Watkins Glen: Banner Racing race report

Edwards and Collins finish LRPG Pontiac GXP.R in 2nd in Grand-Am Sahlen's 6-Hour at Watkins Glen Watkins Glen, New York (Saturday, June 6, 2009): Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins continued their defense of their GT title by driving their ...

Edwards and Collins finish LRPG Pontiac GXP.R in 2nd in Grand-Am Sahlen's 6-Hour at Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen, New York (Saturday, June 6, 2009): Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins continued their defense of their GT title by driving their #07 Pontiac GXP.R in second position in the Sahlen's 6-Hours at The Glen, Round 5 of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.

This was the 3rd runner up finish of the 5 races thus far in the Grand-Am Rolex Championships for the duo of Collins and Edwards and their bright yellow Pontiac GXP.R. The race was won by the #87 Porsche of Dirk Werner and Leh Keen.

"It was actually a very, very good race for us," said Kelly Collins. "We started out struggling with the car this weekend. We were a little indecisive with the engineers but we feel that we ended up with a really good race car. We charged hard but these guys [race winning Farnbacher Loles Porsches] were strong."

"It was a tough race," said Paul Edwards. "Everyone was going a lot faster this year than last year; I think our race lap was 1.6 seconds faster than we qualified with here last year so we are working the Pirelli tires a lot harder and we had to be a little bit careful with the rear tires. We had to work really hard through practice and qualifying to get the car to work over a longer period without thrashing the rear tires.

"I think we have three seconds this year but no one says that you can't win a championship without winning a race and scoring a bunch of seconds so we'll just keep going and hopefully get to move up a spot on the podium."

"If you look at those cars the only marks you will see on the cars are rubber and dirt," said Collins. "There are no dings and that is the way you have to finish the Six-Hour. Run that hard like a sprint race, have good luck and stay out of trouble and we are just happy to be here and collect the points. Paul did a great job and we are just happy to have finished in 2nd place."

Paul Edwards started the race and stayed in the car for about an hour and 20 minutes using an early race strategy to let the pace and race come to him.

"Our Pontiac came to us through the first stint," said Edwards after his first turn in the LRPG Pontiac GXP.R. "We had to be careful during the first run with a full load of fuel to make sure that we didn't burn off the rear tires. Also in the beginning we had the worst of two worlds with a full fuel tank the car was getting loose coming into the turns and we then we had trouble getting on the power coming out of the turns. We had to soften up the suspension quite a bit because wit all of the rubber out there so there is a lot of grip and the track is just eating up the rear tires."

When Kelly Collins took over the wheel of the Banner Racing Pontiac the strategy was for him to pull an iron-man stint in the middle of the race so that Edwards could get in and finish up the 6-hour ordeal fresh and rested. Collins did his part keeping the leaders in sight while maintaining a comfortable pace that wouldn't wear out the tires or the car.

"I owed this to Paul [co-driver Edwards] because in the last race he ended up doing about 2 hours and 10 minutes of the race," joked Collins after finishing his stint. "I figured if I am going to do the longest stint in this race, I think it was 2 hours and 40 minutes, it had better be good. It was actually really good.

"The cooling system was fantastic, the car was good, the tires were good -- everything was good. Nothing went wrong with the car, me maybe failing a little bit at the end. Not that I was overheated, it was just the g-loads out there. The carousel is tough because it is so long and turn two is just brutal. It wasn't too bad until the last four or five laps."

Like a strong relief pitcher coming in to a game in the third inning Collins kept the team in contention while on the track while the LRPG crew kept the pit stops fast and trouble free.

"At first when the sun was out I was pacing myself to conserve the tires and just trying to keep the cars in sight that I needed to keep in sight," said Collins. "I knew that I couldn't chase them down trying to make the tires last for a full hour. I did that in the first stint but in the second stint I pushed a little bit harder. Actually it was a full stint and four gallons so we made it over a full stint and the Pirelli tires were still under me."

Paul Edwards got back into the Banner Racing Pontiac with about 2 hours left with the car in 3rd place and went to work to see what he could do with the leader. Paul passed Robin Liddell's Pontiac and moved into 2nd but unfortunately the lead Porsche of Werner was just strong enough and the traffic just uncooperative enough to keep the #07 Pontiac right there for the remainder of the race. No matter how hard Paul Edwards tried.

"We could maintain a pretty fast pace but not quite quick enough," said Edwards. "There were some traffic issues and this and that so I think we might have been nose to tail at the end and put on a good show for TV but it didn't work out."

"I had a lot of close calls out there, that was a really tough stint," Paul Edwards said of his last 50 minutes in the #07 Pontiac GXP.R. "We had a good start but then we had a really tough 10 laps in traffic. Sometimes you can go through a stint and you catch the traffic in all the right places but today I was catching traffic in all the wrong places.

"I would pull 2 or 3 seconds away from Liddell and then I would lose it all getting backed up in traffic. In the mean time Werner was getting away a little bit and Henzler was catching us. Luckily with Kelly doing that big long stint in the middle it allowed me to be nice and fresh for the end and I could push really hard and maintain 2nd place."

"I'm really happy for how the race turned out and how well the car worked for us and for all the effort the Leighton Reese Performance Group team puts in to always keep moving forward. It is a real fight right now with teams like Farnbacher Loles and the rest of the GT teams. You can't slack off, you have to keep progressing and keep improving. It really shows the effort everyone is putting in and I couldn't be happier right now with our Pontiac GXP.R and the LRPG team."

The race ended under caution and some confusion when Robin Liddell spun his #57 Stevenson Pontiac GXP.R into a gravel trap bringing out a full course caution with less than 4 minutes left in the time certain race. Due to some confusion the white flag signifying the final lap of the race came out one lap late so the race ran over time but behind the pace car.

The good news for Collins and Edwards and the Banner Racing team was that they were locked into second position. The bad news was that they had to make it to the finish line as the #07 Pontiac was running dangerously low on fuel. Fortunately it was a non issue as Edwards followed Werner and the pace car across the finish line for a well earned 2nd place finish.

"I think we used 20.5 gallons of fuel and I think that the most we can get in there is 21 gallons so yes it was very close," concluded Paul Edwards with a wry smile.

The 2nd place finish moved Collins and Edwards up to 3rd in the GT Driver's Championship chase with 140 points and Banner Racing into 3rd position in the Team Points race. Werner and Keen, winners of 2 of the last three races, lead with 151 points.

-credit: br

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Paul Edwards , Robin Liddell , Kelly Collins , Leighton Reese , Lehman Keen , Dirk Werner