Lally, Valentine Score Third Rolex Series Grand-Am GT Victory Sunday in EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Andy Lally put the No. 66 TRG CRG/Maxter Porsche GT3 in victory lane for the third time in the last four Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car ...
Lally, Valentine Score Third Rolex Series Grand-Am GT Victory Sunday in EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio
Andy Lally put the No. 66 TRG CRG/Maxter Porsche GT3 in victory lane for the third time in the last four Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve GT races Sunday in the EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as he held off Sylvain Tremblay in the two-and-a-half hour, 94-lap race.
Lally, who took over from co-driver RJ Valentine during a Lap 1 caution, took the lead from Leighton Reese with an outside pass on Turn 7 on Lap 61. From there, Lally led by as many as 37 seconds before the race's last caution, but pulled away from Tremblay over the final six minutes to post a 1.195-second advantage. The win -- which complements their victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen International -- put Lally and Valentine into a fourth-place tie in the championship point standings, now only seven points out of the lead.
The car was handling so well the team didn't change tires on the final stop of the race. Lally entered the pits on Lap 70 for fuel only and returned to the track in the lead. Cautions forced his lead to dwindle, and his only challenge came when Tremblay tried a pair of outside passes in the final 10 minutes.
"We had no radio with 20 minutes to go, but TRG gave us the best car in the field again," said Lally, who led a race-high 34 laps averaged 84.297 mph. "My guys did a super phenomenal job in getting everything going. Win No. 3 this year, and we're moving up in the points. We set up a pretty neutral car, so it wasn't too dramatic."
In the post-race media conference, Valentine explained his role heading into this race did not differ from any other this season.
"Our strategy is always that I get out on the first yellow," Valentine said. "Today it came on the first lap and we stuck with our strategy. Look, at my age, I am just happy to be here racing against such great and talented guys. The older I get, the better I was and I know I am not as quick as these guys but I also know what my job is and I love it. Every Monday morning after a race, I pinch myself because being part of this and racing with these guys is a dream."
Tremblay and No. 70 SpeedSource Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8 co-driver Nick Ham -- who said Saturday he felt the team was back to its early season form -- showed speed all afternoon on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn track. Ham led during his stint, passing three cars on a Lap 10 restart and pulling away from Kelly Collins. Despite a spin, Ham drove the car through two pit stops, and turned the car over to Tremblay, who stalked Lally during the late laps before pulling alongside a couple times. However, Tremblay's passes were not completed, and the team settled for second, their first podium finish since running second at Virginia International Raceway.
"Unfortunately, we didn't have anything for them at the end," said Tremblay, now only 10 points out of the lead. "We closed up, obviously. I took a lot of chances on the restart, but that's all I had. We were very aggressive, but we don't have enough for the Porsches right now. The Pontiac was coming at the end, but I snookered him on the restart and then we got going. We're not done, we've still got work to do."
Ham said he knew all weekend the team would be contenders. The duo won two races earlier this season.
"I'm really pleased with the whole team effort," Ham said. "I was really driving well at the start. I was having so much fun racing with Kelly (Collins) and the guys. Then I had a spin. I couldn't believe it; it swapped ends on me coming over Madness (Turns 4 and 5). But it kept going, and we got Sylvain in and he did everything he could. It's so good to be back on the podium. We stopped the bleeding."
After taking the pole at record speed Saturday, Collins partnered with Paul Edwards in the No. 07 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R to score their fourth podium of 2007. Edwards got in late, but moved through a fast pack of cars at the end. Their third-place finish was not only another podium finish, it also elevated the first year team's into a three-driver tie for the point standings. Collins, Edwards and rookie Dirk Werner all have 223 points to Lally and Valentine's 216.
"We finished third with a clutch that was failing on us," Edwards said. "There was the potential of not finishing the race, and it's important that we got third and moved up in the points. So we're looking good in the points battle, but we sure wanted that win. We were quick all week. We're a little bit disappointed, but at the same time, once again, it was a good result with all the problems."
Collins spent three laps in the lead but an ill-timed pit stop -- on Lap 26 as the field took the green flag -- dropped Collins back to 16th. However, smart driving and a strong right foot helped him turn the car over to Edwards in the top 10.
"During that yellow, when car No. 81 was getting towed in, the tow driver was towing the car on-line," Collins said. "We had to follow the pace car around on the outside in all the marbles. That's where I collected all the stuff on the tires, and I couldn't get it off. In hindsight, that's where I got it, but at the time I didn't know if I had a flat or not, I couldn't control the car. We were in the lead, the pace car lights were out, but I made an executive decision 'This is going to be bad, but I need to come in.' Regardless of what it was, it was a problem. It actually worked to our advantage. We probably should have pitted under that caution anyways. That's the way it went. We had a slipping clutch all the way, so we were very lucky to finish."
Ian James and Tom Nastasi drove to fourth in the No. 15 Blackforest Motorsports USG Sheetrock/Guardian Insulation Ford Mustang GT for the car's season-best finish of fourth. Nastasi ran in the top five nearly his entire stint before handing the car off to James, who had to return to pit road the next lap after failing to secure the car's window net. A late spin did not deter their efforts.
No. 74 Tafel Racing Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 drivers Wolf Henzler and Eric Lux were also top-five contenders all afternoon, and were rewarded with fifth. Lux was part of a seven-car train early in the race, and Henzler moved up steadily, notching fifth during the last five minutes of the race after passing No. 06 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R driver Tim Lewis Jr. Lewis and Reese -- who led 23 laps after starting second -- were relegated to sixth.
Shawn Price, who started last in the 26-car field in the No. 21 Matt Connolly Motorsports Pontiac GTO, drove all the way to the lead thanks to strong pit strategy early, leading led 20 laps. However, two spins and a pair of pit lane speed violations by himself and co-driver Hal Prewitt forced the car out of contention. The duo eventually retired the car in 18th.
Incoming race point leader Werner was never in the hunt after taking over the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3 from co-driver Bryce Miller. Both drivers suffered flat tires, and Miller was assessed a drive-through penalty for unnecessary contact while going for the lead. Miller fell a lap down, and Werner couldn't get the car into the top 10. He finished 12th, the first time the duo has not finished on the podium in six races. Miller dropped from third to seventh in points, 12 behind Werner.
The second Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3 did not take the grid after an incident in the morning warm-up. Driver Leh Keen in the No. 85 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3 was following Mark Pavan in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R when Pavan spun. With nowhere to go, Keen T-boned the No. 30, and the pair's cars did not start. Pavan was treated at the Mid-Ohio infield medical center, while Keen was transported by ambulance to MedCentral/Mansfield Hospital for X-rays and observation. He was diagnosed with a broken collarbone and bruised lung, but was expected to be released later Sunday.