It had been rather an ominous start to the weekend for the ...
It had been rather an ominous start to the weekend for the #20 LMP2 Dyson Racing Mazda, a tracking problem and an oil leak curtailed track time on Thursday, but that was sorted out for Friday's practice and both drivers were happy with the car. It was Butch Leitzinger, Marino's co-driver in the #20 car, that was to qualify round the 2.258 mile Mid Ohio road course, but a misfire prevented Butch shooting for the pole. However his time of 1:11.042 was good enough for 5th overall and 3rd in LMP2 class, just 0.5 seconds behind the #16 sister car of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, who in turn were a mere 0.03 seconds behind the Lowes Acura LMP2 pole sitter. Despite these niggles, Marino had reported that the little Lola LMP2 chassis was in great shape and the Mazda engine had the legs to overcome the opposition if they could get a trouble-free run in the race.
A damp track greeted the teams at Warm Up this morning and the #20 car was one of 3 from the top 5 runners that chose to just do a shakedown lap with many of the cars not even venturing out on track.
The start of the race was somewhat of an anti-climax when the first rolling start was yellow flagged and the cars had to reform before taking the green. Butch was behind the wheel and made up a place immediately. On the 2nd lap he moved to 3rd overall when their sister car was called in for an infringement. Minutes later a GT3 Cup car caused a long yellow caution which continued for almost half an hour. Butch held station finally handing the car over to Marino on lap 50 with 1.5 hours of the race remaining, but in reality the action was only just beginning!
When Marino exited the pits he was 7th overall and 3rd in LMP2 class, two laps later he moved to 6th overall, and by lap 53 he was up into 5th behind three LMP1's and his old adversary, the LMP2 Lowes Acura. Marino gradually inched his way up to the back of the Acura, and on lap 62 saw his chance and overtook the Lowes car to lead the LMP2 class was this to be a repeat of Lime Rock? Marino was now sitting behind the 3 leading LMP1 contenders, but when Clint Field in his LMP1 Lola pitted 10 laps later Marino moved to 3rd overall. At this time the LMP2 Radical left the track giving rise to a full course caution. As the pits opened on lap 79 all the lead cars darted in for their final fuel stops; the Lowes Acura pit, situated almost at pit out, made a very fast stop and exited in front of the lead LMP1 Acura of Gil de Ferran. This meant the Lowes car regained one lap of the two that had opened up between the LMP1 and LMP2 lead cars thereby gaining a whole lap on the #20 car. Knowing the Mazda had greater overall speed than the Acura Marino chased hard at the same time being pushed by the Graf Porsche Spyder making its LMP2 ALMS debut. Marino pushed to within 30 seconds of taking the lap back with the Porsche Spyder less than half a second behind the #20 car. As Marino sliced his way through a group of slower GT2 cars, he was hit hard by a Porsche GT3 Cup car, it spun Marino round, he managed to continue, but less than a lap later it was clear the hit had caused terminal suspension damage and Marino was forced to retire the car just 10 minutes from the end of the race. Despite the retirement, Marino had done enough to seal a 3rd place LMP2 podium and as the #16 sister car had also been forced to retire earlier with engine problems, Marino and Butch remain 2nd in the LMP2 Driver championship points.
Marino remained upbeat after the race, "It was another really strong performance from the whole BP Dyson Racing Mazda team and it's a shame we were denied another great result by one of the lesser experienced GT3 drivers on track. I had a huge amount of fun in this race and I have to congratulate my team mates on their top performances this weekend. Both cars certainly seemed to have the measure of the LMP2 field and we are certainly looking forward to re-commencing battle in a few days at Road America."
Round 7 is Sunday, 16th August, 2009, at the Road America road course, Elkhart Lake, WI.