ROLEX Grand-Am series... Heritage Motorsports GTS Mustang pits early for driver change, goes to last in field, works back to first-place 4 laps from race end during green-flag racing. As we predicted yesterday, Dave Machavern, having qualified...
ROLEX Grand-Am series... Heritage Motorsports GTS Mustang pits early for driver change, goes to last in field, works back to first-place 4 laps from race end during green-flag racing.
As we predicted yesterday, Dave Machavern, having qualified the number 48 GTS Mustang, ran the first two green-flag laps in today's 70 lapper on the 3.54 mile Daytona International Speedway road-course. Having already locked up the championship for the year, he simply wanted to keep his year-end points equal to his companion driver for 2003, the record setting Tommy Riggins. And that's just what happened.
Riggins climbed into the Mustang and re-entered the race, dropping from 8th position to dead last (40th place) in order to accomplish this points tango. However, the Mustang again proved to be super-fast, as it has all year, even against the premier class prototypes. Riggins started an exciting drive through the field of 10 Daytona Prototypes, 10 other GTS competitors and 19 assorted GT cars. By lap 6 he had improved to 36th, gaining approximately a second per lap on the leaders. Do the math; there would need to be help in the form of caution periods in order for the Mustang to work to the front. It happened so.
Riggins' performance was, as usual, stellar. At lap 18 he had worked the Mustang up to 10th place! Then, to 7th position by lap 20, and finally to 6th at the 25th lap.
On lap 30 the wished-for full-course caution came with an accident at turn one, just past the pit exit, where the big ROLEX sports cars go onto the infield portion of the 2.5 mile NASCAR oval. Riggins brought the Mustang into pits where he got out and João Barbosa took hold of the Mustang's controls; fuel and tires. The stop cost the team 3 places, Barbosa re-entering in 9th position.
Also reported earlier, Barbosa is extraordinarily fast. He's smooth, mental and steady. Hailing from Portugal, he's a European road-course driving champion. By lap 36 João squeezed the Mustang into 4th place overall. The car had come from last place to 4th, and was on the lead lap, in less than half the race distance. He was turning the fastest laps of the race, in the1 minute and 49 second range. Only the number 58 Brumos Porsche prototype (leading at this point), the 54 Bell Motorsports Chevy V8 (Doran chassis'd) prototype, and the number 40 Corvette GTS were ahead of him, and he as reeling these in.
Lap 39, passed the 54 Chevy/Doran - Barbosa in 3rd place overall.
Lap 40, passed the 58 Porsche/Fabcar - Barbosa in 2nd place overall, and close behind the 40 GTS Corvette.
On lap 43 came another full-course caution, which the Heritage crew took to advantage and drew Barbosa into pits for fuel and tires. But, the number 40 Corvette held its lead and didn't pit. João took back to the track in 11th position. The green flag dropped again on lap 45 with 13 cars on the lead lap.
At this point the race really got exciting for the Heritage crew and the large group of Mustang fans who were gathered on the other side of the fence behind the Heritage pit. Barbosa was in command of the race, and the team sensed it.
At lap 50 João was back up to 4th place overall. Only the 40 Corvette GTS,
the 54 Chevy/Doran prototype, and the 29 Mustang GTS of Sky Blue Racing were
ahead of João. But, the telemetry told this story:
- 40 Corvette running in the 1 minute & 50 second range per lap.
- 54 Chevy/Doran running 1 minute & 51's.
- 29 Mustang running 1 minute & 50's.
- 48 Heritage Mustang running in the 1 minute & 49's !
The 48 car was the class of the field, and the team suspected Barbosa could pass almost at will.
At lap 53 the 40 Corvette faded fast and was in 12th overall, putting João in 3rd place. Then, on the next lap, Barbosa passed the 29 Mustang and moved into a solid 2nd place with only the 54 car (still in the 1 minute & 51 range) ahead.
With a great deal of tension and anticipation in the Heritage pits, Machavern and Riggins agreed to tell João to pace himself behind the 54 car of Terry Borcheller (Phoenix). The cerebral Barbosa complied. From lap 55 to 64 Barbosa trailed Borcheller by one-half to two seconds, slip-streaming the silver and blue prototype to conserve fuel and tires.
Then on lap 65 Riggins told crew chief Harrell to turn Barbosa loose on the next lap. He did.
On lap 66 and like clock-work Barbosa passed the number 54 prototype for the overall lead of the race. No sooner than João had made the pass, however, the Mustang's right-front tire let go, and in a big way. The Goodyear racing slick blew, large flailing chunks of tire hammering on the composite/carbon-fiber body panels, removing almost all of the right-front corner of the car, and at 200 miles per hour.
Barbosa controlled the Mustang, but it seemed like eternity until he was able to nurse the casualty around the long road course and back to his pit where the tire was replace and he re-entered the competition. By this time the race was drawing to a close. João and the number 48 Heritage Mustang place 11th overall, out of the 40 competitors; 4th in the GTS category, a podium position for GTS just barely eluding the team, and that fought-for overall win... almost in their grasp.
It was a blow, for sure, but softened by the knowledge that tomorrow, Sunday (November 2), the team will appear in Daytona for the year-end awards ceremonies and walk out with the GTS Championship trophy for the 2003 Grand American Road Racing challenge.