Pontiac Grand-Am Teams Ready for Miller Finale; Stevenson and Banner battle for GT championship Detroit, Mich., September 16, 2008 -- Pontiac Grand-Am Daytona Prototype (DP) and GT teams are headed to Miller Motorsport Park just outside of Salt...
Pontiac Grand-Am Teams Ready for Miller Finale; Stevenson and Banner battle for GT championship
Detroit, Mich., September 16, 2008 -- Pontiac Grand-Am Daytona Prototype (DP) and GT teams are headed to Miller Motorsport Park just outside of Salt Lake City for the final round of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Sunrichgourmet.com 1000k to run on Saturday, September 20. The finale will feature the showdown between the No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R and the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsport Pontiac GXP.R.
Collins and Edwards lead GT points
Liddell and Davis third in GT points
Pontiac leads GT point standings
Pontiac leads manufacturer DP points chase
Seven hour race
The 4.486-mile, 24-turn Miller Motorsport Park circuit, the longest in the country, will be the site of the Rolex Series GT championship decision. There are three GT entries that have the possibility of winning the title, the No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R, the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R and the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8.
The No. 07 Pontiac GXP.R of Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards is currently leading the GT series points chase with 337. The duo has raced to victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Laguna Seca and at Lime Rock Park. Collins and Edwards must finish ahead of the pursuing No. 70 car as well as the Stevenson Motorsport No. 57 GXP.R to walk across the stage in Las Vegas at the Grand-Am banquet on Monday evening as the GT champions. Lawson Aschenbach has been drafted into the team as a third driver for the seven-hour race.
"I think we will be hurting to the Porsche and Mazda at Miller," Collins said. "It will be an uphill battle. We need to do as best as we can. The team barley won there last year, we almost threw it away in the last turn, but Paul brought it home. That is where our luck really began and we carried it through to the beginning of this season. We got the monkey on our back right now. Miller is not a bad track for our car. The main straight and the middle straight kill us. Anything that we gain on the infield is taken away on the straights. We need to have a near perfect race in the pits and we need to keep the car up with the lead pack. We need to treat it as a sprint race. We need to have our competition trip up a little bit as well. We need to be more aggressive, but not throw the thing off or get hit by a DP car."
"Salt lake was great for us last year," Edwards said. "The Porsche guys will be fast. If the 57 is somewhere around us then we have some breathing room. We led pretty much the whole race last year; we were on pole by about a second. There are a few variables, I am sure that Porsche will be dominant. But they are not in the championship. Milller is a place where we will get smoked down the straight but not as bad as Daytona. With the thinner air the Pontiac motor will be an advantage. We should be about five miles per hour down not 10. We will be focused on the 57 and the 70. Coming off of Jersey the Porsches were going crazy. I am not sure we can race with those guys."
Stevenson Motorsports has been the most consistent Pontiac GT runners of the season. New to the Pontiac lineup for 2008 Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis have put together an impressive string of wins and finishes this season. The team has won at Mexico City, Virginia International Raceway and most recently at Montreal. The team has also been on the podium at Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Daytona, Barber Motorsports Park and New Jersey. Despite poor finishes at the Rolex 24, Homestead and Laguna the groups team work and racing with nothing loose attitude has brought them into championship contention in this final race.
"I always enjoy racing at Miller Motorsports Park," Davis said. "I feel that the track offers a good combination of both fast and slow sections, but the real challenge to the track is found in its sheer size. There are so many corners, and each one plays an important role in determining the final lap time. As a driver, it is imperative to maximize each sector to ensure a quick lap. That doesn't sound much different from what we do on any other track, but add the 1000k race distance into the equation and you are dealing with a lot of opportunities to gain and lose time. There is a lot of talk about the specifics of points possibilities heading into this event. We are really only in control of the Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R, so it is important to avoid over thinking all the rest. We are going to do our best to put the No. 57 up front, and just let everything else fall into place."
"I really like Miller," Liddell said. "I know it is not the best track for spectators, but I think the drivers like it. It has fast sweeping corners and slow technical ones and I have always gone well there so I am looking forward to going back. We just need to stay relaxed and be at our best; if we optimize our own performance I believe we stand every chance of clinching the championship. Either way, we want to bring the manufacturers championship to Pontiac and I am sure that we can ensure that that will happen."
