Penske Racing Earns Podium Finish at New Jersey MILLVILLE, N.J. (May 3, 2009) - Timo Bernhard drove the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Porsche Riley to a podium result Sunday, crossing the rain-soaked finish line in third position at New Jersey ...
Penske Racing Earns Podium Finish at New Jersey
MILLVILLE, N.J. (May 3, 2009) - Timo Bernhard drove the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Porsche Riley to a podium result Sunday, crossing the rain-soaked finish line in third position at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Bernhard and co-driver Romain Dumas both ran a strong race under conditions that caused very poor visibility in the Verizon Wireless 250, but ultimately it was a cut tire that ended their chances for victory in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 race.
Dumas started the 87-lap event from the pole position for Penske Racing. He faced a challenge early in the event when pit strategy placed him ninth in the field.
"I could see for one lap and then we pitted," said Dumas. "We came in for a stop-and-go and lost positions on track. It was a good strategy, but the weather was not so good."
Grand-Am Rolex Series competitors are required to stop in the first 45 minutes of a race. Penske Racing's Tim Cindric called Dumas down pit road after lap one to fulfill the requirement and set the car up for a podium finish.
Cindric opted for a stop-and-go rather than servicing the No. 12 with fuel and tires. Two other competitors with the same strategy overtook Dumas in the pits.
"We wanted to maintain position on track but get the stop out of the way," Cindric said. "Two other cars pitted and overtook Romain in the pits. We knew our car was fast enough to move back on point, but the rain hampered Romain's vision for a while."
Dumas drove his portion of the race cautiously but when opportunity presented itself, he closed in and eventually moved up through the field.
"When I was in the back I knew I had a fast car but I couldn't push it," said Dumas. "Once I worked my way through to the front, it was much better. I mean there was water everywhere - outside and inside the car - so I had to take my time, but it was worth it. I knew my lap times would be much more competitive when I got back up front."
The event proved challenging for all competitors. With "rooster tails" flying behind the cars, front runners had a definite advantage over the rest of the field. Dumas made the most of the fast Verizon Wireless entry, moving into the second position before turning the No. 12 Porsche powered race car over to Bernhard.
On lap 23, while the field ran under yellow flag conditions, Cindric asked Dumas for feedback on the car, specifically on its tires. Dumas said the Pirelli rain tires were almost like new. Due to the wet conditions, the tires were still cool and new tires were not needed on the No. 12.
Dumas brought the red and black Riley down pit road to the attention of the Verizon Wireless pit crew on lap 24. The car received fuel only and Bernhard slid behind the wheel to drive the remainder of the race.
Bernhard returned to the field in the fifth position and Dumas said his teammate had his work cut out for him.
"Timo will find it is very difficult to see when you are behind traffic," said Dumas. "The [Verizon Wireless] car is very good. It is for sure the car to beat. Once I made my way back up front, I was really able to show out. "
While the field was once again under a yellow flag, Bernhard struggled to adjust to the wet conditions. He radioed back into the crew for recommendations from Dumas on what line to run in certain areas of the track.
By lap 31 Bernhard had climbed to third place and just one lap later, Race Control called for a competition caution due to heavy rain moving over the track.
On lap 36 Bernhard was posted in first and Race Control announced its intent to go green with the rain lightening up.
"It was raining so hard but like Romain said, once you get out front it is much better," said Bernhard. Once I got out front, I knew that is where I wanted to be for more than one reason."
To aide Bernhard in the areas he struggled with the most, crew members went to separate locations to spot for the Porsche factory driver. Penske Racing's Grand-Am General Manager, John Erickson, went to Turn 1 while the Team Manager, Jon [Myron] Bouslog went to cover the driver coming off Turn 12 and headed to the front straight where rain puddles had formed making the 2.25-mile road-course even more challenging.
"Erickson and Myron were very helpful," said Bernhard. "They were my second and third set of eyes and I definitely needed the help today. We practiced in wet conditions this weekend but nothing like what we drove through today."
On lap 42, Bernhard was still posted in the first position but it wouldn't last much longer. While reviewing data sent from the car, the crew noticed the left rear tire pressure was low. Crew Chief, Billy Vincent, told the team to be ready; a pit stop for tires could be in the near future. Bernhard was then notified of the dilemma.
On lap 44, the field took the green flag and Bernhard began to distance himself from the remainder of the field turning lap times three-seconds faster than his competition.
With one-hour, four-minutes remaining in the two-hour, 45-minute race, Vincent and the Verizon Wireless crew prepared for the impending stop while Cindric radioed the driver.
"You are going to have to push here to put some distance between you and the rest of the field," said Cindric. "We want to get this tire changed and we want to get you back out in front so do what you can."
Bernhard responded, "Give me a few more laps," and continued setting his own pace seconds faster than his closest competition.
On lap 50, Cindric called Bernhard down pit road. His left rear tire was replaced in a blistering four-second stop and Bernhard returned to the track posted in the fifth position.
Tire Specialist A.J. Zarkovich located and removed the cause for low pressure - a sharp rock the size of a pencil eraser had punctured the tire and allowed a slow leak.
Bernhard once again went to task of passing traffic in the rain and again posting lap-times three seconds faster than the front runners. With 33-minutes remaining, Bernhard had fought his way to fourth before getting caught behind a couple of GT cars racing each other for position. Because of the spray from their tires, Bernhard was forced to slow his Daytona Prototype to be safe and avoid a costly mistake.
With 16-minutes remaining Bernhard radioed his crew. He told them he was much faster and knew it but he couldn't push the car because there was so much [rain] water on the racing surface.
Cindric encouraged his driver to remain patient and study the cars ahead, look for their mistakes and capitalize on them when he could.
Bernhard settled in and with less than ten- minutes remaining he found his opportunity to gain another position.
"I knew I could over-take the No. 58 because I had the faster car," said Bernhard. "David [Donahue] was very good and fought me hard but in the end I was able to gain the position.
"We went back and forth for a little while and I hope the fans enjoyed it. David is a tough competitor but I really wanted a podium finish."
With four-minutes remaining Bernhard moved into third-position and held on until the checkered flag was displayed.
Bernhard was one of five leaders in the event, running on point from lap 36 through lap 49. He is still the series leader in laps led this season.
Bernhard and Dumas will return to the U.S. to pilot the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Porsche Riley at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Cali.