Days Like These, Part I "Nobody told me there'd be days like these; strange days indeed." (C Lenono Music) From a pole-sitting, all but "antique" SunTrust car that had been little more than a museum piece two weeks previous, to a brand ...
Days Like These, Part I
"Nobody told me there'd be days like these; strange days indeed." (C Lenono Music)
From a pole-sitting, all but "antique" SunTrust car that had been little more than a museum piece two weeks previous, to a brand spanking-new Ruby Tuesday Daytona Prototype forced to the rear of the starting grid, the 26th Sahlen's Six Hours Of The Glen was a strange couple of days, indeed.
At the same time Watkins Glen's record-setting heat made some young guys wilt and go slow, other older racers went faster, setting race- and personal-best records.
Pulling a double-stint race when other teams went to three drivers, a 48-year-old Scott Pruett at the race's halfway mark relieved a gutsy but wilting Memo Rojas in the No. 01 TELMEX Lexus-Riley, out of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' Indy shop.
Loping along, Pruett would likewise pull a three-hour stint - sans a cool suit!
"When I hit two-hours the guys in the pits wanted to know if I was doing okay," Pruett said. "I said, 'Sure, I can do another hour. No problem.'"
Fifteen-minutes later, Pruett inherited the race lead when an out-of-sequence Ricardo Zonta pulled his No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac-Lola into the pits for some gas.
"There was no need to challenge the 76 and use up tires and gas," Pruett said, "We knew he'd have to pit at some point so at the time we were content to ride in second."
Though the No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche-Riley of David Donohue and Darren Law would do all it could to at least get on Pruett's rear wing, that's about all it could do - and only rarely so - as the race churned toward its finish, handing Pruett his 12th lifetime victory in races lasting six-hours or longer.
It was another "close call" for Donohue and Law, both of whom were later heard shouting utterances like "Darn it!" and "Aw, shucks!" as the No. 58 team was again left wondering about what might have been after scoring their highest finish thus far in the 2008 season.
Finishing third in their museum-quality car (surely being one of the earliest Riley DP chassis, possibly Nos. 3 or 8) were "Max The Axe" Angelelli and Michael Valiante in Wayne Taylor Racing's No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac-Riley, which had last seen action in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona (where it finished in fifth place).
How that Riley got to the WGI podium finish is stranger still.
Kick-starting the car's resurrection was the SunTrust team's May 19 transporter fire, occurring east of Amarillo, Texas, during its return trip from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to "Back Home Again in Indiana" (most recognizably sung by Jim Nabors, a native Alabaman who now lives in Hawaii. Hey, it's "show biz," you know).
With barely 10 days to refit the team (think of anything you've seen a team use in a pit, paddock or shop) the SunTrust car and team, for that matter, would fare better by the end of The Glen than it had in any other race thus far this season.
Much more than something which conveys a car, a team transporter is home-sweet-home while on the road. You know where everything is to be found and that you have it in the first place.
"Um, do we have?" and "where is it?" were the most often heard phrases over the team's radio during Friday's practice and qualifying - the latter track session being strange, too, according to at least a few grumbling fans and team members.
Shortened when the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola of Ricardo Zonta hit a tire barrier, DP qualifying lasted roughly four of a scheduled 15 minutes, but at least saw the pole-sitter - Angelelli and his No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley - cut a lap time that bested the driver's previous personal-qualifying best on the 11-turn, 3.4-mile WGI course.
However, as Brazilian Zonta was dancing with the tires, several surefire Daytona Prototype contenders - defending race winner Alex Gurney; DP points leader Pruett; and, Rolex 24 pole-winner Oswaldo Negri - hardly had warmed their tires, much less gotten up to top practice speeds when the "All Stop" came out.
Of the race's 19 Daytona Prototypes on hand, Gurney (with co-driver Jon Fogarty) and the No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley started 15th; Rojas (w/Pruett) and their Lexus-Riley No. 01 Telmex car started 16th; and, Negri (w/Mark Patterson) and the No. 60 Westfield Insurance Ford-Riley started in the 17th spot.
"For a series looking to attract fans," Ganassi Racing's team manager Tim Keene said, "You'd think they (Rolex Series officials) would've allowed a little more time during one of racing's most dramatic aspects: qualifying."
Rolex Series officials pointed to their years' long use of a "time certain" schedule, which essentially means that whatever's scheduled will begin and end whenever scheduled without undue influence or modification by extraneous factors.
Additionally, series' officials named a number of major sanctioning bodies and race series which likewise use time-certain schedules.
"Most fans in the stands don't a give a (expletive omitted) about time-certain schedules," said one eventual top 10 race-finishing team owner, who soon thereafter decided silence was golden and asked his name be withdrawn from association with the quote.
To be precisely fair, The Glen's aborted qualifying wasn't the first to have occurred under similar past circumstances.
Such didn't matter to Ohio's Scott Sandusky, who mistook a reporter for a race official as he exited the pit-side grandstands when the qualifying period ended.
"My buddies and me got off work early this morning and drove like (heck) for five hours straight just so we could catch the new Ruby Tuesday car in qualifying," he said after the reporter identified himself, "What happened?"
"Frankly, at the moment," the reporter answered, "I haven't a clue."
As the consequences of his tire-barrier collision, Zonta (Nic Jonsson, co-driving) would start his No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac-Lola 18th while the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche-Crawford brought up the DP-pack's rear.
After quickly posting a second-high qualifying speed on the track's scoreboard soon after the session opened and without getting in another timed lap, the Ruby Tuesday's new Crawford DP08 Daytona Prototype just as quickly fell from the board's top spots - and a lot farther than it would've imagined.
After the session quietly ran through 11 of its allotted 15 minutes, the Alex Job Racing car's run was disallowed after a post-qualification technical inspection found the car's overall width to be greater than allowed.
The culprit? Most would generally agree it was a hastily added pair of front dive planes (originating on submarines, the smallish, often triangular-shaped air foils are mounted on a car's front fenders in an effort to aid planting a car's front tires, especially in turning).
Alex Job and the Ruby Tuesday crew saw it a little differently.
"Just before we went out for the session we asked them (Rolex Series officials) to measure the dive planes," a visibly shaken and angry Alex Job said later. "They measured them and said they were 'okay.'"
"Then they disqualified our time when we came back because the dive planes were too wide!"
Rolex Series officials later distinguished the fine line they used in discerning the Ruby Tuesday's width and ultimate DQ.
Condensed: While the dive planes were measured and passed, the overall width of the car had not been measured during the scurry to get it to the track just as the qualification period began. The new Crawford's straight-from-the-factory bodywork is just a tad wider than the rest of the DP family and while that bodywork is well within allowable limits (thus permitting team experimentation with and use of devices like dive planes) the combined total of the dive plane and bodywork amounted to an infraction of allowable overall car width.
This reporter was on hand during the post-qualification measurement and while the extent of infraction wasn't made known, it wasn't much.
However, in a world where a sixteenth-inch change in a Gurney Flap can measurably loosen or tighten a car, the difference doesn't have to be much. The DP body rules don't have a "fudge" factor - one either passes or not.
Job didn't quibble with such, his anger arising from the team's qualification time being entirely disallowed when, as he saw it, the Ruby Tuesday wasn't entirely at fault.
Generally having the ultimate hammer at its disposal, "government" is a tough thing for a citizen to fight and prevail.
And, though he fought and fought, Job didn't prevail - but he may yet have the last word.
Forthcoming: "Days Like These, Part Duex."
DC Williams - Exclusively for Motorsport.com