THE BREAKING OF DUCK ...
THE BREAKING OF DUCK #3
Birmingham, Alabama (July 31, 2005) -- The Europeans have such evocative names for things, like 'break your duck' to indicate the successful completion of a rite of passage.
In auto racing, there are multiple ducks to be broken, and the Finlay Motorsports team has been working their way through the avian population at a steady clip.
Duck #1 is your first race, which the team accomplished earlier this year at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Duck #2 is to 'run with the big dogs', competing at every event with the leading teams in the series. This the team achieved four races into the season at the California Speedway, where they led a race for the first time, and confirmed beyond any doubt by leading in four of the last five races, and finishing 4th three times in a row.
Duck #3 is to finish on the podium for the first time, and this the Finlay duo of Michael McDowell and Memo Gidley accomplished this past weekend at Barber Motorsports Park when they powered their way from 6th place on the starting grid to a 2nd-place finish in round 8 of the 2005 Grand American Roles Series, the Porsche 250 Presented by Bradley Arant.
And while it may have been a logical time to break duck #3, after running strongly at a number of races in a row and being fastest in the series-sponsored test at Barber Motorsports Park earlier in the month, it was not without drama.
The weekend started well, with a promoter-sponsored test day on Thursday during which the team was consistently in the top three, and continued in a promising vein on Friday with more fast practice sessions. Friday afternoon, however, brought an hour of torrential rain that left the abundant landscaping around the track soggy, and took McDowell on an off-course excursion in Saturday morning's first practice session that resulted in comprehensive damage to the team's #19 Air Force Reserve / Make-A-Wish / Commercial Defeasance Dinan-Powered BMW Riley.
The Finlay Motorsports crew performed little short of a miracle in getting the car back on track for the afternoon's 15-minute qualifying session, which was then cut to about seven minutes when another team's car crashed heavily and brought the session to a close.
"It was a wild ride, but five other cars had the same thing happen in the same turn, and several of them were completely destroyed, so we got off relatively easy," said McDowell. "It damaged so many systems and structures on the car that there were still things wrong with it when Memo took it out to qualify. That he was able to qualify 6th in a session that short shows just how good he really is."
Having qualified the car, Gidley started the race, and quickly began working his way up the ladder, moving into 3rd by lap 12, and into the lead by lap 34. During a full-course yellow on lap 47, Gidley pitted for fuel, tires and to hand the controls over to McDowell, who re-joined the race in 11th place.
"The car was really good in the first part of the race, with fuel consumption and tire wear all well within the plan," Gidley said. "We knew that if we could stay out of trouble and bring the car home that we had the car to finish on the podium and maybe even win. We had two of the top people from the Air Force Reserve here this weekend, and a lot more watching on TV, and since they were the ones that had faith in me and gave me the chance to drive for the Finlay team, I'd like to thank them and dedicate this first podium finish to the Air Force Reserve. We'll be working to upgrade it to a win as soon as we can."
The final and most difficult portion of the race fell to McDowell, as it began to rain with about 35 minutes to go. There were no full-course yellow flags to enable the team to come in for a change to rain tires, so McDowell had to tiptoe at top speed around a soaking wet racetrack on tires designed for dry conditions. He never put a wheel wrong in those closing laps, and crossed the finish line in second, giving the Finlay Motorsports team its first Rolex series podium finish.
"I actually ran out of gas as I pulled into the pits at the end, so it was a really gutsy call -- and ultimately the correct one -- by Rob Finlay to keep me out there without a fuel stop during the final laps," said McDowell. "Finishing on the podium for the first time was something we've been working really hard to achieve, and the guys on the crew did a tremendous job. The competition in this series is incredibly tough and we're satisfied with second place - this time."
The Finlay Motorsports team is currently 5th in the 2005 Grand American Road Racing Rolex Series championship battle, and will be hunting that 4th duck -- winning your first race -- with the biggest hammer they can find during the next event on the schedule, the CompUSA 200 at Watkins Glen, August 11-12.