Warmth against the crisp upstate New York morning, hands held to steaming cups of coffee while final preparations were made before the first practice session at Watkins Glen. There were also donuts—but not the frosted kind. Rather these donuts were circular rubber imprints on car’s sides—remnants of the intense racing action at Lime Rock Park just days before.
With only three days between the Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park on May 28th and testing for the Continental Tire 150 at Watkins Glen the following Wednesday, crews didn’t have the time to fully complete their usual post-race repairs and maintenance. Hundreds of miles from their home bases, most teams towed the 225 miles from northwestern Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park to Watkins Glen with only a quick stop to prep the cars. Living like gypsies, teams set up shop in strip mall parking lots, car dealerships, and friend-of-a-friend’s backyard garages.
Wednesday morning the teams set up camp at Watkins Glen International Raceway. Grand-Am uses the “long,” 3.4-mile configuration of the track that includes “the boot.” BMW M3s are strong at Watkins Glen—the Fall-Line Motorsports BMW team monopolized the top three qualifying positions and the #48 Fall-Line BMW took the win last year.
With that in mind, Grand-Am officials made a few rule changes to limit the BMWs and Mustangs, and help out the Camaros. Coming into Watkins Glen, series officials eliminated the air intake restrictor from the Camaros, and specified a smaller restrictor for the BMWs and Mustangs.
A defining characteristic of Watkins Glen is the intimidating blue Armco that looms inches from the racing surface. This, combined with the high-speed corners (many of which are banked) and long straights make mistakes costly. Rob May of Fall-Line Motosports commented while watching a driver’s in-car video, “Yikes! Wish they’d trim those blue bushes back.”
Watkins Glen saw six Boss 302Rs take to the track. In addition to the season regulars Roush Performance and Multimatic Motorsports, Racer’s Edge Motorsports brought their #36 Boss, and made a last-minute call to Mustang ace Dean Martin to partner with Mike Weinburg (Martin drove with Ken Wilden to capture the 2009 team championship for Mustang specialists Rehagen Racing).
Jim Click Racing entered the #2 Boss 302R for Click and Mike McGovern. Lyonel Kent and Roly Falgueras shared the new #49 Boss 302R crewed by Roush Performance. After the #50 Finlay Motorsports Boss 302R was damaged beyond repair at Lime Rock, Multimatic’s #16 Boss 302R was called into service for the Finlay squad. Capaldi Racing and Frederick Motorsports continued the season with their Mustang FR500C entries. The added entries bolstered the Mustang’s chances of victory at the legendary track.
After a day of testing and practice, qualifying commenced late Thursday afternoon. With deeper lungs, the Camaros were definitely faster than everyone else in a straight line, but nobody was expected to fully show their hand until qualifying. Many teams found the performance of their Continental slicks were best during the first lap or two, with grip subsequently eroding. That, combined with the short 15-minute session and long track length, meant drivers had to lay down their best time on their first flying lap. No pressure…
When qualifying was checkered, the Camaros were indeed strong…but not strong enough. Joe Foster and his #15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang Boss 302R notched their third pole position of the 2011 season with a time of 2:02.256. “It couldn’t have gone smoother,” said Foster, whose second consecutive pole was also the ninth of his career. “I got out perfectly and ran one clear lap. I had the tires warmed up, let it rip, and it ran perfectly. I knew right away it wasn’t going to go any quicker so I brought it in to preserve the tires for the race.”
Mitchum Motorsports Camaros filled the next two spots, with their newly-unrestricted engines generating the horsepower they needed down the straights. Fall-Line BMWs qualified fourth and fifth, with Jack Roush Jr. starting sixth in his Mustang Boss 302R.
On Friday, sixty-one cars were ready to tackle The Glen’s Armco gauntlet. A 6:00 PM start meant the crews outfitted the cars with headlights in anticipation of approaching darkness during the 2-1/2-hour race. At the start, Joe Foster led the field through turn one. Joey Atterbury in the #62 Mitchum Motorsports Camaro got a run down the front straight and out-braked Foster on lap four to take the lead.
Matt Bell in the #9 Stevenson Camaro also got by Foster’s #15 Mustang, which fell to third. Matt Bell then passed Atterbury for the lead two laps later. Thirty minutes into the race, Kyle Gimple (#68 Capaldi Racing Mustang FR500C) and Al Carter had a massive crash at turn eight. Since the minimum thirty minutes required for a driver to earn points for a race had passed, the leaders headed for the pits to complete their first stops.
After pit stops, Tom Dyer (# 01 Camaro), Jade Buford (# 33 BMW), and Lyonel Kent (#49 Ford Mustang Boss 302R) lead the pack. Billy Johnson (#61 Roush Mustang Boss 302R) rejoined the race in fourth, but five laps later moved into the lead. Johnson retained the lead until the race’s half-way point, when one of the RSR Motorsports Mini Coopers caught fire and initiated a full-course caution. Johnson ducked into the pits for fuel and tires, handing the lead to Lawson Aschenbach in the #62 Camaro. Aschenbach and his teammate, Jeff Bucknum (#6 Camaro) swapped the lead over the next few laps with Tony Rivera’s #01 Camaro in third.
With nearly forty minutes remaining, many teams faced a choice: pit now for a splash of fuel and easily make it to the end, or hope for more cautions laps and finish on fumes. The Mitchum Motorsports Camaros (#62 and #6 of Aschenbach and Buckhum) played it safe and pitted for fuel, betting the race would be mostly green until the checkered flag. The Roush Performance squad stayed out and moved to the lead, gambling that many more fuel-saving caution laps were to come.
Fifteen minutes later, Billy Johnson and Roush Performance got their wish: The course went full-course yellow to retrieve a car in turn two and clean up debris in turn eight. Oddly, the activity took nearly fifteen minutes off the clock, allowing Johnson’s #61 Boss 302R to conserve a substantial amount of fuel. Another caution a few laps later to clean up after an ST-class Mazda that shed its bodywork set the stage for a two-lap showdown to the finish. Johnson held on, however, and took the win for Jack Roush Jr. and the Roush Performance crew.
Billy Johnson explained, “It all comes down to the team. They did amazing pit stops and they just worked so hard over this week. The car did not unload in the best handling position. They just worked long, hard nights to get this thing to where it is now. This is dedicated to their hard work, their awesome pit stops and Jack’s phenomenal first stint.” Jack Roush Jr. also had glowing words for his team: “On Wednesday night, the guys stayed here until after two in the morning working on our car. It was kind of a nightmare with a number of problems, but the guys just worked and worked. I’m very proud of this team.”
The drivers of the # 61 Ford Mustang Boss 302R continued their climb up the Grand Sport standings. They now have five consecutive podium finishes (including a pair of victories) after crashing on the second lap at Daytona International Raceway, and are third in the point standings.
John Edwards and Matt Bell in the #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro finished second, and Mark Boden and Terry Borcheller came in third.
Watkins Glen was the first time this season that Turner Motorsport’s Paul Dalla Lana and Bill Auberlen (#96 BMW M3) finished off of the podium, but their ninth-place finish still has them handily in the points lead. Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster (#15 Mustang Boss 302R) trail by 21 points after finishing fourth.
The next race on the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge calendar is historic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It’s Grand-Am’s first visit to the historic track in ten years. Over four miles in length, Road America is a driver and fan favorite. It also favors horsepower and brakes. Will the seventh round be when the #15 Multimatic Motorsports Boss 302R finds a chink in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW’s armor? We’ll find out in three weeks!
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