Cincinnati's RJR Racing Group Runs as High as Fourth and Finishes Ninth In Its First Rolex Series Race Ever Sunday at Mid-Ohio The new team did just fine. Many new race cars don't do well in their first race, and many new teams have some...
Cincinnati's RJR Racing Group Runs as High as Fourth and Finishes Ninth In Its First Rolex Series Race Ever Sunday at Mid-Ohio
The new team did just fine.
Many new race cars don't do well in their first race, and many new teams have some growing pains. Neither applied to the RJR Racing Group's first Rolex Series race ever, however, as team owner/driver Rene Robichaud, lead driver BJ Zacharias, crew chief John Wright and the rest of the Cincinnati-based team finished ninth in the Rolex GT race Sunday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after running as high as fourth.
Their brand-new Porsche GT3 Cup No. 96 was sitting under a tarp in a showroom a month ago, but it ran like a champion Sunday in its first race, which was televised on SPEED.
Robichaud qualified 18th, got a good start, and immediately dipped into the pits on lap one to get the mandatory pit stop within the race's first 45 minutes out of the way. Others did the same, and Robichaud was quickly up to 11th place. He ran consistent laps, kept the car out of any incidents, and he was in 12th place on lap 22 when he pitted for four Hoosier tires, fuel, and Zacharias to take over under a full-course yellow when Milton Grant's Porsche came to a halt along the 2.258-mile road course.
Zacharias began his charge in 19th place on the restart on lap 26 with one hour and 45 minutes left in the two-and-a-half-hour race. Five laps later he was in 14th, running between brothers Wayne and Will Nonnamaker, and setting the team's fastest lap with a 1:26.451 for an average speed of 94.028 miles per hour.
He was still the meat in the Nonnamaker sandwich by lap 40 but he had advanced to 12th place by then, and he kept consistently moving up. With an hour and three minutes left he vaulted to ninth on lap 53 as some of the drivers ahead of him pitted, and three minutes later he was seventh, running between Wayne Nonnamaker and Kelly Collins, who was driving the pole-winning Pontiac.
He moved into sixth shortly thereafter, and he got fifth on lap 68 when a wheel hub broke on the third-place Porsche driven by Ian Baas.
The event's fourth caution flew two laps later when Shawn Price stopped on the course. The restart on lap 75 didn't go smoothly, and although Zacharias moved up to fourth, he later received a stop-and-go penalty for allegedly advancing his position before the green waved. The team contended that he had just moved over so he wouldn't hit the car ahead of him in the melee, but the penalty was imposed and effectively cost the team five positions. Zacharias had drifted back to ninth on the scoreboard by lap 80, and he was still in that spot when the checkered waved on lap 94.
Throughout his stint Zacharias had several close calls, and the Porsche's front spoiler cracked when he went off course once to miss a Mazda that spun right in front of him. He had a nice battle with Dave Lacey for a while too, and finished right ahead of Lacey's Doncaster Racing Porsche.
B.J. Zacharias: "We were up to fourth, but then I got a stop-and-go penalty because the official said I jumped the start.
"There were lots of incidents; one was with a Mazda and another was with a Mustang. We had intermittent radio contact too.
"I got the stop-and-go penalty because they said I moved ahead on a restart. I know I pulled over to the inside, because cars were going everywhere. What happened was the guy ahead of me brake-checked me; I would have plowed into him otherwise. It was either move over or hit him, and I thought moving over was the better choice.
"Rene did great. He was very consistent and gave me a good car for my stint. He kept it on the lead lap.
"The whole team did really awesome. John made all the right calls on pit strategy.
"The first part of my stint I just pedaled as hard as I could to move up. We ran a little more downforce than some of the other cars. They'd pull me down the straightaways, and then I'd get them in the corners.
"Once when I was going through the gears on a restart a car ahead of me got on the brakes hard and brake-checked me pretty bad. He gave me little options. I went wide into that corner on the end of the backstretch and I got a ton of debris on my tires. It took me three of our laps to get the debris off. Then I just started chopping wood again.
"I was battling with a Mazda and he spun in front of me. I went to the outside and then he rolled off the brakes. He was dropping fluid of some kind too. I went off in the grass to miss him, and that's what ripped up the front spoiler. That hampered our handling some, but I kept on pedaling away.
"Most of the problems happened on the restarts. Everybody was fighting tire debris.
"I did my whole stint on one set of tires. It's a top-10. I'll take it."
Rene Robichaud: "It was a top-10 finish for the rookie team after a questionable call. We got a stop-and-go penalty on the second-to-last restart for moving out of line on the restart, but we would have hit the car ahead of us if BJ hadn't moved over. We didn't gain a position, and that call cost us maybe five positions.
"It was a real battle. BJ drove very well. He missed cars that were spinning around us. One of those cars cracked our nose, which hurt us. But the whole team did a great job. You have to remember that this car was in plastic wrappers a month ago, and today it ran in the top five and finished in the top 10. I'm very proud of our team."