June 10-11th, 2005
A racing incident. Driver exuberance. Fighting for position.
No matter what your euphemism, it put paid to two potentially stellar results for the Compass360/Racing team at Watkins Glen.
The weekend started on a high, with our driver line-up as good as it's ever been. Chris Wehrheim, who drove a great race for us at Laguna Seca in April (finishing 9th) returned to the team, pairing with Porsche Club stand-out Joe Hrymack. Joe and I have raced each other in the past, and I know him to be a solid competitor who can race door-handle-to-door-handle without rubbing paint. Both of these guys are race winners, and when Chris qualified the #06 car in 9th position, we had high hopes for a top five, if not a podium.
Elivan Goulart joined me in the #36 car. It was the first time I'd raced this car in 2005, and I felt that after all the development we'd done the month prior, it was the equal of #06. Certainly the times the Elivan and I managed to turn in practice bore this out; both cars were clearly on the pace and capable of running up front. Elivan won the Cooper Tires Championship in 2004, which is a Grand Am-sanctioned open-wheel series with a pool of talented drivers. On paper, at least, we looked set for good results from both cars.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. With 74 cars on the track (29 in ST class and 45 in GS), traffic was sure to be an issue. Chris got caught out early, battling for position with another ST car, he was pushed out onto the rumble strips (which at some places on the track are quite high), where he pranged the differential. Wisely, he brought the car into the pit. Crew Chief Ian McQuillan and the crew went to work immediately, replacing the diff with astonishing efficiency. Still, #06 returned to the track with Joe at the helm 45 minutes later, very nearly at the back of the pack. It's pretty tough to make up that kind of time on track, and Joe wisely used the time to get used to the Z3, bringing his lap times down further in preparation for our next race.
In the meanwhile, Elivan was having some good battles bringing #36 up through the pack after a poor qualifying session (he put the car in 15th place on the grid). During a tussle with the #29 Acura RSX-S, Goulart found himself thrown into a tire wall; he managed to recover nicely and despite some rather extensive body damage solidered on. Shortly thereafter, Elivan passed a couple of cars on the outside of corner one, using some of the newly-paved run-off area. Grand Am had told us during the driver's meeting that any position changes gained by doing this would result in a drive-through penalty, and they were true to their word as Goulart was told to come in. This put the car rather far back in the pack.
No matter, when Elivan handed the car to me on lap 24 (of 59), I felt ready to improve our position. It was handling really well with a full load of fuel, and I hoped to make up some positions. Alas, as I did my "out" lap, the course was yellow-flagged -- if only we had been able to wait a few more laps before pitting, our strategy would have been perfect. As it was, I ended up only a few cars behind the overall leader, which put us a lap down. Such a shame!
Regardless, I tried to put in some good laps to regain position, but the second half of the race was beset with caution periods as incident after incident took place. Candidly, it was utter carnage. I was fortunate to miss an incident that took out a bunch of the top-running ST cars in the " toe of the boot" (corner eight), when the #29 RSX dropped most of its oil in one spot, throwing both Turner BMWs, the #12 Z4 and the #49 RX-8 into the gravel. I came upon it as it was happening, and tossed #36 down the inside of the corner, see-sawing the wheel through the oil. That was exciting!
In all, we had six cautions covering 24 laps (nearly 40% of the race). Grand Am knows this isn't the kind of racing that we competitors want to have, and is working to remedy the situation. It's too bad, because #36 certainly was capable of making up positions, but the race didn't unfold in a way that allowed us to improve after our early problems. And so #36 finished in 16th place, with Joe doing a good job to bring #06 home in 27th spot.
Wtih such a promising driver line-up delivering such a disappointing result, I'm loath to predict our chances for Mosport. However, with Joe returning to join Mike Boekdrukker (who is a championship driver at the track and has a long history with BMWs), and Dave Ciekiewicz (who is currently leading his class in Ontario regionals in one of our cars) pairing with me, we do have the potential to hit the podium and have both cars in the top ten. Time, of course, will tell, but I am hopeful!
An interesting footnote: during the driver's meeting it was mentioned that Grand Am Cup now has a viewership of more than 1.2 million unique people for our SPEED tv broadcasts. This is one of the highest ratings in road racing, and proves that Grand Am is on the right track. If we can get the on-track incidents under control, I'm convinced that Grand Am Cup will continue to be one of the best places for both drivers and sponsors to compete. I know our supporters for 2005 agree.
Compass360/Racing is proud to be part of the marketing program for mmwave Technologies, Burry Signs, A1fotos.com and The Signature Group (of branded apparel). We also receive substantial support from Compass360 Design + Advertising, and from Hockley Autosport.
Crew member Paul Bruch (who's joined us from time to time since Tremblant in 2004) has posted his shots of the weekend. All of the ones included here are Paul's, and you can view the entire gallery by clicking here. He took a lot of shots!
The Watkins Glen Grand Am Cup race is televised on SPEED channel on June 19 at 5 p.m, while the Mosport event is this coming weekend, June 17th-18th.
-- Karl Thomson
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