A sticky helmet radio cable might have cost Porsche factory drivers Timo Bernard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France) a podium finish – and perhaps their first victory of the season – at the Utah 250 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car series race at Miller Motorsports Park Saturday.
A rare mistake by Dirk Werner (Germany) prevented him and Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup teammate Leh Keen (Charleston, SC) from clinching the Acxiom GT championship.
In both classes, it was a day of “what if” for the two leading Porsche teams competing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16, but a day of celebration for Andy Lally (Suwanee, GA) and Scott Schroeder (Piedmont, CA), who finished second in GT in the #66 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
“We were competitive and we leading for a long time,” said Bernhard. “Team Penske showed a great performance. I had a problem disconnecting the radio cable to my helmet in the driver change, and we lost a few seconds there that we needed. A little thing that doesn’t happen, and it happened to us. We never were able to get those seconds back.
Bernhard/Dumas finished only 3.6 seconds out of first place, and 2.1 seconds away from a podium finish.
“I led a lot of laps and we need to keep that momentum going to Miami. We have been so close (to winning) the last two races that is frustrating. We are used to winning, not almost winning,” said a frustrated Bernhard.
Bernhard qualified the #12 Verizon Wireless Penske Porsche Riley second, and ran a torrid pace with pole winner and ultimate race winner Jon Fogarty (Bend, OR) in the #99 Pontiac Riley for the first 11 laps around the 4.486-mile, 24-turn road course. They were never more than half a second apart but 10 seconds ahead of the rest of the field when Bernhard pitted early, a strategy move determined after Roger Penske and Porsche Motorsports President Tim Cidric arrived 40 minutes prior to the start of the race after a 12-hour flight from Japan.
Bernhard fell to sixth, 37 seconds behind and began a rapid run to the front, sliding into fourth, where Dumas finished. Fogarty and Alex Gurney (Irvine, CA) padded their Rolex points lead to eight point over second-place Max Angelelli (Monaco) and Brian Frisselle (Aspen, CO) in the #10 Ford Dallara, Third place Memo Rojas (Mexico) and Scott Pruett (Auburn, CA) fell to 10 points behind Gurney and Fogarty. Dumas and Bernhard go to Miami with a mathematical title hopes, but they are 33 points behind in fourth place.
“We have the speed, so it was only track position that made the difference today. We had a very good run. They fly in from Japan and when they (Roger Penske and Tim Cidric) make the strategy call that would put Timo in the lead, but then we did not need the late caution,” said Dumas.
“We had the speed to compete, but the mistake in the pits cost us time we needed at the end. That is how competitive Grand-Am racing is. A little mistake and it was enough to cost us a podium.
“We have a great car now, now that we have all the power back, we know we can win. We just need everything to be perfect. We will try again at Miami.”
Surprising, Keen and Werner did not clinch the Acxiom GT championship. They entered the race with a 35-point lead and needed only to finish ahead of the #07 Pontiac GXP.R to claim the title with only the season finale at Homestead Miami Oct. 10 remaining.
Oddly, Werner tried to pass the #57 Pontiac GXP.R for the lead in the final two minutes of the race when all he needed to do was cruise home in second to clinch the title. Werner suffered a flat left front tire and hobbled home in sixth place, allowing the #07 Pontiac to finish ahead of him.
“My car was really good at the end,” Werner said. “I saw Robin (Liddell in the #57 car) sliding around, and he braked early in one turn, and we went into the turn side by side. I was already up on the curb and I think I do not have enough room to avoid contact. It was a little tap, but I got a flat front left tire and it was a long way back to the finish line that slowly. It took me a long, long time.
“It would be nicer to come to Miami with everything already done. It was in my hands to win the race or clinch the championship, and I did not do it. I got into a situation that I realized too late I did not need to be there (side by side) and it was a mistake.”
Keen and the rest of the Farnbacher Loles crew were already celebrating, but their joy was cut off by Werner’s slow last lap.
“It was pretty obvious what did happen and what could have happened. We could have won the race, or at least clinched the championship, and both opportunities slipped away. With two minutes left, we were already celebrating, so we’ll have to think of this of practice for our celebration for Miami. We’re disappointed we didn’t clinch the championship here because it was in our grasp and it looked so likely, and then that happened,” said Keen.
“It’s obviously still exciting to be in this position and we’ve got a lot to look forward to. We’re still in really good shape. We’ll just do what we have to do at Miami. We’ll have to think a little better, for sure.”
Keen and Werner lost only five points, so they will take a 30-point lead over #07 Pontiac driver Kelly Collins (Newport Beach, CA). All other GT title contenders were eliminated Saturday, including TRG driver Lally, who climbed to fourth in the driver standings with his runner-up effort Saturday.
“Our Porsche held up really well,” Lally said. “Really what I have to give is credit to the team for making the right strategy calls. Kevin (TRG owner Kevin Buckler) noticed something that normally doesn’t go on in the DP that gave us track position on pit stops and under caution. That put us in the lead under yellow, and that let us defend from the front. It’s pretty amazing – and fun!” “This is very special for me,” Schroeder said. This is my career best finish in my first year of Rolex racing, and to have an opportunity to race with Andy (Lally) and have a team like TRG behind me is wonderful. Hats off to the guys for giving me such a great car.”
The two Brumos Porsche Daytona Prototype entries finished in the top 10, as all 11 DP cars finished on the lead lap. JC France (Ormond Beach, FL) and Joao Barbosa (Portugal) finished sixth in the #59 Brumos Porsche Riley while Darren Law (Phoenix, AZ) and David Donohue (Malvern, VA) were ninth in the #58 Brumos Porsche Riley.
Craig Stanton (Long Beach, CA) and John Potter (Salt Lake City, UT) finished fifth in GT in the #65 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, just ahead of Keen and Werner, and the newest Porsche Motorsports customer team of Bryce Miller (Summit, NJ) and Kevin Roush (Upland, CA) were eighth in GT in the #48 Miller Barrett Racing Marquis Jet Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
Porsche in the Grand-Am