Watkins Glen: AIM Autosport race report

Wilkins and Frisselle take the heat Exciting battle to the end gains championship positions for team Woodbridge, Ontario There would be a lot more than the heat to consider for the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, but with the Exchange Traded...

Wilkins and Frisselle take the heat
Exciting battle to the end gains championship positions for team

Woodbridge, Ontario There would be a lot more than the heat to consider for the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, but with the Exchange Traded Gold No. 61 Ford Riley starting from the front row for the third time this season, everyone on the AIM Autosport team ignored the heat and focused on the task at hand. After a long battle that came down to the final few laps, Mark Wilkins brought the 61 car across the line P7 and brought the team enough points to move up two positions (P10 to P8) in the series championship.

From the beginning of practice on Friday, both Mark and Brian (Frisselle) felt the Ford Riley would be strong for the six hour event. AIM Autosport crew had spent the weeks since Laguna Seca getting the car prepped focusing on endurance as well as speed. Reliability is a key factor when dealing with ambient temperatures of 95F and a cockpit temperature in excess of 110F and the crew did a good job to build in that reliability factor. Brian would go out for qualifying and with a very quick first lap, immediately go to the front row. He was on pace to go even faster when an incident on track brought the session to a halt. The decision to go out early paid off for the team and they would now start the race from the front row.

From the first lap of the race, cautions would play a pivotal role and throughout the race both Brian and Mark would have the No. 61 Ford Riley sitting P1. In fact Brian would go P1 just four laps in when a full course caution saw many of the DP cars come in for their mandatory pit stop. Brian would remain in the lead until the twenty-three minute mark when the team elected to take its mandatory stop and take fuel only. The next stop would be interesting.

At one hour ten minutes in the rains came just as everyone hit the pits. The #61 would take on fuel, four Pirelli tires and driver as Mark took over the wheel. At that same time, the edge of a dark cloud passed over the front straight and pits bringing a heavy downpour. With the sun beaming just beyond the grandstands, the decision was to stay on slicks as the rest of the track was dry. Mark would re-enter the track P10 and was soon up to P6. Mark also set the fastest lap for the #61 to that point.

Mark would pit just ahead of the two hour point in the race. Fuel only and a quick check on the left front wheel. After the previous stop, the team found some marks on the inside of the wheel and wanted to check for problems. The car went up in the air and some debris that was dragging on the inside of the left front wheel was removed. Back on the ground, Mark slotted into P5. Fifty-nine laps on the books and Mark was P4, just ten seconds back of the leader. Another full course caution and Mark would take his turn at the front of the field as AIM Autosport's brain trust chose to stay with their original pit strategy. Good on fuel, it was now a matter of dealing with the heat. The next full course caution came at just the right time.

Mark held the lead from the last caution and under pressure from drivers on fresh tires late in the stint commented, "that was a lot of fun" as he described fending off challenges for the top spot. Fuel and tires for the #61 but the temperature is rising and Mark has his hands full, fighting his way through GT cars and DP back markers. After two hours and twenty minutes in the car, he hands the wheel back over to Brian and the #61 Ford Riley also takes on fuel.

At the end of four hours teams are cycling through pit stops under green and this has allowed Brian to move to P3 and is now in a very tight battle for second place. GT cars are getting into the mix but Brian is focused on the back of the number 10 car for position. Brian pits while sitting P2. This will be a full fuel and tires stop as well as a change of the bottle for the cool suit and the driver's drinks bottle. Brian will take an extended run with Mark resting to take over the final stint. The #61 cycled out of the pits P6.

With just over an hour left in the race, Brian brings the #61 in from P6 for a full service - fuel, tires, driver and a windshield tear-off. The stop goes quick and Mark will close out the race. The car is good to go to the end. The #61 cycled out of the pits P9 and the team knows that the cars in front will need to pit to make it to the end of the race.

In a close, four car battle to the end, Mark would bring the Exchange Traded Gold #61 Ford Riley home P7 after one hundred seventy nine laps. Fourth through seventh were covered by one second at the finish line and the last podium position was just a half second up the track. It was a tough battle with lots of defensive driving by those ahead - plus dealing with the GT traffic but the race ended with another top-ten finish for AIM Autosport.

The drivers had this to say after the race:

Mark Wilkins - "The heat was a big factor and this is a physical track but to be right in the thick of the battle for position with four cars after six hours was pretty exciting racing. I was happy with my driving overall but that long stint in the middle took something out of me. The car was great in my final stint with only the slightest hint of brake fade when you tried to go deep. With such a tight race though, everyone was in defensive mode and my one goal was to not make a mistake."

Brian Frisselle - "It was a good result but not the one Mark and I had hoped to bring home for the team. The car was great and even at the end the #61 Ford Riley had great balance and plenty of power. But track position is so important and it was a tough battle for Mark at the end."

AIM Autosport team principal Ian Willis commented, "The boys did as good job and it was definitely exciting and very close at the end. Positions three through seven were changing almost every lap there near the end and when you consider it was a six hour race in high heat, that is truly a testament to how competitive this series really is.”

Willis continued, "We'll be trying hard once again at Mid-Ohio next weekend to get that elusive podium as we'd all like to see the Exchange Traded Gold No. 61 Ford Riley in victory lane."

With the seventh place result, AIM Autosport now sits eighth overall in the Rolex Grand Am Series presented by Cask No. 16 Championship with eight more races on the schedule.

The next race for the Exchange Traded Gold N0. 61 Ford Riley is the Emco Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, June 20 and 21.

-credit: aim

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Mark Wilkins , Brian Frisselle