Montreal: AIM Autosport race report

AIM Autosport takes the victory in Montreal A thrilling end as the ...

AIM Autosport takes the victory in Montreal
A thrilling end as the #61 Ford Riley goes from first to last to first

Woodbridge, Ontario - August 4, 2008: We won! In the end, there is not much more you can say that has not already been said in the many race reports and media interviews with Brian and Mark. There were in fact, a lot of reports - which tends to happen when you win races, as the closest finish in Rolex Sports Car history was even featured in USA Today. The AIM Autosport victory made the SPEED TV highlight reels in the weekly SPEED Report and was the top highlight on Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel program, also on SPEED TV. Fox Sports even had Mark up at 7:30 a.m. Sunday for an interview on "Race Day on Fox", their satellite radio feed. Even today, three days after that thrilling victory, the AIM Autosport media mailbox is beeping every so often with yet another Google alert about a news story or blog report on the race. Yes, it was an exciting finish, but how we got there is another story indeed.

After suffering some damage while trying to avoid an accident late in the day Thursday, the Exchange Traded Gold No. 61 Ford Riley came to pit lane for qualifying on Friday a bit unproven. The crew had repaired the front suspension and steering components and the car did manage a few laps in the last practice on Thursday, but that was in the wet. Brian reported at the time that there were no major issues with the No. 61 but there would be no opportunity to test any setup changes ahead of qualifying. Brian would have a great run and in the closing laps, place the car on the inside of row two for the start of the race.

Third on the grid was a good place to be, or so it seemed at the start, as Brian launched the Ford-powered Riley into the lead between turns one and two only to be spun around by the 01 car, falling all the way back to last place. Fortunately, Brian got it pointed in the right direction and got underway before the GT class start caught up to him. Still, the No. 61 Ford Riley was now twenty-three seconds back.

The next fifteen laps were... magical. Lap after lap, Brian showed incredible focus and determination as he picked off car after car - three in lap six alone, to make his way up the field. On lap eleven he scored the fastest lap to that point of the race and just five laps later, having just secured seventh place, he improved his time. However, the Exchange Traded Gold No. 61 Ford Riley was now twenty-eight seconds back of the leader. Brian would improve to sixth when the first of the lead pack elected to pit under green. Brain would pit the No. 61 four laps later with the rest of the leaders under the first of only two full course cautions on the day. Fuel, a fresh set of Pirelli tires and Mark taking over the controls, the team seemed ready to run to the end of the two-hour race.

Mark cycled back on track in seventh position and still under caution, the gap to the leader was down to less than four seconds. Mark seemed to struggle at first when the green flag came out and race engineer Jim Malicki urged him on and gave the go ahead to go to full race mapping for fuel. Another short caution period and when the green came out, Mark took the fight to the cars ahead setting up some incredible passing attempts into the last chicane and there are definitely some paint scrapes along the side of the car. But Mark did not give in and his pace increased. Mark would record the fastest lap of the race - a 1.34.152, on lap fifty-five (although the 59 car would record a 1:34.101 three laps later) as he chased the 01 car. Mark worried the 01 into a mistake and took fourth spot and with just six laps to go, Malicki called for Mark to run in fuel conservation mode. Fourth would match our best result since entering the series. However, as the final lap would prove, racing is a funny game.

The white flag came out on lap sixty-eight and everyone on the AIM Autosport crew seemed happy to be coming home fourth after being spun all the way back to last place. Then the 23 car, in its fight to challenge for the lead, ran out of fuel elevating the No. 61 to the final podium spot. As this writer prepared to walk down to the pit box and join the crew in celebration of the podium, I heard the race engineer calmly say into the radio, "Mark, that is for P2. Go to race map and go get 'em." Looking at the monitors, Mark was right on the 16 car coming through the final chicane and then, just yards form the finish line, the 58 car ran out of fuel. The 16, now sputtering, went left and Mark, pedal firmly planted to the floor, went right, crossing the finish line just .064 seconds - less than half a car length, ahead of second place and victory belonged to AIM Autosport. An incredible victory for the sole Canadian team in Daytona Prototypes to earn its maiden win on Canadian soil. Let me tell you, my feet did not seem to touch the steps down from the media tower to the pit box and it was quite the scene as Mark pulled the No. 61 to the pit and one of the largest crowds in Rolex history went wild.

AIM Autosport has been so close before. In fact, the Exchange Traded Gold No. 61 Ford Riley has lead at least one lap in seven of ten races so far this season. The team only once qualified outside the top five - a seventh at Barber Motorsport Park two weeks ago where they came the closest to a win, leading the race with ten to go when the car suffered a mechanical failure. They have a pole and three front-row starts so far this season and the car has always been quick. And there is a reason for that, because everyone on the team is dedicated to getting the job done and they all feel the heartbreak when things go wrong. Friday night, the entire crew, along with family, friends and the support crew from Roush Yates that builds our Ford engines, celebrated into the wee hours of the morning... and rightly so. But early Saturday morning, that same group of revelers were back at Circuit Gilles Villenuve to prepare the car for this weeks race at Watkins Glen. Laurels are great, but if you rest on them, it is a lot more difficult to earn some new ones.

-credit: aim autosport

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Series Grand-Am