For Grand Am’s first return to Road America in ten years, the event-filled 250-mile race could not have been better scripted as a Hollywood thriller. The week’s inclement weather cleared on Saturday, leaving sunny, mid-70’s conditions for the two hour race.
Beside the #42 RX-8 of Wayne Nonamaker, Jan Magnussen started second in the #57 Stevenson Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro co-driven by Robin Liddell, running a lap of 2:15.273 (107.729 mph) on the 14-turn, 4-mile long track.
“This is a real driver’s circuit,” said Magnussen of the Elkhart Lake facility. “You get a good feeling here of going fast, and you know that if you mess up, it’s a big penalty. That, to me, makes a good race track.” Magnussen’s words would prove prophetic soon after the race start.
When the green flag fell, Magnussen quickly moved the #57 Camaro GT.R into the GT-class lead ahead of Nonnamaker. By lap 5, John Heinricy, who had qualified the #31 Corvette in P4, took over third place. Heinricy had been called in to replace Boris Said, who was running in a West Coast NASCAR event this weekend.
Shortly after Heinricy`s move, Gunter Schaldach in the #07 Camaro lost brakes heading into Turn 1. After rear ending the #48 Mazda of Joe Foster, Schaldach rocketed through the gravel trap and into the tire barrier at a high speed. The impact launched the Camaro over the debris fence and down the hill on the other side. Fortunately, Schaldach was able to free himself and walked away from the spectacular wreck. Check out the amazing video at the very bottom of this report.
Schaldach explained his part of the incident. “I lost my brakes going into one. I hit the brake pedal twice and nothing happened. Then I hit Joe Foster. The hood flipped up, so I couldn’t see anything. I was hoping the sand would slow me down – but it didn’t feel like it was slowing me down. I could see the black tires coming, and when I hit, it didn’t feel so bad. But I kept moving. I must have gone over the wall, and it flipped a few times in the air. I just didn’t want to land upside down, and I landed flat. It looked a lot worse than it was.”
The full course caution continued for almost an hour while Foster was extracted. The recovery crew eventually had to cut the roof off the RX-8. Foster was taken to Race Medical and then transferred to the Elkhart Lake hospital for further examination. Reports indicate that he was conscious and lucid. Apparently, Foster had a previous neck injury, so all due caution was being taken. Foster was later released from hospital with no apparent injuries.
Magnussen pitted the #57 Camaro on Lap 7, handing the car over to Robin Liddell for the balance of the race. The green flag appeared on Lap 17, with Liddell in front of the GT pack. Later, on Lap 21, Eric Curran pits the Marsh Engineering Corvette from P4, falling to P12 on his return.
Robin Liddell, the GT-class leader fell out of contention on Lap 24, with a spin in Turn 12 followed by a pit stop. By Lap 29, two Porsches have moved to the front followed by Jordan Taylor in the #88 Camaro. The top three cars ran with just a gap of less than 2.5 seconds.
The extended full course caution had played havoc with everyone’s fuel calculations, leading to different strategies by different teams. The two lead cars are forced to make pit stops on Lap 42, handling the front spot over to Taylor in the #88 Camaro.
At this point, the order is Taylor, Spencer Pumpelly in the Team Sahlen RX-8, and Eric Curran in the #31 Corvette. Unfortunately for Taylor, the Autohaus Motorsports Camaro GT.R ran out of gas on the last lap, giving the lead to Pumpelly. It seems, however, that the Sahlen folks were using the same calculator as the Autohaus people.
With a clear win in view, Pumpelly’s RX-8 ran out of fuel with just three corners remaining in the race. Eric Curran cruised on past to take the victory in the #31 Whelen Engineering Corvette. It is the team’s first class win this year. And few were more surprised than Curran himself.
“When I took the checkered flag, I didn’t even realize that we won – I wasn’t sure if they were saying we finished fourth or first. We’ve had poles and we’ve led laps, but we’ve never ended up winning before. The Whelen Engineering guys needed a great result.”
The Rolex Sports Car Series 250 Driven by VisitFlorida.com at Road America was the seventh event in the 12-race Rolex series. The series now heads west to Laguna Seca Raceway for the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda on July 8 and 9, 2011.