The momentum was strong entering the weekend, armed with the knowledge that Lime Rock Park is a Pontiac track and coming off a top 5 finish the previous round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Behind the determined driving of Diego Alessi and team ...
The momentum was strong entering the weekend, armed with the knowledge that Lime Rock Park is a Pontiac track and coming off a top 5 finish the previous round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Behind the determined driving of Diego Alessi and team newcomer Ryan Phinny, the team had every expectation of a podium finish, if not their first win in Rolex Series competition. The team rolled the #21 Baja Cantina Pontiac GTO-R off the truck and immediately began posting quick lap after quick lap. Straight out of the box the driving tandem posted a 54.091 in the first practice session, a time that would have been top 5 during the eventual race itself, a nice start!
Of the early results Phinny states: "The MCM Pontiac was very fast straight away, Diego and I were ready to roll this weekend." The times would only improve as the sessions clicked off, next going to a 53.828 in Practice #2, and a fourth fastest time of 53.051 in Practice #3. Team owner Matt Connolly just kept shaking his head and smiling, at one time saying "That's our Diego, he's never been here and is already among the fastest, and Ryan, that kid is amazing..a dream lineup!" The dream for Phinny isn't anything new; he's been molding his abilities for over 10 years now, which is saying a lot considering he is just finishing up his high school campaign. Ryan is a long time student of sports car veteran Joey Hand. Of his protégé, Hand boasts; "From the beginning I stressed Ryan's race craft, and he picked it up very quickly, which I feel is one of the reasons beyond natural ability for his early success." Joey continues, "I spoke at length with Ryan and his family about the decision to enter Grand Am coming from open wheel, I felt that the match with a team that was on the verge of great things, but hadn't reached their full potential just yet would garner Ryan a lot of attention if he got in with early results, and that's exactly what's happening." Phinny is getting noticed too, one of the Speed Channel commentators during the Lime Rock telecast called Ryan "One of the next great American racers", which is a strong statement the young Californian embodies with every lap.
The MCM team prepared a good set up for qualifying and Ryan Phinny put the car through its paces for a solid run to put the car in P6 for the upcoming race with a fast time of 52.994. With Ryan starting behind a strong field ahead, the green dropped, but the #57 Pontiac GXP-R had issues from the outset just ahead of Phinny and balked the driver enough to send him back to 9th entering turn 1. It didn't take long for Ryan to get back those lost places in the GT field and more. Before long the #21 MCM entry was the fastest car on the circuit and running in second place and gaining on the leader. While lapping one of the Corvettes, Ryan got hit in the rear, cutting down a tire and limping back to the pits for an unscheduled and unwanted early pit stop that would put the car a lap down to his competition. The team worked quickly to get Ryan back out and he was right back on pace picking off the pack to get back up front. Within its pit window, and Phinny stating he felt a tire going down, Ryan brought the GTO- R into the pits in fourth position to hand over to Alessi. As Ryan entered pit lane, the front tire blew, but the team didn't miss a beat to get Diego into the fray.
With no yellows in the race, a pit stop was certain to make you go a lap down, but Diego was in the hunt and picked up where Ryan left off. Before long Diego was back in the top 5, and running among the fastest times of the race when he too felt a front tire going down. Diego would stay out and do his best to bring the black beast home in a good finishing position with no grip left from the tires, and the #21 entry would finish the day in 7th position for the teams second top 10 in as many races. "Unfortunately due to getting hit, and the tires going away late in the stints, we could not capitalize on our potential today. The team was great during the race and worked hard all weekend to give Diego and me a fast car. I was thrilled to be a part of the effort this weekend, we'll take the 7th place finish and see where it takes us" stated Phinny after the race. The team now begins work on three major tasks, prepping the #21 GTO-R for the grueling Watkins Glen 6 hour, figuring out why the tires blew to halt the drivers' momentum, and finally to do what they can to keep this driving tandem together for the balance of the year. Team Owner Matt Connolly states; "These two guys have done such a fantastic job these past two races, and have injected the entire team with the enthusiasm that running at the front can bring, we are working very hard with Ryan's sponsors now to keep them together for the remainder of the 2008 Rolex Grand Am season."