Lime Rock: Banner Racing race report

Banner Pontiac GXP.Rs win second straight Grand-Am GT race at Lime Rock Lakeville, Connecticut (May 26, 2008): Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins powered the ...

Banner Pontiac GXP.Rs win second straight Grand-Am GT race at Lime Rock

Lakeville, Connecticut (May 26, 2008): Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins powered the #07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R home to the checkered flag to win the Lime Rock GT Classic on Memorial Day. The win was the third of the season for Collins and Edwards and the fifth straight for Pontiac in the ACXIOM GT class of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. as the duo increased both their lead in the Grand-Am GT Driver's Championship but strengthened Pontiac's lead in the Manufacturers' Title.

The #06 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R of Jan Magnussen and Ron Fellows finished 4th in the 164 lap race that went green from flag to flag after Fellows spun out of the lead with four laps remaining and had difficulty restarting the car as the starter failed to engage.

"This was a bitter sweet deal for sure," said team owner Leighton Reese of the win and 4th place finish. "I wanted to get a one-two for Banner Engineering and I definitely wanted a one-two for Pontiac and we came so close. We had some pretty crazy strategy going, very divergent, and they came back together at the end so it all worked."

"This was a sweet win for Pontiac here and dominating performance this weekend," said Paul Edwards. "I didn't know if we were going to be this strong or not. The Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R was solid the whole day. This track is pretty hard on cars. It is pretty bumpy and turn six on the bumps is pretty brutal on the underside of the chassis but our Banner Pontiac has been flawless all year. We haven't had any issues or problems, no funny feelings in the steering wheel all year which is great if you are trying to win a championship."

As the race wore on it became apparent that the two Banner Pontiacs were the class of the field as Denmark racer Jan Magnussen brought the #06 Banner Pontiac from last to first after a scheduled first lap fuel stop put him well back of the leaders. Meanwhile Kelly Collins, of Newport Beach California, was playing a waiting game in 5th position letting the field sort itself out.

Collins spent the early stages of the race trying to find a way past the #70 Mazda of Ham and the #87 Porsche of Farnbacher as Magnussen was blasting up through the field and was clearly the fastest car on the track at that point. Collins had gotten passed by both Farnbacher and Ham during a very frenetic start of the race.

"When we came down for the start we got tightly bunched up," said Collins. "Tim (pole sitter Lewis Jr.) has the right to set the pace but I thought it would be a faster rolling start because our Pontiacs are at a deficit as far as a drag race goes. The Porsches and Mazdas have more straight line speed and when we came down for the green we were all tightly bunched and the Mazda and Porsche just went right by us."

After the race settled in during the first 30 minutes the only problem that Collins was having was with lapped traffic as he moved to the lead. When Paul Edwards replaced Collins in the #07 Pontiac, Paul and Jan were at the front and controlling the race with a 1 lap lead after the pole sitting Pontiac of Lewis and Aschenbach faded due to minor suspension damage.

"Actually the Mazda has the power to pull out and pass these guys and I have to do it in the corners," said Collins at the end of his stint. "I understand that from their point of view they don't want to go a lap down or lose a position so they really made me work for it.

"Our Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.Rs are the best and most stable platform out there right now. No one was really setup for this heat so we have push and over steer right now. Basically the car right now is just as neutral has it has been but we are compensating for the increasing lack of grip by softening up the sway bars."

When Ron Fellows later replaced Magnussen in the #06 Banner Pontiac they had put the entire field one or more laps down and it was looking like it was not a question of if a Banner Pontiac would win but which Banner Pontiac would win.

"The 68 Porsche and the 21 Pontiac gave me a lot of trouble getting past but it was a good stint and the Banner Pontiac GXP.R was excellent," said Jan Magnussen after turning over the car to Fellows near the half way mark of the race. "The Banner Racing team did a fantastic job really, thanks to all the guys. The car was easy to drive and good on the tires and I was able to push the entire stint. It dropped off a little bit but I was able to stay consistent at the end of the stint which was very important."

When the Rolex Grand-Am GT Series race at Lime Rock came down to the final 30 laps it was looking like a Banner Racing 1-2 finish as Ron Fellows and Paul Edwards had their 06 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R at the front one lap ahead of the 3rd place Mazda of Ham and Trembley.