The No. 06 Banner Racing Pontiac will once again have Marc Bunting and team owner Leighton Reese behind the wheel. To hedge the champion bets, Paul Edwards is also listed as a driver on the No. 06.
"It's usually pretty hot at Miller," Reese said. "It is a great track and has a great rhythm. I am hanging up my helmet after this race. This will be my last professional road race. There is just too many balls in the air to juggle running the team. I am going to focus on being the boss and not having adult day car for the mechanics. I will be working on sponsor relations at the track as well as focusing on running the team. There are some fast young guys out there, so it is what I want to do."
Autohaus Motorsports and their No. 72 Pontiac GXP.R come into the last race searching for that first podium of the season. Tim Lewis Jr. and Terry Borcheller are coming off of a DNF at New Jersey and want to end the season on a high note.
"I think we can do really well at Miller," Borcheller said. The Ponitac should be good. If we can hit the setup like we did at Jersey stay upfront and then race in the last hour I think we can get some results for the team. The turns look alike, but hey are not the same. They all have different angles in the asphalt and the camber is different. It makes setting the car up a little different. You have to use those pavement angles to your advantage. You can also trick yourself with your setup. You have to be careful not to tune too much for the corners and hurt yourself down the straights. We had a great setup in New Jersey so we can use that as the baseline and hopefully be right there."
PR1 Motorsports had a very competitive run at the last race in New Jersey. Patrick Barrett had the blue and white Pontiac upfront for 16 laps. Mike Forest will share the seat with Barrett for seven hours on Saturday.
"PR1's engineers, John and Andy, made all of the right calls in terms of car setup and pit strategy at New Jersey," Barrett said. "They gave me a great handling car throughout the weekend and I did what I needed to do to run upfront. Leading the race was a great feeling as well. It was only my second time in the Pontiac, and the team's sixth ever Grand-Am event, so our performance that weekend was a great confidence booster going into Miller. I can't give an honest opinion on what it's going to take to do well in the season finale. This will be my first long endurance race so only the obvious answers come to mind which are, constancy, staying out of trouble, and keeping hydrated. I know the team is really looking forward to this event because of everything we've learned this year in Grand-Am. We've now shown we can run up front, so I think this will be the race where we will finish up front."
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing has all but sewn up the second place finish in the DP class. The duo conceded the championship to the 01 Ganassi team at New Jersey. Drivers Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney would like to go out with a victory and get the 2009 season off to a good start. Jimmy Vasser will support Fogarty and Gurney as the third driver.
"It seems like a long break after having so many races in a row," Gurney said. "There hasn't been much rest for our crew guys, though, and it's been a pretty grueling schedule this summer. We would, of course, like nothing better than to end the season with a win, especially for all of the crew's hard work. We feel like we've let too many races get away from us this year and luck certainly hasn't been on our side. After the drama of last year's race, the championship pressure is off this time, so we can focus solely on winning the race. The Salt Lake track is a little flat but the 27 corners definitely provide plenty of challenges. I'm really excited about having Jimmy Vasser back joining us and also I'm excited about getting the chance to qualify again after not really getting a chance at Watkins Glen. I expect a very long, tough and competitive race as I know many teams are going into this one expecting a chance to win. We'll be giving it everything we got."
The SunTrust Pontiac team has had excellent runs the last two races. The duo of Michael Valiante and Max Angelelli won at Infineon and finished second at New Jersey in the team's new Pontiac powered Dallara. Last year at Miller the team went out in blaze as their DP car ended the season in a ball of fire. The team will be taking their Dallara to its first endurance race.
"The race distance this weekend doesn't really concern me, for just 1,000 kilometers and seven hours," Angelelli said. "If it was a 12-hour race or more, I might have concerns, but at this distance, no. We've been working very hard with the Dallara people back in Italy to address all the little issues that you need to deal with for the long distances. This race will be a very good event for us to understand what we have for endurance distances. If all goes well, we can possibly leave the car as it is and go testing in October and November with the car just like it is as we prepare for the Daytona 24-hour in January. The track, it's a lot of work, a lot of cornering, but nothing happens, basically. It does not really have any fast, tight corners that scare you, or corners where you have to apply some technique. There's an enormous number of identical corners. But nothing that makes a driver feel all that challenged. It is a race track of patience rather than one that relies on heart or skill or feeling brave. If you look at the lap times, there is a very small difference between lap times between the cars. On a track of this length with this many corners, there should be a much wider gap between the fast cars and the slow cars. But with so many corners that are so much the same, all you do is brake, lift and go, over and over. I think the best word to describe it is monotonous."
