Sahlen’s 6 Hours at Watkins Glen
I left work in Auburn Hills, MI on Friday afternoon and drove across Canada, a bizarre experience as all of the road speeds are in kilometres which reminded me of my time in France for the journey to Le Mans just two weeks ago. I passed by London, Hamilton, and Lancaster without the ‘L’ – I guess they lost it in transit from the UK and the person putting up the sign didn’t know any better.
Saturday consisted of a 5.30 am alarm call, a beautiful drive from Geneva, NY along the edge of one of the area’s finger lakes (Lake Geneva) to the equally beautiful town of Watkins Glen. Next up was the short trip uphill to the world famous motor racing facility that is Watkins Glen International (@WGI). The TUDOR cars ran two practice sessions and then qualifying while the Continental Tires Sportscar Challenge ran their 150 mile race over the lunch hours. Scotsman Robin Liddell and teammate Andrew Davis won in one of the Stevenson Motorsports Camaros.
The second practice session for the TUDOR cars was marred by a couple of red flag periods– one of which was caused by a bonehead move perpetrated by one of the LMP Challenge cars which decided having left the track to the right to pull back onto the track and wipe out one of his fellow class competitors. Lucky for the Corvettes, they weren’t the victim as they had to swerve to avoid the wreck.
Qualifying saw the #3 Corvette C7.R piloted by Jan Magnussen take second place with Tommy Milner in the #4 car down in seventh place. Once again, the qualifying times showed how competitive the cars were with the #56 BMW Z4 pole time of 1:44.084 and the eighth placed #62 Risi Ferrari 458 Italia recording a time of 1:44.950, meaning that less than one second covered the top eight cars including both Corvettes, both Vipers (which are now painted in a beautiful retro red paint scheme harking back to their glory days in the late 90s), both BMWs, a Ferrari, and a Porsche.
Sunday marked race day for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, starting with a 20 minute warm-up session followed by the grid walk for the fans allowing them to get up close and personal with the cars before the start of the race. I was lucky enough to be one of the 100 Corvette Corral participants to be able to do two parade laps of the track in our Corvettes between the warm-up and the race. I have to say that the Corvette Corral was both extremely well organized thanks to GM and the work of the volunteers who helped out all weekend. The turn out of Corvette owners from both the US and Canada was stunning, nearly 150 Corvettes were present both Saturday and Sunday.
Jan Magnussen got a great start from second on the GTLM grid and by the end of the first lap had taken the class lead. Tommy Milner in the #4 Corvette C7.R did even better, he started seventh but quickly and cleanly made his way up to second place. In the overall race, the #5 Action Express Racing and #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DPs fought for the lead having passed the Oak Racing #42 polesitter. The Corvettes were the class of the field in both the LMP2 and GTLM Classes.During the first half of the race, the #3 and #4 Corvette Racing C7.Rs were first and second getting maximum points in the Patron sponsored North American Endurance Cup. The second half of the race didn’t go so well for the #4 car as Oliver Gavin had to serve a penalty assessed against his teammate Tommy Milner for contact with one of the GTD Class Audis.
The #3 Corvette however, ran a trouble free race and despite a couple of late race caution periods, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen took their third win in a row in the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship GTLM Class. More impressively, this happened after finishing 2nd in the GT PRO Class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans just two weeks prior with co-driver Jordan Taylor. In the overall race, the second to last caution period allowed Richard Westbrook in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP to catch up to the back of the #40 of Alex Brundle and take the lead as the lighter ALMS LMP2 cars take longer to build heat in the tires. Alex Brundle was a sitting duck with a target on his head for Richard Westbrook.
Talking of targets, the Target Chip Ganassi team must have thought some of the other teams took the team name as a command rather than a name as twice they were attacked by cars from other classes resulting in heavy damage. One incident brought about the final caution period which looked like it would end the race under yellow, however the clean up team did a great job and the race restarted with a white, green, checker finish with just 6 seconds to go as the cars crossed the start / finish line for one final lap.
Richard Westbrook brought the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP home for victory, which meant for GM, it was another great weekend winning both races plus the class victory for the #3 Corvette Racing C7.R. In the two other classes, the CORE Autosport entry took the LMPC class victory and the Turner Motorsports BMW Z4 #94 won the GTD Class.
The next race for the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship will be at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka Mosport) in two weeks time and we will once again be attending. Having left the track after the initial podium celebrations at about 6.10 pm, I arrived back to my temporary home in Auburn Hills, MI at 2.20 am. Having driven 504 miles across NY, PA, OH, and MI to get there, who says the life of a photojournalist isn’t glamorous!