Grand-Am's new Daytona Prototypes were designed to bring close competition back to a sport where overtaking was becoming as scarce as a jelly donut in a room full of fat guys, and over the first six races of the season they have done a reasonably...
Grand-Am's new Daytona Prototypes were designed to bring close competition back to a sport where overtaking was becoming as scarce as a jelly donut in a room full of fat guys, and over the first six races of the season they have done a reasonably good job of it. Each event has had a considerable amount of on-track action, with the overall winner of two of the races being decided in dramatic fashion within the final two laps. The Grand-Am Rolex Series competitors arrived at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the June 28th Mid-Ohio Road Racing Classic hoping to continue this trend.
One knock against the Daytona Prototype class up to this point has been the fact that only four cars have run in every race so far this season, but this weekend the paddock was buzzing with an undercurrent of hope for the future as one major announcement and several hot rumors spoke of more cars to come. Grand-Am Cup regulars SpeedSource Race Engineering announced that they had purchased a pair of Multimatic Fords and are planning to run one of them for the final four races of the year in preparation for 2004. Two more FABCARs, a Doran, a Chase Engineering machine, and another Multimatic are also rumored to have finally found a home. Mid-Ohio once again saw only four DPs line up on the grid. However, after the Cegwa Toyota FABCAR was damaged too badly in a practice collision with the Ferrari of Washington 360GT to have any hope of competing in the race on three remained.
Thirty cars took the green flag under a picture perfect crystal blue sky, and it was Terry Borcheller in the #54 Bell Motorsports Doran Chevrolet who took the lead with David Donohue's #58 Team Brumos Red Bull Porsche FABCAR in hot pursuit. For the first half hour of the race, the two competitors attacked the picturesque 2.3 mile circuit with a vengeance and went after each other like they were running a ten lap sprint race instead of a three hour endurance event. Donohue squeezed past Borcheller on lap 5, but Borcheller kept after him and was able set him up for an overtaking maneuver on lap 13 to regain the lead.
It was obvious that Donohue and Borcheller, arguably the top two drivers in the series at the moment, wanted to beat each other on every lap. They worked heedlessly through lapped traffic, desperate to avoid losing even a tenth to the other despite there being well over two hours remaining in the race.
"I don't want to be behind anybody," Borcheller said. "That's part of the game. I trust David, and that's why we race hard and well together. I trust Mike (Borkowski), I trust Darren (Law), I know them and we're friends. The only reason why you see good, hard, clean racing is because we trust one another and respect one another."
Sitting behind the two leaders was the #29 Sky Blue Racing GTS Mustang of Stu Hayner. This car, a Trans-Am style machine running a one-off in the Grand-Am series at Mid-Ohio, was a bone of contention all weekend. It was believed that the Mustang was pumping out in the vicinity of 800 horsepower while the purpose-built Daytona Prototypes were utilizing about 200 to 300 less, and many members of the paddock were wondering how the car had been allowed to race in an unrestricted form. On the straights, the horsepower difference between the Mustang and the DPs became blatantly obvious, but Hayner was unable to take advantage of it early on while trailing the lighter DPs as they were able to brake deeper into the corners.
A full course caution 40 minutes into the race brought the leaders into the pits. The #54 Chevy Doran and the #58 and #59 Brumos cars all changed drivers, but Hayner stayed put in the Mustang and took only fuel. When he came out of the pits he was in the lead, and when the green dropped he used his horsepower advantage to run away and hide from the Daytona Prototypes. By the one hour mark he was holding a solid 40 second advantage over the rest of the field.
The second caution of the day brought Hayner into the pits where he was replaced by teammate Eric Curran. Curran was able to retain the lead behind the pace car, followed by David Donohue and Hurley Haywood in the Brumos Porsche FABCARS. On the restart on lap 64, David Donohue ran wide in turn 1 and did a bit of landscaping, effectively ending any chance he had to challenge Curran for the lead. A few laps later he made contact with the #31 Mosler and blew his front left tire. It was apparent that the poor luck that had plagued the #58 car in the first four races of the year had returned with a vengeance.
"We were the car to beat for sure and I threw it away," said Donohue. "I went off on a restart, I had a big understeer and pushed right off in turn one and filled the radiator up with grass. Later I got into the Mosler of my former teammate Justin Bell and that put a tire down. Both of those incidents were pretty much my fault."
Curran had little trouble pulling away from Hurley Haywood who inherited second place from Donohue, but the race was not over yet. Terry Borcheller had replaced car owner Forrest Barber in the Doran Chevrolet and was on the move. He quickly worked his way through the field, passed Haywood on lap 69, and the chase was on.
It was a short chase, however. Borcheller had moved to within five seconds of the lead when the #29 Mustang suffered an engine failure on lap 79. Borcheller found himself on point for the first time in almost two hours, and he clearly had no intention of allowing a repeat of the heart-breaking conclusion to the race at Watkins Glen a week prior where his co-driver Didier Theys lost the lead on the penultimate lap to Scott Goodyear in the Red Bull car. The Doran Chevrolet pilot took the checkered flag 8.6 seconds in front of Donohue who had overcome his earlier tribulations and earned a hard-fought second place overall finish along with teammate Mike Borkowski.
The GTS class victory, as well as a strong third place overall, was taken by Tommy Riggins and Dave Machavern in the #48 Heritage Motorsports Mustang after Riggins had a rousing scrap with Hurley Haywood in the #59 Porsche FABCAR. "Hurley is an icon in my city," said Riggins, "we're both from Jacksonville (Florida), and so to have a good strong battle with him was fun. He had an advantage in places and I had an advantage in others, and we were running our fastest laps at the end of the race. I think both of us just threw down all we had, and fortunately I prevailed. A couple times this year we've had a chance to get up and race with the DPs a little bit and that's fun, but we have to focus on our goal which is to win the GTS championship, and this was another success there." Haywood and J.C. France were forced to settle for fourth overall and third in the DP ranks.
The Heritage team's biggest rival for the GTS title, the Mosler of Joao Barbosa and Justin Bell, finished fifth overall and second in class. Dick Green and John Fergus rounded out the GTS podium in their Wendy's sponsored Corvette.
Larry Schumacher and B.J. Zacharias drove their Porsche GT3-RS to victory in the GT class, but the biggest winners of the weekend may have been Hugh Plumb and Brian Cunningham who snatched the GT championship points lead over Ferrari of Washington's Cort Wagner and Brent Martini with an inspired drive in their Marcus Motorsports BMW M3. Mark Hupfer and Paul Mortimer finished a strong third in GT driving the Acme Motorsports Porsche GT3-RS.