Stevenson Pontiac In Second Place In Championship With One To Go On Labor Day weekend, the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 came to the New Jersey Motorsports Park venue for the next to last race of the 2008...
Stevenson Pontiac In Second Place In Championship With One To Go
On Labor Day weekend, the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 came to the New Jersey Motorsports Park venue for the next to last race of the 2008 season. For the championship contending No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports -- BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R, driven by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell, the Supercar Life 250 was a rewarding effort as they pulled down a solid second place finish.
The great run here moved the duo up into second place in the driver's championship with just 5 points now separating them from the top pair of Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins, driving the No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R. A series of misfortunes pushed the Banner boys down to a 10th place finish in this race. With just one race left on the schedule -- the SunRichGourmet.com 1,000 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah -- the opportunity for the Stevenson teammates to overtake Edwards and Collins is very real.
While a win at New Jersey was never guaranteed, a close battle with another GT car lent credence to the possibility. Liddell and Andy Lally, driving a TRG Porsche, were running nose to tail for the last half of the race with both taking turns at the front of the pack. In the closing laps a hard charging Daytona Prototype came inside Liddell at the end of the straight, forcing him into the marbles at the edge of the track. Liddell was forced to lift just enough to stay on the asphalt but the momentary bobble allowed Lally to pull out enough of a lead that Liddell could not catch him in the few minutes remaining. They crossed the finish line just a few car lengths apart.
Team Manager Mike Johnson was very satisfied with second and pleasantly surprised that his team now heads into the last race just five points out of first.
"Andy Lally was very strong. The Porsche had the edge on the straight and we had a little bit on the infield. We knew it was just a matter of time before he would be able to drag by us. We had gotten one warning earlier in the race when we had a few wheels go off in the dirt. We never put the pressure on hard enough after that because we had too much to loose. If we had dropped wheels off again we would have had a penalty and probably ended up finishing 10th or something like that, and that would not have been good at all. I think we feel that second is great since the No 70 Mazda and the 07 Banner car both had not so great days."
This weekend's event marked the first time the Grand-Am Rolex series -- or any major road racing series -- came to this new circuit located outside the city of Millville, in southern New Jersey. Recently completed, the circuit was lined with loose dirt on which grass had not yet taken hold. Several caution periods ensued as cars would go off time and again, raising enormous clouds of dirt each time. And each time some of that dirt would land on the racing surface which meant other cars would come to slide off the racing line and kick up still more dirt.
Andrew Davis commented on the race conditions and outlined the rules that Grand-Am laid down for the racers at this new race circuit.
"The track is really narrow but I have to tell you, after the first day I found I loved racing here. There are a few elevation changes and sweeping curves that really suit our Pontiac. The dirt and marbles made it tough to stay on the track if you were moved off line. At the driver's meeting Mark Raffauf (Managing Director of Competition) told us to think of this as driving on a street circuit. If you go off onto the dirt think of it as if you had hit a concrete wall on a street circuit. That is why they imposed a penalty if you went off more than once."
Liddell noted that the track conditions, and the misfortunes that befell the two teams closest to the Stevenson team in the standings, gave the No. 57 squad a new focus for this, the penultimate round of the season.
"Andy Lally and I did have quite a little battle going", Liddell said, "but our overall approach to this race was to be a bit conservative. I felt that, with the dust flying around and all, it would make it difficult to keep our car on the pavement. I was therefore reasonably cautious, and since the Porsche's were a little bit quicker I let them by.
"I felt we had a good car but not a great one. Andy passed me at one point and I was able to pass him back again. But at that late stage in the race we knew where the 07 and 70 cars were so our first priority was to consolidate our point's position going forward to Utah. What really made a difference for us were our pit stops. The crew did a fantastic job of getting us out quickly on both stops."
As the team prepares for the last race of 2008, Davis and Liddell are very satisfied with what has transpired this season, and with the somewhat unique game plan they intend to follow for the 1,000K endurance race.
Liddell: "We feel we are going into this race in a nice position because we have pressure on the 07 car, and the Mazda team (SpeedSource drivers Nick Ham and Sylvan Tremblay) is quite a bit back so they have nothing to lose and will go for it. If we had gone into Utah like we were going into this weekend, it would have been unrealistic to think we had a chance of winning without some drastic problems. But now we are in the hunt and we can actually make it happen."
Team owner John Stevenson expressed his sense of pride in his team, and his optimism that they can prevail in the end, when he said, "I am extremely proud of our entire team. Our drivers, Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell, have performed flawlessly. Team manager, Mike Johnson, has had great strategy, and the best pit crew in the Rolex GT series has performed with top precision all year. We just need to do this one more time at Salt Lake City."
Andrew Davis explained just how this solidly successful team intends to approach the championship-deciding Utah race.
"Robin and I asked team owner John Stevenson to let us run the last race without a third driver. We feel we can and should tackle this last shot on our own, without a third driver possibly having an impact on the outcome. There are some tremendously talented people out there who could join us and perhaps give us a boost, but we asked if we could finish the job on our own and John said we should go for it."
And Mike Johnson couldn't agree more with the idea of 'going for it'.
"We are really happy to get out of here with second place and go into Miller just five points out." said Johnson, "I never would have expected us to be that close with one race left. And when we are six hours into the race at Miller, well, we might just handle the last 10 laps a little differently!"
The Supercar Life 250 was the 12th race of the Rolex Series 2008 season for the GT class. It marked the 10th time the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports -- BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R has finished in the top ten. In eight of those races, Davis and Liddell have stood on the podium, including three wins, two second, and three third place finishes.
Stevenson teammates Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis have moved up into second place in the standings for the GT Driver's Championship. They cut the deficit from 16 down to jut 5 points out of first place. The Stevenson Team also moved into second place in the GT Team Championship standings.