Sahlen’s Champyard Dog at the Glen
Double 7-Hour Enduro
May 26 & 27, 2018
Story by Doc Waldrop
Pictures by Bill Strong
If there is any race that can lay claim to the most prestigious race to win on the ChampCar Endurance Series schedule over the Daytona 14-hour race it is certainly the double seven contests held over the Memorial Day weekend at the Watkins Glen International (WGI) circuit. Home to the early years of the US round of the Formula 1 series, the track is steeped in motorsports history.
The 7-hour contest scored as 2 races in ChampCar, could be considered a sprint race after the 12-hour VIR South round and the three 14-hour races at Road Atlanta, Daytona, and Charlotte races that open the season on the East Coast. The 2018 round was no exception to past years at the Glen as 106 teams were registered for the event, all seeking glory on the fast 3.48-mile layout.
Race One – Saturday
/ChampCar Endurance Series – Bill Strong
A test and tune day on the Friday preceding the race eliminated several cars so the field was comprised of 101 starters with some of the fastest and most storied teams and cars running in the ChampCar Series. After the random draw for starting position from pit stall numbers, the field headed into T1 under perfect racing conditions for the 7-hour run to the checkers. Not only would the teams have to be quick on the track, but also quick in their race strategy thinking in the pits as the race would be studded with possible full course yellow cautions (FCY) due to WGI’s no “hot pulls” policy and the 7-hour race duration allowed teams flexibility for pit stops.
Predictably, the faster teams moved through traffic efficiently and at the one hour mark the lead was held by the #991 Guarino-Watson Racing (GWR) BMW 325is, followed by the #942 “Ketchup” RX-7 of race sponsor, Team Sahlen, who had fielded 3 of the Mazdas, and the #940 Krueger Tuned Racing Volvo 940 in third. JSK Racing’s Nissan Maxima #176 ran in 4th while the #81 Junction Honda Civic had rocketed from a 64th starting position to hold down 5th position.
Tuttle Motorsports’ #108 Mitsubishi Eclipse ran in P6 with RBank Racing’s familiar #90 Saab 9-3 in 7th, and the #840 Lexus SC300 fielded by Nine Four Motorsports in 8th. Rounding out the top 10 saw the Team Octane #245 EC class 2009 Mini Cooper in 9th after an impressive run through the field having started 47th and the 3rd Gear Pulls Honda CR-X running in P10. The pace of the race had already been slowed by 2 FCYs to pick up stalled cars on the track. Late in the 1st hour of the race, a furious battle had broken out between the leading BMW and one of the favorites for the overall win, the McKibbins Biohazard #382 MR2, as the Toyota tried desperately to get back on the lead lap after stopping to repair a faulty transponder (It wasn’t faulty. The owner of the car failed to renew his X2 Transponder subscription. A very rare mistake from one of the top contenders. WDS). The dicing between these two competitors through heavy traffic was thrilling to watch for many laps until the MR2 eventually prevailed.
The first leader to falter was the #991 GWR when shortly after the 2-hour mark they pitted with a flat left front tire. The team would recover quickly, but a later highside with a curb would end their chances for a win with a cracked oil pan relegating them to a 77th place finish for Saturday. The BMW team would have to settle for the fastest time of the day at a 2:15.279 as their only claim to fame for the day. The RBankracing.com’s pair of Saab 9-3s, #981, and #90, moved up as a result and were pacing the field, holding down the top 2 spots. Visceral Racing Group’s familiar #918 Porsche 944 ran in P3 followed by the Matt Connolly Motorsports #900 BMW 330ci and the Simon Says #63 Acura Integra in hot pursuit.
Much like the GWR’s BMW, Visceral’s Porsche 944’s day was to come to an end prematurely as they battled with the Matt Connolly #900 330ci when they both came upon a much slower Miata. The BMW swerved left to avoid the car and the 944 went right and while the Porsche was able to avoid the Mazda they could not avoid a spin and subsequent contact with the wall. After being towed in and replacing a damaged wheel and starter they were able to resume the race but the hopes for a good finish were dashed as they eventually finished 78th.
