Lally and Ballou secure top finish for TRG at EMCO Gears Classic podium at Mid-Ohio; TRG's Stanton and Gutierrez finish fifth LEXINGTON, Ohio - It was a wet and wild start - and finish - for the four TRG Porsches at the Grand-Am Rolex Sports...
Lally and Ballou secure top finish for TRG at EMCO Gears Classic podium at Mid-Ohio; TRG's Stanton and Gutierrez finish fifth
LEXINGTON, Ohio - It was a wet and wild start - and finish - for the four TRG Porsches at the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Ted Ballou, who started today's GT race from the seventh row in the No. 66 Mitchell Rubber Porsche GT3 Cup, gained a couple of positions at the start. However, just minutes after the race started a massive rainfall hit the 2.258-mile circuit and Ballou had his hands full trying to control the car on slick tires. Navigating the treacherous conditions and trying to stay out until the last possible moment, he unfortunately went a lap down to the leaders.
Lally spent the majority of his stint trying to gain back the lap the duo had lost early in the race. Not only did Lally gain the lap back, but he also had his eyes on the drying skies. With the track still under wet conditions, the team made a gutsy call with a wet but drying track and only 13 laps remaining to put Lally out on dry tires. They did this hoping to make up significant time over the competition who were all still on rain tires.
At the time, the decision was a big gamble. The gamble worked. As the track continued to dry out, Lally was picking up six to nine seconds a lap on the GT leaders. Unfortunately, a late-race accident on the front straight kept Ballou and Lally off the podium and they had to settle for fourth.
"The car was good at the start," Ballou said. "I picked up a couple of places. I had a good battle until it started raining real hard. Everything cut loose after that. We talked about strategy and decided for me to try to stay out for 30 minutes before putting Andy in the car. Unfortunately, while everyone was running on rain tires doing two minute laps we were running on slicks doing four minute laps. But, I made it."
"It was just a good old fun time at Mid-Ohio," said Lally, the co-defending race winner from a year ago. "But, we needed it to stay green there at the end to get at least second. We really tried to get the Porsche back up on the podium and we came close."
Driving in just his second race with the team, Josemanuel Gutierrez put on an impressive driving display today in the No. 65 Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing/Total R Insulation Solutions Porsche GT3 Cup for TRG/Riegel Autosport. Gutierrez ran as high as eighth before turning the No. 65 machine over to co-driver and 2005 Rolex Series GT champion Craig Stanton.
Stanton demonstrated on the track why he is a former Rolex Series GT champion. He put together a consistent drive that had the No. 65 running fourth with only six laps to go in the race. While Lally made the decision earlier to put on dry tires to make up track position, Stanton made the decision to stay on the rain tires because he was just seconds behind the other GT leaders with only a handful of laps remaining. The strategy almost worked. But, unfortunately for Stanton, Lally passed him on the penultimate lap and Stanton finished fifth.
"It was very treacherous," Gutierrez said of his stint. "It was very slippery. There were cars going off every where. I just had to keep my cool and just go as fast as I could. I drove a lot of laps on slicks. It was raining hard and I couldn't see anything. My windshield fogged up. But overall, I had a real nice car. The TRG crew and engineers gave me a fantastic car. It was really good. I think I performed well because they all helped me. And, I am very grateful for everyone at TRG."
"The car never missed a beat," Stanton said. "Under that last yellow, I was thinking, 'this is the call.'" And, Kevin actually called it for 66. They put slicks put on and he rolled up through the pack. These guys at TRG are brilliant. These guys did a stellar job. I can't thank them enough."
RJ Valentine, who is TRG's other co-defending race winner from a year ago, did a fantastic job in the No. 68 CRG/Maxter/Rotax/MBA Group/F1 Air Porsche GT3 Cup. In fact, Valentine drove the No. 68 Porsche from near the back of the field to near the front before his 30-minute stint was over and that is when his teammate Bryan Sellers took the controls.
On lap 51, Sellers took the race lead and led for the next nine laps. With just six laps to go and running third, Sellers made a pit stop to put dry tires on and went back out to hunt down the leaders. Sellers looked to turn the same lap times his other TRG teammate Lally was turning (six to nine seconds faster than the GT competition). Unfortunately, Sellers' day ended just two laps shy of the end, when his No. 68 Porsche sustained right rear end damage from an accident on the front straight with the No. 88 Porsche who lost control of his car and ran into the 68.
"The first two or three laps, we were right up there," Valentine said of his start. "We were as quick as we were in qualifying. Then, it started to rain and it was like an ice skating rink out there. It was really bad. There were cars going off. It was hard to turn the car. I nursed it around and handed it over to Bryan. He did a great job."
It was a tough day for Rolex GT championship contenders Tim George Jr. and Spencer Pumpelly. George started 10th in the No. 67 Porsche GT3 Cup. But, for all intents and purposes, his day was done just eight laps into the race when the rains came. The heavy downpour contributed to a multi-car accident that included George. His No. 67 machine sustained damage that required extensive repair. The TRG crew repaired the damage and sent George back out to earn some valuable championship points.
"It was super wet out there," George said of the conditions prior to his accident. "Four cars went off down towards the Keyhole. I got on the brakes and thought I had the car settled enough to turn it. I just got sideways. The 06 car was sitting at a strange angle. I slid off the track and clipped him. It was so bad that I dented the roll cage and the drive shaft dropped."
"That was a crazy race," Team Owner Kevin Buckler said of today's Rolex GT race. "When you have those wet/dry and worse yet, tweener conditions, it is really tough. The 65 guys really ran a great race. Josemanuel hung on like I couldn't believe in the most treacherous conditions. All of those guys who toughed out the first stint did a fantastic job. Those were some incredibly tough conditions. Craig finished P5. He hung on with the rain tires at the end and a terrible car with the way it was handling because all of the tires were dead.
"We made the right call on the 66. We just needed a few more laps. Andy was gobbling up the field. He was the only GT car on with slicks until 68 came in towards the end. We just needed three or four more laps and we could've won the race. It was real close. [The race] it went yellow at a real inopportune time. We had to settle for P4. We would have finished P2 for sure and maybe higher.
"Unfortunately, the No. 67 got in a wreck early, which was a bummer. Tim did get back out there to pick up some points.
"The No. 68, with RJ and Bryan, was leading for awhile, which was awesome. RJ really had his hands full and drove perfectly. All those years of experience really show up for a veteran like RJ when you have live or die conditions like this. Bryan had to make a late race call to come in a put slicks on at the very end. Unfortunately, Steve Johnson in the 88 car didn't see Bryan passing him drove into him hard.
"All of the first stint guys, Ted, Josemanuel, RJ, and Tim, were the heroes out there today."
The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Cars Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 heads to the World Center of Racing July 3 for the Brumos Porsche 250.