Lally, Johnson and TSR Give the BMW Z3 Its First Podium Finish
BRASELTON, Ga., Oct. 11 - Two young driving instructors - Andy Lally of Northport, N.Y., and Mike Johnson of Gainesville, Ga. - helped Team Spartanburg Racing owner Mark Hughes of Fairforest, S.C., give the BMW Z3 roadster its first podium finish ever in professional sports car racing Sunday in the Speedvision Cup race at Road Atlanta.
The team finished second in the Sports division in the Speedvision Cup season finale, which was a support event to the inaugural Petit Le Mans. They finished 11th overall.
The BMW 328 has taken every Sports division victory in the series since mid-1997 and that record remained unbroken Sunday, as Atlanta drivers Mike Fitzgerald and Anthony Lazzaro finished first in the class and sixth overall in a BWM 328is.
The event was won by a Grand Sports car, a Mazda RX-7 Turbo driven by Sylvain Tremblay of Pompano Beach, Fla., and Joe Varde of Charlotte, N.C.
Lally and Johnson, who are also stars of the U.S. Formula 2000 series for open-wheel cars, recorded their great finish even though they had no test sessions in the machine prior to the event. Lally is a professional driving instructor at the Track 1 Driving School in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, while Johnson is an instructor at the Panoz Motorsports Driving School based at Road Atlanta. This year Lally was also the developmental driver for Highcroft Racing and Bowman America, the official importer of the brand-new Bowman BC5 Formula 2000 race car.
Johnson took the green flag for the 2-hour and 45-minute test Sunday afternoon. Prior to the race Hughes told him that half the battle was to just stay out of trouble for the first half of the race. Johnson had his hands full almost immediately, as a multi-car crash occurred on the frontstretch ahead of him at the start. He had started 17th in the 38-car field.
"The wreck went to the right and everybody went to the left, and I went straight through the middle and got through it," Johnson said.
The team's other main strategy concerned fuel conservation, as it tried to stretch its fuel and also save its brakes, and only make one pit stop. They accomplished that, but they were forced to make their single pit stop under green just after the half-way point. A problem developed with the fuel hose that cost them valuable seconds in the pits during that stop, but Lally was able to make up the time on the racetrack.
With a little different roll of the cards the class victory could have been theirs. A yellow flew late in the race which turned out to be a god-send for the class winner, as Lazzaro was able to pit several times under that yellow to make repairs to a broken right rear shock absorber.
Both Lally and Johnson felt that without the fueling problem during their pitstop and the last full-course yellow, they could have won their division. The team received a 10-second penalty for an infraction with the fire extinguisher in its pits, too.
"We both drove about 95 percent all day, because our first goal was to finish," Lally explained. "The car was very well-prepared; we just clicked off laps right and left. It seemed to fade a little when we were running by ourselves; it did better in traffic. It picked up a push at the end, but I don't think either Mike or I ever dropped a wheel off the course. We knew we had to save fuel and save the car, and our strategy worked.
"It was a lot of fun," Lally continued. "I loved the restarts. It was nice to be part of the BMW Z3's first podium finish; I thought it was a great day. I really enjoy sports car racing, and my first visit to Road Atlanta was very successful."
"We've been working hard to put the BWM Z3 on the podium, and it was a great day," Hughes summarized. "This trophy is going in the trophy case at BWM's Manufacturing Plant No. 10. I also want to thank Global Imports and my two great drivers for their role in making this day a reality."
The race is scheduled to be broadcast on the Speedvision network from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8. It will be re-broadcast on Monday, Nov. 9 from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. and again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. that day.