EXTREME SPEED FOR REAL – The Ferrari F458 Italia is considered by some in the paddock to be the top all-around car in GT, but it hasn't been fully maximized by Extreme Speed Motorsports this season. That was far from the case this week, where whenever you had a glance at the timing screens, there was a good chance the No. 01 and/or No. 02 were in the same positions – just without the “0” in front.
Adding Toni Vilander to the No. 01 alongside regulars Johannes van Overbeek and Scott Sharp was a major coup. Vilander, a Ferrari veteran who's done most of his racing worldwide outside of America this year, since Risi Competizione's demise in January, was back in his natural habitat and firmly entrenched at the top of the grid.
Vilander inherited pole after Guy Cosmo's disqualification in the second car and Sharp, who started the race, did well to lead the pack from the outset as the chargers from Corvette, BMW, Porsche and Viper were well within striking distance. It was a vital stint because there wasn't any time lost, and there was no need for recovery or repairs. Sharp expanded on his time up front.
“It was good to be able to lead a bit,” he said. “Toward the end of my run, (Oliver) Gavin got underneath me, I was just trying to hang on, it was getting looser and looser. We put some stickers on for Johannes and he was flying right away. It wasn't as much of an issue after that, or as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
At the end of the race, Vilander entered a near identical situation as two years ago at Petit. In 2010, with Risi in its last race with the older F430 GT, he pitted with a handful of minutes to go for a splash of fuel – returning in the lead, but then running out of fuel on the final lap in a move that not only cost them the race win, but the team and manufacturer their respective titles.
Fast forward to this year and Vilander was leading again, late, in a Ferrari, with the same Jan Magnussen co-driven Corvette running second (Magnussen's car, with Oliver Gavin, inherited the 2010 win), this time with Antonio Garcia driving. A win was not only the goal for redemption purposes, but it was also the difference for second in the GT class championship for Sharp and JVO, and determined whether Magnussen would go a whole season without a win. Vilander almost broke down personally as the car made it home on fumes to take the team's first on-track win and second this year.
“2010 was on my mind when we ran out of fuel in 10a,” he said. “My engineer Lee was on the radio most of my last stint. We were out with the fuel mileage, I did everything I could to save fuel, we were so relieved when I went by 10a and knew I had enough fuel. There was a lot of emotion. I've been traveling a lot this year, being away from the family. These are the moments we do it and we do this racing stuff.”
Cosmo, in the sister No. 02, continued his season of frustration and poor luck with co-drivers Ed Brown and Anthony Lazzaro. Not only did he lose the pole, but contact with an AF Corse GTE Am 2011-spec 458 meant Cosmo wound up in the middle of a Twitter spat with two of its drivers, Matt Griffin and Marco Cioci. The drivers agreed to disagree…
VIPER'S IMPROVEMENT – The changes going into Petit were fairly sizeable at SRT Motorsports. Both cars had been torn down, rebuilt and updated after their last run at Baltimore, and, for their fourth race, earned their first Balance of Performance adjustment from IMSA. A taller rear wing (75mm increase) and 20kg weight reduction made for a lighter car with increased downforce – coupled with other aero adjustments, the new Viper GTS-R was a player for the first time.
Marc Goossens qualified the No. 93 Viper sixth in class, within a half second of the pole for the first time, and that improved to a fifth-place starting position and four tenths after Extreme Speed's pole-sitting No. 02 Ferrari F458 Italia was disqualified for a ride height infringement.
In the race, the No. 91 led early with usual co-drivers Dominik Farnbacher and Kuno Wittmer, joined this week by IndyCar's Ryan Hunter-Reay. That car finished a respectable eighth, while the No. 93 fought through shifting issues and retired late in the race, not providing the result Goossens, Tommy Kendall or Jonathan Bomarito had hoped for. In any event, there was a good chance this race marked the first sign of a return to prominence for the Riley-built “Snakes” in the full season of 2013.
TWO OTHERS OF NOTE – Two Americans I really wanted to keep an eye on this week were Sean Johnston, the IMSA GT3 Challenge Platinum Cup champion in his ALMS debut for JDX Racing, and Jonathan Summerton, the former Formula Atlantic star who had a double run in the two BMW Team RLL M3s.
Johnston, who's gone from sim racing to GT3 in 18 months, led his first stint in the car during the race before a left-rear tire blowout on the backstraight. He did an incredible job to hang onto it and bring it back to the pits in one piece. He recapped the event and the experience, not only in ALMS but also in two GT3 races.
“The first stint was phenomenal; the second ran the gamut of different scenarios,” he explained. “I had had small contact with a PC car in Turn 3, and that cut the right front. The guys got me back out but later I had the throttle stick open in Turn 12! The car skated off but I was able to keep it off the wall. We broke the front splitter and lost a lap. I returned in a full-course yellow, and only a few laps later was when the left rear went down. It was a lot more excitement than I was looking for!”
Meanwhile, Summerton's cars finished third and fourth in GT but it never seemed the BMWs had the same pace as the leading Ferraris and Corvettes. Still, having the opportunity to race both was an incredible experience for the 24-year-old Floridian.
“I was honored to have the opportunity,” he said. “And throughout, the lineup changed on the fly! Basically, I rolled from one car into the other. I was between both cars, and I was about to get thrown from the 55 to the 56, but I couldn't because I was close to exceeding the four in six hours max drive time.”