MONTEREY, Calif. (May 2, 2016)- With the real excitement of the weekend occurring before the race had even started, the team at Magnus Racing did a remarkable job to overcome a pre-race pit fire en route to a trouble-free 13th during yesterday’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Kicking off the “sprint season” of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s GTD class, the team retains a solid third-place standing in the championship.
“This was definitely not the race we were hoping for, but it was an absolute testament to the quality of our crew,” stated team owner and co-driver John Potter. “We could have just as easily missed the event with the fire, but the team immediately went in to recovery mode to make sure we made the start, and as the season goes on these are the moments that will make a big difference. It’s a little disappointing to have a drive-through penalty from IMSA in addition to having to start from pit lane, we were already at a deficit by having to start the race from the back, and the drive-through penalty effectively killed all our chances to do well. We were still able to manage points, and given our strong start to the year we’re still very much in the thick of the competition. We would have loved to have shown more for all of our guests on-hand at Auric Solar, but obviously one of the things we all enjoy about this sport is its unpredictability, we were just on the wrong side of it this weekend.”
After a fairly smooth weekend throughout practice and qualifying for the No. 44 Audi Tire Center / Auric Solar Audi R8 LMS, Sunday’s pre-race warm-up, occurring less than two hours before the race start, would change the entire dynamic of the weekend. With driver Andy Lally setting a few final laps to gauge the car’s setup, chaos would ensue as he stopped in the pits for the last time before the race.
As the team re-fueled the car, a rare mechanical problem would result in a small amount of fuel leaking outside of the vehicle, catching on fire as it came in contact with a very hot machine. Thanks to quick work by the crew and track safety personnel, the fire would be put out almost immediately, with no one hurt and no major damage sustained. As the fire extinguishing systems engaged, however, the team would have to take the car back to the paddock to clear it of the powder located all over the vehicle, as well as a thorough mechanical review to make sure there were no other unforeseen damages.
For the next 70 minutes, the team would frantically go through the car, replacing components that appeared effected, as well as vacuuming and cleaning the high amount of foam and powder from the extinguishing. Luckily for all involved, the car would turn on with seemingly no issues, allowing the team to roll back to pit lane in time for the start.
Unfortunately, in the process the team would miss the mandatory reconnaissance lap to take their place on the grid, meaning the team’s opening driver, John Potter, would have to start from pit lane. This would present three challenges. The first would be that Potter had to start from the back and not even begin to join the track until the field came by at full speed. The second challenge would be joining the track with a car that had not been warmed up, putting him at a further disadvantage to the field in front of him that had just run two pace laps. Third, the team would be forced to serve a mandatory drive-through penalty after the opening lap, forcing Potter to crawl through pit-lane at a reduced speed as the field continued to pull away.
As a result of the various penalties placed on the team, by time John was up to speed he was nearly a lap down, with a hard charging GTD field quickly gaining on him. As he got up to speed, the pace of Potter and the Magnus Audi was on par with the majority of the field, setting consistent lap times and running without incident. Understanding that the focus now had to be on simply managing the rest of their race, John drove a relatively calm first stint, holding his own until a timely yellow was able to put the team in a strategic position to rejoin on the lead lap and hand the car over to teammate Andy Lally.
With Lally in the car, all focus turned to salvaging every position he could for the race’s final hour. With no additional yellow flags, however, the Atlanta resident had no real chance to catch the field in front of him. Despite this, Andy would still find himself in a couple of great battles outside the top-10, eventually finding himself in 13th for the finish.
“The pit fire really hurt us for the race, and unfortunately the penalties were sort of the final blow,” stated Lally. “It was an amazing job by the guys, again, to get us out there, and that definitely helps us for the championship. It was just one of those weekends, we’ll just have to turn our attention to the rest of the season.”
While it was the worst finish of the year for the team, the fact that they were still able to complete a full race distance would still mean solid points, allowing them to hold on to third in the championship.
With just under five weeks until the next event, all focus will now turn to the final street circuit of the season, the famed Detroit Grand Prix in scenic Belle Isle, with practice beginning on Friday, June 4. The race will take place one day later at 12:40PM ET.