A new track, a terrific race all the way down the field... and what a weekend! Birmingham, AL - Competition between classes in the 2003 Grand American Road Racing series is tighter than most any of the old-timers of sports car racing can...
A new track, a terrific race all the way down the field... and what a weekend!
Birmingham, AL - Competition between classes in the 2003 Grand American Road Racing series is tighter than most any of the old-timers of sports car racing can remember. For those of you who don't know, Grand American is at the pinnacle of professional sports car racing on this continent. Furthermore, its competitors inaugurated one of the finest, most gracious racing facilities in the world this last weekend... and right out of the blue, very near Birmingham, Alabama!
More about the new track in a bit.... The Heritage Motorsports team, fielding its scalding hot Mustang GTS, put on a spectacular show for the fans yesterday afternoon. Heritage team management did an impressive job of predicting the outcome of the race, in general terms. The prediction was: 1) we would not do well until the track dried out, and 2) our race would be with the Mosler GTS. The prediction was spot-on. (The Mosler GTS is based upon an expensive exoti-car Mosler MT900R.) The new track is not a venue in which the Mustang GTS will particularly shine, its very tight turns more suited to a lighter and rear engine configuration.
What actually happened: The four Daytona Prototypes (DP's) lead the field with our Mustang in 5th starting spot, as typical this year. Tommy Riggins headed the GTS class to the green flag for the third time this season (in 4 races). Riggins put together a 94.952 mph lap in 1:27.202 at the wheel of the Heritage Motorsports #48 Mustang. At the start, rivers of water still rushed across track pavement at random locations, serious run-off from torrential rains which ceased just before this main event (last of six races in the weekend). Riggins radioed the Heritage crew that the car found very poor grip in these places. We could see the rear-end stepping out from our vantage-point in the pits. Each time this happened, the lighter, rear-engine cars had the advantage on our heavier, front-engine Mustang. Riggins' lap times were nowhere near his qualifying in this 26 car field. Disappointingly, the Heritage Mustang fell quickly from 5th to 12th position in the first few laps. At the end of hour 1, we sat in 11th place, the rear engine Mosler GTS in 3rd.
Fortunately, track conditions steadily improved during the 2 hour/45 minute event. This played into the Heritage team hand. But, there were two other factors which contributed to the our much improved finish: brilliant pit strategy, and spectacular driving.
Every pit-stop made by the Heritage team was under the cover of a yellow flag. An alert crew chief, Joe Harrell, helped to define conditions which could favor caution flags being thrown. With the track partially dried, Tommy Riggins pitted and exited the car. Team owner and co-driver Dave Machavern poured himself through the small window and into the pilot's seat. Just as with Tommy, Dave's lap-times steadily improved as he put in a flawless drive during the long core of the race. By lap 50 of the 96 lap race, Machavern had pulled up into 6th place, the Mosler still leading the GTS cars in 3rd behind 2 DP's, the team-car 58 & 59 Porsches.
At lap 74 (3:37 pm central) the Heritage team took advantage of a late caution with a stop for tires, fuel and a change of drivers, back to Riggins at the wheel. The athletic Machavern exited the Mustang with his thick blue fire-proof driver suit entirely dripping-wet, evidence of the heat and intensity of his drive. Re-entering the race Riggins found the Mosler had slipped to 4th overall, having been passed by the #54 Doran/Chevy DP driven by Terry Borcheller of Phoenix.
All of this made for a great deal of excitement in the Heritage Motorsports pit. Machavern had put Riggins in striking position. The Mustang was "hooked up" and running well on a now-dry track. Fans, camped and picnicking, were witnessing the best and hardest-fought come-from-behind of the weekend. Able to "lay down horsepower", the Mustang's advantage, Machavern and Riggins had blistered through the field... Riggins displaying the skill which makes him 7th on the All-Time International Motor Sports Association Win-List.
The Heritage Motorsports Mustang finished 4th overall, second in class behind the Justin Bell-driven Mosler GTS (Justin is the son of 5-time Le Mans winner, Derek Bell). The 58 Porsche DP had fallen back to 7th place with a right-front hub replacement, Borchellar in the #54 DP taking the overall lead in a terrific last-lap challenge to the remaining #59 Porsche prototype.
The trophies, like the track facility itself, were beautiful... large crystal loving-cups set on golden oak bases. The Heritage Motorsports Mustang team stood proudly in second place on the podium for GTS class cars, AND assuming the first place in team points for the season!
More about the track: First off, a retraction/correction from Saturday evening's release (the last one)... There was NO bond "floated" by the local population, as we had heard from two sources and last reported. The entire $54 Million was paid by George Barber (Barber Dairy and whence Barber Motorsports Park) to build this most spectacular facility. (Learn more at: www.barbermotorsportpark.com Probably the only thing which keeps this facility from arguably being crowned the finest racing track in the world is that it's 45 feet wide instead of 60 (especially in the turns). Look for a feature story in the upcoming issue of AUTOWEEK magazinge, an article on Barber Motorsport Park by Bill McGuire.
Our compliments to -George Barber and his associates at the Bruno Event Team who made every fan feel like a VIP. The way the track is laid out makes spectator viewing both safe and incredibly good. The competitors' cars pass the broad center section of the racing field no less than 4 times each and every lap! With 2.3 miles of course, 16 turns, a huge museum, camping and manicured terraces, its a fabulous place to bring the family, just 15 minutes from Birmingham. Tickets for the ENTIRE WEEKEND were only $35 and kids under 12 were free. With six races (different types of race cars), all the practice sessions and qualifying, the entire weekend gave the locals and distance travelers alike quite an eye-full from Friday through Sunday late-afternoon.
Don't miss the excellent TV coverage of this race to be broadcast on SPEED Channel coming Sunday from 1 to 4 pm. We are certain that SPEED Channel producers will spend some time touring you around this new and grand facility. Find out more about Grand American TV schedules at: www.grandamerican.com/broadcast_schedule.html
Heritage Motorsports wishes to thank our associate sponsor UniFirst for helping us to achieve this first-place in the GTS season points chase. Our hats off and our "shirts on" to UniFirst uniform suppliers. http://www.unifirst.com/index.html
The next race for Heritage Motorsports is Sunday 8 June at California Speedway in Fontana, California, very near Ontario International Airport. The track opens to us on Friday 6 June for practice and qualifying occurs on Saturday 7 June. Television coverage will be "same-day tape-delay" starting on SPEED Channel at 9 pm Eastern Time.
Learn more about Heritage Motorsports at: www.heritagevt.com/motorsports