The Riley-Matthews team of Marc Goossens and Jim Matthews come into Miller as last years DP race winners. The duo have one win this season at Mexico City and would like to add another one at Miller. Goossens and Matthews are joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay who also raced with the team at the Rolex 24 as well in the team's win last year.
"A big part of winning a longer race like the one at Miller is down to strategy, which the Riley-Matthews Motorsports team did great there last year," Goossens said. "Of course a good combination of drivers is also important, therefore I'm glad that we have Ryan Hunter-Reay on board the team again. Never change a winning team, and it's exactly that what we are doing. I think with the number of turns at Miller, there isn't a specific area to concentrate on in particular for the setup. Of course there is the long straight-away, but the corners are as important. But I'm sure we will find a good setup, based on last year's and from what we learned this year with the new bodywork and the different tires. I think it is very fair to say that the team gave us a great car at almost all the races this season. When it comes down to performance, I think the worst car we ever had this year was still a fifth-place car. So there is no reason to doubt the speed and consistency of our Riley-Pontiac."
Ricardo Zonta and Nic Jonsson will be using the season finale as an opportunity to get the team its first win for their new Lola. Jonsson and Zonta have been developing the Proto-Auto Lola over the course of the season and have been consistent competitors in the top ten. So far in 2008 the duo have combined to lead 76 laps and stood on the podium twice.
"The Miller track is probably the longest road course in the country, has many challenging corners with both high speed and low speed, along with hard braking zones," Jonsson said. "The wind and dust is always a challenge because the sand is blowing onto the track and changing the grip level from one lap to another. What I like about the track is the more technical part of it, where you really need to hit your marks right. I have really enjoyed being a part of the development of the new Proto-Auto Lola that we have been running at Krohn this year. It has been very fun and exciting to be driving and working with such a talented driver as Ricardo Zonta and working with the very talented Engineering staff and crew at Krohn. Of course I have been enjoying the podium finishes we have had but also a little bitter taste in my mouth because we haven't won a race, yet still been in contention and in position to do so but we have had silly things like punctures, head gaskets, etc. break on us. That has been a little frustrating."
Tracy Krohn and Eric van de Poele in the companion No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola will also be looking for a top finish. The tall duo has a best result of seventh on the season so far. For sportscar veteran van de Poele, Miller will be a new track on his resume.
"It looks like a very difficult track to learn," van de Poele said. "So, the concentration during the first free practice will be learning the track and determining the competitiveness of my driving. I like long tracks in general. I am also looking forward to add this one on my list. Of course, I had to learn the Grand-Am championship and the new car. So if the results are a little bit disappointing, I am very happy to see that we have progressed a lot during the year. I am hoping that the team will collect the fruits of this hard work for 2009. Next to this, I am very lucky to have been part of a fantastic team, both technically and so friendly in general. Of course the results are very important, but I give a priority to the atmosphere and the capability of the team you are working for. I have to say that the Krohn Racing team is an example and I am just sad that we'll reach already the end of the season. So, I cannot wait to be at Miller with my second family!"
Cheever Racing has also been in a development mode with this season with their No. 16 Coyote Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Pontiac. Christian Fittipaldi and Antonio Garcia have provided a glimpse of the potential of the team and the car with a second place finish at Montreal.
"Unfortunately we could not fix the New Jersey damage in time for Miller," Fittipaldi said. "It did the chassis pretty good. It is bad because we are losing development time on new car. Hopefully the old car will work like Montreal and Watkins Glen and we'll be fine. We also have a fresh engine coming onboard, which for Miller's long straights is not bad. I think it is important to be quick down the straight. You can't run too little downforce because as soon as tires go off you will be struggling for grip in infield. The circuit has many long corners so it's important to keep a nice flow, which will gain you a bunch of lap time. Miller is a very challenging place because the place is so long. At the end it's about compromise."
-credit: gm racing