discharge so he frantically waved for a safety marshal to come to his aid with another fire extinguisher. No one made a move to help him until he saw two spectators motioning to him with cups in hand. They had dumped their drinks out and filled them with water from the creek that runs through the infield and Dan quickly ran to get them and then back to the car to put out the flames. A very big thank you goes out to whoever they were from the PMI Team and their young driver as it did the job!
As it turned out, the wiring harness in the cockpit area of the car had several of the wires with the insulation worn through and as a result they shorted out causing the fire. The result was a great deal of melted wires and a very badly melted battery. The mechanics had their work cut out to get the car repaired in time to get in any track time this day, but the Phillips Motorsports crew got the job done in time to at least have McMullen get in the final two one-half hour sessions of the day to shake down the car.
Come Friday the team had acquired the 2002 spec diffuser for the car and installed it, but they still did not have the new rear wing. In tests in France earlier this year, it was found that the new parts were worth up to about one and one-half to two seconds a lap faster than the 2001 setup. Running the car with a mix of these components was going to be an interesting experiment to say the least. After a few relatively slow laps McMullen started to pick up the pace and quickly got down to some respectable times. He found that the car was a handful to drive with a great deal of understeer in slower corners and even more oversteer in the fast corners. As well the car was bottoming out badly all around the track, which only compounded the problems.
Saturday's one and only qualifying session, set for thirty minutes, was scheduled for very late in day which gave the team the opportunity to spend a great deal of time sorting out the car but there was still the problem of the rear wing. It still was not at the track so McMullen would have to make do with what he had. The team had added sixty pounds of weight to the car to bring it up to the series minimum and this would prove to be another problem. The car was even more noticeably bottoming out around the track and as a result, the new diffuser was damaged beyond repair as it was worn through from the pounding on the bumpy circuit. Even so, Dan put the car in fourth place on the grid for the race with a time of 1:21.721 seconds, just 1.258 seconds off of the pole set by Bruno Spengler and just 0.331 seconds behind the other front row starter, PMI team-mate Sean McIntosh, the winner of the first race in Vancouver.
Again, the PMI Team had to put in some fast work to repair the car for Sunday's race, set to start right after the ALMS race at 4:00pm. Team manager Paul Grosjean pulled a rabbit out of his hat with the acquisition of another diffuser and the parts to assemble a new spec rear wing. Also, the cars setup had to be changed completely to get it up high enough so that it wouldn't bottom out on the rough Mosport track. Going into the race, McMullen was going to be faced with a totally unknown car.
As the field formed up for the rolling start, no one on the PMI team knew what to expect, including the driver of the #15 Discount Car Rental/Side Effects Graphics/MYE Consulting/SUM-IT Club car. When the green flag fell, the cars went off into corner one in their grid order, Spengler, McIntosh, Jenkins and then McMullen. At the front Bruno Spengler started to pull away from the following three by a couple of seconds, who were having a great battle for the other podium spots. Lap after lap would see 2nd to 4th place change hands, some times several times in one lap. McMullen worked his way up to second place by lap 14 in a car that was obviously still a handful, oversteering wildly through corners nine and ten and was beginning to close on the leader when they came upon slower traffic. Right behind him were Jenkins and McIntosh. The lapped car would prove costly to McMullen as Scott Jenkins got by into second as McMullen was balked by the back-marker, demoting him to third.
On lap 16 though everything changed as while running in second Scott Jenkins lost control in corner three and spun. Jenkins car spun across the track right in front of and hit the wall pretty hard, forcing McMullen to take evasive action. Behind them Sean McIntosh went off the track in his attempt to avoid the mess in front of him. As a result McMullen moved into second position and McIntosh regained the circuit in third though quite some way back. Because of the Jenkins incident the race was put under full-course caution and the scheduled time ran out for the race and the checkered flag fell, the race ending under caution with the final results having Bruno Spengler in first, Dan McMullen second and Sean McIntosh in third place on the podium. The race was hard fought amongst the top four qualifiers and without the Jenkins incident it would have been a close race to the flag for the top four positions. As it was, all they could do was cruise around behind the Audi Pace Car for five laps until the checkered flag came out.
All in all it was a very close and eventful second race for the Fran-Am series and they now look forward to the next race in a weeks time at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on August 23-25 as a support race for the inaugural Molson Indy Montreal. With a few days extra time now before the next race the PMI mechanics can sort through Dan's car and get it better sorted before the first practice session in Montreal on Friday. The PMI Team's hopes are high for another podium for Dan on the F1 circuit in Quebec, hopefully one step further up on the victory stand.