Fellows held a 3 to 4 second gap over Edwards and the question being asked in the pits was if Fellows would be asked to play team mate and let the series leading car of Collins and Edwards pass to gain more points.

"No way," said team owner Leighton Reese. "All of these guys want to win so it is only fair that they race for the win! As long as they don't crash into each other they will decide this on the track where it should be."

"Those guys (Fellows and Magnussen) came over here for one thing and one thing only," said Collins in agreement with that decision. "That's the way Grand-Am is. Ron was on it; Paul was on it. Team orders do not play into this."

When Fellows got balked in the ever present Lime Rock traffic his 3 second lead vanished and for the next 15 laps Fellows and Edwards raced their Banner Pontiacs nose to tail and rather than sitting on their generous lead they were increasing it. In fact Edwards set his fastest lap of the race on the 143 lap trying to catch Fellows.

As the race had played out both cars were on differing pit strategies and in a caution free race there were no caution periods to get everyone into sync. As the race progressed when he entered his fuel window to finish the race without stopping Edwards pitted for fuel and four fresh Pirelli tires handing the lead to Fellows but the Banner crew did an excellent job again getting Paul out of the pits just in front of Fellows.

Later on lap 118 of 164 Fellows, with about a 49 second lead, stopped for a timed fuel stop (10 seconds of fuel) and no tires.

"We wanted to keep Ron and the 06 Pontiac in the lead and if we had changed tires he would have been dropped out of the lead," said crew chief Joe Kantarik. "It was definitely a gamble but a worthwhile gamble."

But under heavy pressure from Edwards Fellows had the back end step out on him in the middle of Big Bend and Ron spun with Edwards narrowly missing him. The spin wouldn't have been a huge problem because he was still over a lap up on the #70 Mazda of Ham but unfortunately the starter jammed and it took almost two laps for Fellows to get the car restarted and that was what dropped the Magnussen and Fellows Banner Pontiac out of a well earned podium finish.

"I got a little bit wide, slipping and sliding, and I just lost it, I feel awful," said Fellows after the race. "It is as simple as that. My biggest concern was that I wanted to make sure to turn completely and go back straight because I didn't want to hit Paul. That was my biggest concern when it started to lose control. The Banner guys did a great job and I kind of bungled it up at the end.

"We needed a little more traffic to help us at the end. We didn't have any tires left but the traffic seemed to work in our favor. It was disappointing though.

"I was sliding the fronts, sliding the rears. I could see he (Paul Edwards) had more mid turn grip and forward bite and I was just holding on for all that it was worth and just didn't get it done. The starter was jammed and I had to rock it in gear to get it engaged and it finally fired."

"Luckily I saw the dirt there and when Ron started spinning I kind of held beck a little bit and luckily it was enough to avoid all contact with him," said Edwards. "He got into one of those slow sideways spins that you can't do anything with and he was caught on the cement patch with no grip. We had some fresher tires than them, we were on different race strategies and it was a gamble and it paid off.

"Our pit stops were great we gained 10 seconds on out first stop which put us back up in contention and the car had great balance although it had a little more push in it than I would have liked but we had much better balance than everybody else obviously so we were able to win it.

"I pushed as hard as I could that last stint. There was nothing left because I was going all out to catch Ron at the end. It is too bad that the dust caught Ron out."

Ron brought the 06 Banner Pontiac in 4th position which after the strong run he and Jan Magnussen had shared was a disappointment.

"Yes, I am definitely happy for the win and it was good that we won and solidified our lead in the points chase and we are on a mission to do that so overall it was a good weekend," concluded Reese. "But how often does a team owner get to finish one-two and we came oh so close today."

The win for Collins and Edwards gives them a 19 point lead over Pumpelly and George (189 to 170) in the drivers' title. Ham and Trembley are next with 161. In the Manufacturers' Championship the win helped Pontiac increase the lead over Porsche to 8 (164 to 158) with Mazda in 3rd with 143.

-credit: br

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Paul Edwards , Jan Magnussen , Ron Fellows , Kelly Collins , Leighton Reese