Collins, Edwards Blast to First Grand-Am Rolex Series GT Victory of 2007 Season at Barber Motorsports Park BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 21, 2007) -- No. 07 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R drivers Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins dominated...
Collins, Edwards Blast to First Grand-Am Rolex Series GT Victory of 2007 Season at Barber Motorsports Park
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 21, 2007) -- No. 07 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R drivers Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins dominated the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve GT competition Saturday afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park, racing to the checkered flag 30.591 seconds ahead of the field in the two-and-a-half hour Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant.
The pair started from the pole and almost never looked back, leading 94 of the race's 95 laps. Edwards, running the team's first stint, had already stretched the lead to 4.616 seconds over the No. 85 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Shoes For Crews/Recaro Porsche GT3 co-driver Craig Stanton by Lap 15. Edwards maintained a several-second lead behind the wheel before passing the No. 07 Pontiac GXP.R to Edwards on a Lap 28 pit stop.
As the GT field cycled through the first pit stops of the afternoon, Edwards suddenly found himself in the lead on Lap 31 nearly ten seconds ahead of the No. 06 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R driven by Leighton Reese. Ten laps later, that lead had stretched to 23.77 seconds.
The closest any driver got to Edwards from there was during the race's only full course caution period, when Dominic Cicero slammed the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Corvette into the Turn 1 tire wall on. Edwards was the first in-and-out of the pits as the field bunched up under the caution.
The disappearing lead didn't seem to rattle Edwards. One lap after racing resumed, Edwards ripped off the race's fastest lap in a time of 1:29.917, only four tenths of a second off of the car's pole speed. The lead continued to grow until the final margin of victory.
"It seemed like an easy one, but it wasn't," Edwards said. "We had to find the right balance. We seemed to run the same times as we did in practice, and I was surprised the others were a second or more off our pace. I guess our car was just working that well around here, and nothing went wrong. No misfire; everything went well for once. I guess the performance kind of speaks for itself."
The win was the first of the season for Edwards and Collins, who have utilized a number of strong finishes to stay in the championship hunt. The Banner Racing duo now trails points leader Dirk Werner by just six points with only two races remaining in the GT season.
While Collins and Edwards drove away from the field, the battle for the remaining podium positions became a battle to the end. The second-place duo of No. 66 TRG CRG/Maxter/Rotax Porsche GT3 co-drivers Andy Lally and RJ Valentine continued their strong showing with their fifth top-two finish in seven races. Valentine began the afternoon 18th and, continuing with the team's common strategy, pitted early to hand the car off to Lally.
When Lally returned, he ran more than a minute behind the leaders before the first round of pit stops. Lally found himself in fourth position after the first pit cycle. Pitting so early caused the car to fall back during the middle of the race, but after the yellow flag pit stop found what he needed in order to get the car back on track.
Lally restarted after the caution in sixth, then passed Stanton in the No. 85 and Tim Lewis Jr. in the No. 06 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R by Lap 64 to settle into fourth place.
He wasn't finished, however, and with 10 minutes to go, had pulled to the bumper and passed Sylvain Tremblay's No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8. With sights on Werner's championship-leading No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Marquis Jet/IPC/Recaro Porsche GT3, Lally entered the white-flag lap still nearly six tenths behind the championship leader.
With the break for which drivers are always searching, Lally caught Werner -- running low on fuel -- as the car hesitated switching to its reserve tank. That bobble was enough for Lally to capitalize, bringing the TRG Porsche home second and closing his race for the championship to just eight points.
"The race seemed like it played out well in the middle, and at the end, it wasn't, so I started playing around with the bars and what not; we had nothing to lose," Lally said. "It looked like it worked; we started closing in. I was closing on Dirk but I don't think I was going to get by him. I think he bobbled in the last turn, and it was just enough for me to be able to have the momentum and get inside. He got a little defensive on me, but gave me enough room and raced me clean. It was great because there are four cars we are racing against in this championship. Even though we lost a spot in the championship, we closed the gap on the leader. Two more to go; the championship couldn't get much closer."
Valentine remained content with the team's strategy.
"Our thought is if it works, don't change it," Valentine said. "Andy is a phenomenal driver, especially in GT. You have somebody that good, you get out of his way and let him do his work."
Werner's co-driver, Bryce Miller, earned fortune after starting the race seventh. An early-race incident allowed him to move into the top five, and Werner took over from there, fighting with Tremblay and No. 06 driver/owner Leighton Reese and finally Lewis. Werner looked to be a lock for second before the bobble.
He was not overly disappointed with the finish, and despite the shrinking points lead, Werner is still optimistic about his championship hopes.
"The car was definitely good enough to take second place," Werner said. "We had nothing for the Pontiac; that car just kept pulling away. But the car was great. I think in the last 20 laps, we were fighting with the Mazda, but then Andy came on very strong, and unfortunately, on the last lap I bobbled, which was how he passed me. I mean, the pit strategy was right. I could have switched over to the reserve tank, but I didn't see it (the light indicating low fuel). We had enough to run at the end. For the championship, it still looks pretty good. I'm still in the lead, and if the luck comes back in the next race, then I think we can stay out front."
Like Valentine, Miller is well aware of the role he plays in his teammate's championship hunt.
"I tried to keep it pretty conservative; just try to hand it over without any scratches to Dirk," Miller said. "There was some door-to-door contact though between others that moved me up a couple positions. I think we have just as good a chance as any of these guys to bring home a championship. If Dirk and I can just keep doing the same thing, I think it will be getting us some success."
Lally wasn't the only driver to advance his position within the top five on the final lap. Lewis -- who drove the final third of the race -- passed Tremblay on the final circuit to claim fourth. The finish was a strong testament to the team, which finished second a week ago and began the Barber race from the front row.
Tremblay and co-driver Nick Ham ran among the top 10 all afternoon. Ham made contact with another driver during the race's first five minutes and found himself off course momentarily before returning in 10th. The pair used quick pit stops the remainder of the race, and Tremblay ran as high as third before slipping in the final laps.
Only four cars retired from the race, all of which completed at least 47 circuits.
The next Rolex Series GT race is scheduled for Aug. 3 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, running in conjunction with the Daytona Prototypes. The Daytona Prototypes resume action at 2 p.m. Sunday with a 109-lap, two-and-a-half hour time limit race at Barber.