The hours continued to roll on with no less than 8 FCYs by the time the race was 4 ½ hours in, the last one by far the most serious as the #185 Dead Pedal Racing Maserati BiTurbo tangled with the Monkey Football League #501 BMW in the short straight after the “Boot” portion of the track, resulting in heavy damage to both cars. At the front of the field, the #90 RBank Saab was battling with the Sahlen’s Ketchup #942 RX-7 and the Bimmerline #336 BMW 325 for the lead when disaster struck. As the Saab exited T6 the brakes failed and the #90 hit the barriers and rolled coming to a stop on its side. This incident brought out a red flag and the leaders followed by the rest of the field was brought to pit ROAD.
When the race was green flagged again at 3:11 PM there was just under an hour to go until the finish with the #63 Simon Says Integra in P1 followed by the #942 RX-7, the McKibbins Biohazard MR2, the Team Octane Mini Cooper #245, and the #107 Tuttle Eclipse. Sixth place had the Tomlinson Motorsports’ BMW 328 leading over Fasthog’s #169 BMW 325, DamSon Racing’s E46 #346, Bimmerline’s #336 E36, and the #900 Matt Connolly BMW 330ci rounding out the top 10, but 1 lap down to the group and 2 laps down to the overall leader.
As the minutes wound down, the #107 Tuttle Eclipse made short work of passing the P2-4 entrants when they all pitted for fuel and the Eclipse performing just a driver change on their last stop and not taking on any fuel. A couple of late cautions closed the gap between Simon Says and the Tuttle Motorsports #107, but the Mitsubishi could gain no significant time on the Integra as the clock rolled over at the 7-hour mark and the checkered flag fell over the field. The Integra had calculated that with all the FCYs and the Red Flag they could make it to the finish with just the required driver change that was allowed during the red flag period. Turns out they were right. Their only worry was if a late race caution fell (and there was one when the #449 Team Sterm Acura Integra suffered a mechanical failure and went into the Armco) it might allow the faster Eclipse to make up significant ground on them. At the finish, the Acura had managed a 9-second margin of victory over the Mitsubishi. Should we mention that they ran out of fuel on the cool down lap? That last Full Course Yellow with 11 minutes to go, saved the win for Simon Says!
The next 3 finishers, that of Tomlinson Motorsports, Matt Connolly Motorsports, and Team Octane’s Mini were all EC class cars and not eligible for the overall finishing results, so in effect, Sahlen’s #942 RX-7, Bimmerline’s # 336 E36, and McKibbins #382 MR2 all moved up in the official results. The Fasthog #169, an EC class E36, was followed across the line by the Nine Four Motorsports Toyota Supra, RBanks #981 Saab 9-3, the BMWs of Yoda Sport’s E30, DamSon Racing’s E46, and 23 VanWinden Racing’s #233 E36. JSK Racing’s Nissan Maxima rounded out the top 15 finishers.
1st Place Simon Says Interview
2nd Place Interview
Race Two – Sunday
If Saturday’s weather was perfect for racing, Sunday was anything but with rain forecasted for much of the day. The only teams of the 89 starters that might have been licking their chops were the front wheel drive cars of Tuttle Motorsports and RBankracing.com who had shown their mettle in Saturday’s results.
Sure enough, as the first hour of the race passed by, the Rbankracing.com #981 was running in P2 despite a flapping hood followed by the #108 Tuttle Eclipse in P3, both trailing the #900 Matt Connolly BMW in the lead. The 23 VanWinden Racing #233 BMW had moved up from their 15th starting position to run in P4 and the Team Octane Mini Cooper had similarly made up ground from 16th at the start to hold down 5th position. Another team taking advantage of their front wheel drive package was the #176 JSK Racing Nissan Maxima as they had moved up from the 46th place start to run in 7th, separated from the top 5 running order by the Nine Four Motorsports #83 Toyota Supra in 6th. The second entry from Tuttle Motorsports, the #107 Mitsubishi had made up 30 spots to run in 12th position.
