Lally, Ballou Storm to KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport Victory Sunday Morning at Barber Motorsports Park BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 22, 2007) -- Smart pit strategy and a dominating car landed No. 41 TRG Carlsen Porsche/Mitchell Global...
Lally, Ballou Storm to KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport Victory Sunday Morning at Barber Motorsports Park
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 22, 2007) -- Smart pit strategy and a dominating car landed No. 41 TRG Carlsen Porsche/Mitchell Global Porsche 997 co-drivers Andy Lally and Ted Ballou their first Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport (GS) victory of 2007 Sunday morning at Barber Motorsports Park, as Lally crossed under the checkered flag more than 30 seconds ahead of the 38-car field in the two-and-a-half hour, 82-lap race.
Lally took control from polesitter Doug Goad -- the race's only other leader -- on Lap 48 after storming through the field following an early pit stop, then stayed on the point during the team's second pit stop and gradually increased his margin of victory in the final laps to 31.199 seconds over No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 co-driver Don Salama.
The results were the best KONI Challenge GS finishes for both teams in 2007. Lally and Ballou have finished second twice, the most recent at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, their last together. Lally, teaming with RJ Valentine, finished second in yesterday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve GT Race for TRG.
"It's been a great weekend here," Lally said. "To take a second yesterday and a first today, it's certainly an excellent weekend for TRG and the amount that they've been doing to these cars is just incredible. For it to pay off like this is just a tribute to the team. I've got to say how much fun KONI Challenge is; it's always fun racing with these guys. There are a lot of real good guys in this mix, and any time you can win it means something."
Lally took over from Ballou on Lap 20 and returned the No. 41 Porsche to the track in 23rd. As has become Lally's trademark, he quickly breezed through the field using Turn 5 as his main springboard. By Lap 28, Lally had passed Bret Seafuse in the tight hairpin to climb into fifth position.
One lap later Lally took fourth from Joe Middlebrooks in the same corner and inherited third on Lap 46 when Turner stopped and handed the car over to Salama. A pass on Joe Foster for second came on Lap 47, and one circuit later Lally made an inside move on Goad entering Turn 5, forcing Goad wide into the corner and out of the lead.
A continuously growing lead shrank only as Lally pitted on Lap 69, but a quick pit stop kept him 30 seconds ahead of Salama and to the checkered flag.
"It's a pretty tight twisty course, and if you've got one car that hits it pretty well it will have an advantage," Lally said. "We've been pretty good at saving tires and being fast through the stint. We might not have the fastest car over one lap, but over a stint we do."
Ballou was a top-10 performer his entire stint, starting sixth. He fought his way to sixth before being passed by Salama's teammate, co-driver and owner Will Turner, on Lap 6. Despite reports of contact between at least two cars, Ballou never dropped off the pace and handed the car off to Lally without any severe damage.
"There was quite a bit of banging around at the beginning, but the leaders kind of put a cushion around their cars and aside from getting bumped from behind a few times it was good out there," Ballou said.
After four straight finishes outside the top 10 -- including finishes of 20th and 24th in the last three events -- Salama and Turner desperately needed a strong finish. After starting seventh, Turner ran among the top 10 and drove the race's first portion before handing the car off to Salama under a green flag stop. Salama reentered the race in 25th, but moved through the field with tactical passes and capitalizing on other drivers' pit stops.
Salama moved up to seventh by Lap 66 and was second three laps later as many of the leaders pitted for the second time.
While Lally cruised to first, Salama spent the late stages of the race without any challengers himself. Salama crossed the finish line more than four seconds ahead of No. 49 Marcus Motorsports MAH 720 Property Management/Auriemma Consulting Group co-driver Spencer Pumpelly at the finish.
"At this track, the BMWs and Porsches are pretty close on-track, so I think today was about pit strategy," Salama said. "We did the classic one stop strategy and it worked ok, but obviously at the end of the race there was a big gap between us."
Turner, whose previous best finish of 2007 with Salama was eighth at Iowa Speedway in April, was pleased the car held up to its potential. The car has earned multiple poles this season, but mechanical problems have cost the duo higher finishes.
"Today it was interesting," Turner said. "In qualifying, we zigged when we should have zagged but I knew we had a fast car. It was all about trying to find that rhythm, and the Porsches and BMWs are fast on different parts of this track -- significantly so -- so it makes it tough to get a good lap when you're in a pack."
Pumpelly and co-driver John Mayes endured troubles in the early morning, including a drive-through penalty midway through the event for unnecessary contact with another car. The penalty dropped Pumpelly from eighth to 12th. The veteran Pumpelly kept his composure and, during the second round of stops, moved to a race-high second place.
Pumpelly -- who took over from Mayes on Lap 12 -- stopped for the final time on Lap 67 but a quick stop pushed him only to sixth. Four laps later, he had reclaimed third place.
"I don't think I've ever driven a more smashed car into tech before but that just tells me the guys did a great job," Pumpelly said. "It looked better from the inside than outside. I got out and looked at it and couldn't believe I was driving it for that long."
The race was Mayes' second career KONI Challenge race and first career podium.
"I had a direct hit from a scud going through the hairpin," Mayes said. "It was a pretty hard hit, but luckily it was in the middle of the car and I was able to keep going and didn't lose any track position. It's a real testament to how that car is put together and the integrity of the Porsche because it was a hard hit. The car ran well after that. Spencer did an awesome job, even with the setbacks he had at really making up some track time."
Series championship points co-leaders Jeff Segal and Jep Thornton -- who co-drive the No. 09 Automatic Racing Fresh From Florida/Imported Car Store BMW M3 -- had an initial up-and-down morning turn into another top-five performance with Segal crossing the line in fourth. Thornton started the car ninth but turned the car over to Segal early, with the team falling as low as 33rd position.
Segal took advantage of a full course caution period soon after to catch the field and climbed among the top 10. Segal fell back to 19th on Lap 54, but a final inspired push placed the car in the top-five at the finish. Segal and Thornton have top-five finishes in seven of their nine starts this season.
Tom Long and David Russell in the No. 99 Fresh From Florida/Imported Car Store BMW M3, rounded out the top five. Russell started fourth with Long piloting the car after the team's first pit stop.
No. 55 Hyper Sport Supercuts Ford Mustang GT co-driver Scott Maxwell ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap while running in the top five. Maxwell and co-driver Foster (who entered the race third in the championship, 14 points behind Segal and Thornton) were credited with 19th at the finished. Foster stayed third in the standings, but is now 30 points in arrears of Segal and Thornton.
Goad led the first 47 laps before being passed by the eventual race winner. He later handed his No. 9 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corsa Exhaust Pontiac GTO off to his son, Brandon Goad, but the younger driver spun on the back straight in his professional sports car race debut on Lap 69. The Goads finished 24th.
The KONI Challenge Series GS and Street Tuner (ST) divisions will resume action Aug. 18 at in the Grand Prix de Trois Rivières in Trois Rivières, Quebec, Canada.