Monterey, Calif. - There was real heartbreak for VICI Racing this afternoon at a hot, dry and dusty Laguna Seca as the team's ...
Monterey, Calif. - There was real heartbreak for VICI Racing this afternoon at a hot, dry and dusty Laguna Seca as the team's #18 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, following a stunning start to the four-hour Sports Car Championships of Monterey, was punted out after just 17 laps following an avoidable incident that was entirely the fault of the other competitor. It was a bitter pill to swallow following an extremely tough fortnight that has seen the Miami- based team racing against the ticking clock to build up a new car since the dramas of Petit Le Mans. Coupled with the arrival of a new tire supplier this week and with no time to test with the new tires, the team had shown off its fastest pace of the year, all this week, as it demonstrated the tough, professional streak that VICI Racing is widely known for. The three drivers of the #18 car, Marc Basseng, Nicky and Francesco Pastorelli have had to learn the track as none of the trio has ever driven here before.
However, it had all started very brightly this morning for the team, pleased with the pace shown during yesterday's practice and qualifying sessions, and everyone was looking forward to building on this improvement in the race. Today's (Saturday 18th October) action would see the warm up session (9:55 - 10:20 AM) taking place before the Monterey Sports Car Championships, the final round of the 2008 American Le Mans Series would get underway. The four-hour race into darkness would go green at 2:45 PM, with the checkered flag scheduled to be waved at 6:45 PM.
For the first time this week, fog and dark clouds shrouded the paddock as the teams prepared for the 25 minute warm-up session, though by the time the session went green at 9:55 AM most of the cover had lifted and the sun was starting to peek through. Technical Director Roland Wall called for a short 5-lap session to confirm race set-up, and Marc was entrusted with driving the #18 car. Three minutes into the session, on the 2.238-mile circuit at Monterey located a two-hour drive south of San Francisco, the #48 Zytek dumped oil on the course on the way up the hill to turn 7 quickly bringing out the red flags. Once the session got underway again, at 10:04 AM, Marc posted a 1:25.166 (10:07 AM, 12 mins) on his first flying lap to temporarily top the timesheets; he followed this up with a 1:24.353 (14) and a 1:26.685 (15) before coming into the pits with 16 minutes of the session completed. Marc's best lap, 1:24.353 (95.513 mph) was good enough for 7th fastest in class, a highly promising start to the day's proceedings.
Laguna Seca, with its superb viewing positions for spectators, not to mention its famous 'Corkscrew' turn, is one of the most popular dates on the ALMS calendar and a huge crowd of fans descended 'en masse' into the paddock all day, spilling out onto the grid as the cars were positioned for the traditional line up. Following the pre-race festivities that included the playing of the national anthem, as well as a low flypast by aerobatic aircraft, the command to 'start your engines' was given at 2:38 PM, and exactly on time at 2:45 PM, the safety car peeled off into the pitlane, the green flag was waved with a flourish, and the four-hour race got underway.
Nicky, who superbly qualified the #18 car yesterday, was tasked with starting the car, and the former Official Test Driver with the Jordan and Midland F1 teams was in scintillating form as he passed no less than three rival GT2 cars on the opening lap to move up from his grid starting slot of ninth place to complete the opening lap (time 1:29.174) in a very impressive sixth place, which quickly became fifth place. However it was soon to go for Nicky, who was now posting impressive lap times, as the #45 Porsche, which was on the outside going into turn 3, touched the rear wheel of the #18 car at 3:20 PM (35 minutes of running) in what was an entirely avoidable incident. There was no opportunity to pass at this point and the incident was completely the fault of the other car. It ended our promising race abruptly. For the record #18 car in the hands of Nicky posted a best lap of 1:25.225 (94.54 mph) on lap 5 of the 17 laps that the red, white and grey car completed this afternoon.
Roland Wall, Technical Director VICI Racing: "I'm not pleased at all; a real promising week of work has been ended after just half an hour by some poor driving by another competitor. There was just no need for the driver to make this attempt to pass. It is a bad end to a race that was going so well. We had a great car, I was pleased with our new tires and we had the fastest pace all year. It's been a really tough end to this year, everyone has worked so hard and it's a shame we have so little to show for it in the last few races. However the team has risen to the new challenge of ALMS this year so well and I'm really proud of all our crew. We now have to go away and build on this year, do a lot of work and prepare to challenge in 2009."
Nicky Pastorelli (The Netherlands): "This was a disappointing end to a good week. I got a clean start and made up three places on the first lap. The car felt really good, tires were ok and it felt the best this year for sure. I was able to set good times and we were going well. I was on the entry line of turn 3 and Bergmeister was on the outside and then at one point he touched me on my rear wheel that made my tire come off so I spun and ended in the gravel and could not continue the race. I'm sorry for the whole team; they worked so hard to get us here and it was clear that we would be on for a good result."