Team Overcomes Obstacles at Road America TRAFFORD, PA (August 21, 2006) -- The John Walko Racing team took on the challenges of the 4.048 mile Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin this past weekend as part of the American Le Mans...
Team Overcomes Obstacles at Road America
TRAFFORD, PA (August 21, 2006) -- The John Walko Racing team took on the challenges of the 4.048 mile Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin this past weekend as part of the American Le Mans Generac 500. The ninth round of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear proved to be an event full of obstacles for the team, yet the results still showed two top ten finishes among the thirty-nine entries.
According to team owner John Walko, the best laid practice and qualifying plans were foiled by a variety of events from rain to slow traffic to mechanical gremlins.
"We should have had three cars in the top ten. We just struggled a little bit with our strategy. One session went from wet to dry and the next went from dry to wet. The one that went wet to dry we had tried to go with rain tires to be prepared if we faced those conditions on raceday but it went all dry and we just tore up a set of tires and went slow."
All was not lost though as the team and drivers performed well when everything did fall in to place. Canadian rookie Kevin Lacroix led the way for the team with both Charles Anti and newcomer to the team, Russell Walker turning in top ten times in different sessions. Walko was cautiously optimistic following the final practice session as all three of his drivers were solidly in the top twelve on the speed charts.
"Kevin was fourth in every session it was dry at least so we knew we had a good package if the weather would cooperate. And the final practice session showed that all three cars were quick, particularly Russell who was fourth fastest."
Qualifying presented a unique series of challenges however starting with a mechanical problem for Anti as he described, "Our crank sensor failed in qualifying so I only got one lap on good tires which left us 24th on the grid." According to Walko, Anti had a top five car in qualifying before the sensor failed.
Lacroix on the other hand had an entirely different set of issues as he noted, "We started the session on old tires. After changing to our race tires part way through qualifying we were never able to run a clean lap with all of the traffic."
Walko explained that due to the weather conditions, the series decided to run all cars in one group rather than split the faster cars from the slower. While a few drivers were able to use the slower cars to their advantage by picking up a draft on the long Road America straights, more caught the slower cars at inopportune times thus wasting an entire lap.
"Russell may have been caught overdriving the car somewhat in qualifications. That is to be expected somewhat really as he gets familiar with his new team," Walko noted.
The result was an unusual ninth place qualifying effort from Lacroix, 15th for Walker and 24th for Anti.
Once the green flag fell in the race though, all three cars were on the move forward.
"I had a good start and made up three places in the first lap. Then I held my ground but wasn't able to reel in the front runners," noted Lacroix. "I tried to overtake the third place car near the end of the race but he chopped down on me and almost took my front wing away. I ended up dropping back to seventh at the end."
Anti had a remarkable run going early in the race.
"We started 24th and I had worked myself in to the top ten. The car felt great and was handling well. The handling would go away and I'd make a change with the front bar and it would work again. It responded very well. Unfortunately, I dropped four wheels off track in the closing lap when another driver made a defensive move to a run I had on him going in to the turn. I dropped all the way to 29th as a result."
According to Walko, his newest driver Walker had a very strong run in the race as well, "Russell had a great race moving from 15th well in to the top ten. He is getting more comfortable with his crew and the communication between them improves each time out."
The JWR team next travels to Canada for the Labour Day Grand Prix of Mosport and the tenth race of the twelve race season. The team looks to not only net their first win, but regain the Team Championship lead. Walko is excited about the coming round," I look forward to Mosport where we run the harder tire compound. I'm pretty confident that we have a good setup for these tires as we were very good last year at both Atlanta and Mosport where we run this combination.