By the 2nd hour the JSK Maxima had moved up to take the lead as conditions deteriorated on track followed by the Tuttle #108 Eclipse in P2, tellingly as the only 2 cars on the lead lap. Bimmerline’s #336 and the remaining RBank Saab #981 held down the next 2 positions followed by the #943 Sahlen’s’ Mustard RX-7 in 5th having made up an incredible 58 positions from the start!!! Tuttle’s #107 had been black flagged to serve a 10-minute penalty for contact with the #949 Kim Jung iL Acura Integra and the resulting time lost meant they would never be a real factor for the rest of the day. The day got grimmer for Tuttle Motorsports 2 ½ hours into the race when the #108 carried too much speed into T1, locked up the brakes, made contact with another competitor, and eventually nosed the Eclipse into the tire barriers. The car was damaged too severely to continue the contest.
Halfway through the 7-hour contest, the field had suffered 5 FCYs, some for contact between the entrants and some for contact with the unforgiving Armco barriers circling the track. The 2 BMW 325is of Bimmerline and 23 VanWinden Racing led the field followed by the Team Octane EC class Mini Cooper, the tried and tested #981 Saab 9-3 of RBank and the JSK Maxima. Ketron Racing’s #531 had steadily moved up through the field to hold down 6th with Last Minute Racing, Step Brothers, Sahlen’s Mustard, and K-Wood 2 Racing’s Miata rounding out the top 10. 3rd Gear Pulls CR-X was next in 11th with Visceral Racing’s Porsche 944 and Yoda Sports’ BMW rounding out the cars all on the same lap.
As the track was drying out the lap times were slowly falling as a dry line began to appear in several spots and most of the competitors were resetting their personal bests virtually every lap. When the next FCY fell with 2 hours to go pit row got busy with virtually all the top 10 cars came in for fuel and a driver change. RBanks #981 advantage over the JSK #176 had slowly shrunk down to 41 seconds from a high mark of 1:54, but the Saab and the Maxima were the only cars on the lead lap. The Mini Cooper of Team Octane was the only car one lap down to the leaders, but the battle for 4th through 7th (cars 2 laps down) was furious. 23 VanWinden BMW #233 and Bimmerline’s #336 were contesting 4th with Simon Says’ Integra #63 hot on the heels of them both running nose to tail with them and the #943 Mustard RX-7 rounding out those cars 2 laps down.
With 30 minutes to go until the 4PM checkered flag, the Saab 9-3 of RBank had virtually sealed the win as their lap times continually improved, eventually setting the overall FTD with a 2:17.600 while putting the JSK Maxima a lap down as they could only manage a 2:24.275 that came 4 laps from the end. They would eventually settle for 2nd on their own lap ahead of the Octane EC class Mini Cooper. The battle for 4th through 7th remained close to the finish but remained as before: the BMWs of 23 VanWinden Racing and Bimmerline, followed by the Sahlen’s Mustard RX-7 and Simon Says’ Integra. Nine Four Motorsport’s Toyota Supra came home in 8th while Guarino-Watson Racing’s #991 finished in 9th having overcome visibility problems in the rain earlier in the race. 3rd Gear Pulls Honda CR-X would round out the top 10.
Ketron Racing’s Honda Prelude would settle for 11th with the Visceral Racing Porsche 944 in 12th, leading over the K-Wood 2 Miata, the Step Brothers BMW 325is, and the Sahlen’s Ketchup RX-7 managing 15th after Saturday’s 6th place finish. No further proof was needed as to the conditions improving from the morning’s soggy start as the top 49 cars all set their personal best times in the last 18 laps of the race. Several teams must have had big sighs of relief with their finishes (and relatively unscathed cars) as they approach the first ChampCar National Championship race sponsored by RVA Graphics & Wraps in just 3 weeks time at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park on June 15th & 16th.
With 8 hours of racing on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday with an overnight Park Ferme impound, it might very well be the most impressive entrant line-up in ChampCar history.
2018 Sahlen’s Champ Yard Dog at the Glen
Inside ChampCar at Watkins Glen 1801 –