After an unwelcome red flag late in the race – a period that started in the wet and ended under dry track conditions – the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GS.R driven by Matt Bell and John Edwards found itself wearing the wrong shoes. At the last driver change, the team opted to go with rain tires but soon after coming back onto the then-wet track, a red flag period began and by the time it ended, the rains had ceased. This left John Edwards ‘out to dry’ putting him at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the GS field for the run to the finish in this, the eighth round of the 2012 GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series and the first sports car race ever run at the venerable Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Despite the setback, the team went on to capture their fourth consecutive top ten finish in the series.
Coming into Indy, the team felt a great sense of potential success lay ahead as they had registered the quickest lap times in the Indy test sessions that took place a few weeks earlier. When the time came to go racing, Matt Bell had given the team further reason to be optimistic as he qualified the Camaro GS.R third. After a good start, Bell was able to get the No. 9 car up to the front and worked his way up to a 10 second lead over the rest of the field. It surely looked to be a great day for the team.
And then it started to rain.
The team elected to come in and change to rain tires during a full course yellow. When they went back out onto the track, with an hour of racing yet to come, the worst possible circumstance occurred: GRAND-AM waved the red flag due to the rain. This put all the cars at idle meaning no one could make changes to their cars during the red flag period.
After a 45 minute delay the track dried out and GRAND-Am again waved the green flag for about a 15 minute sprint to the finish. With the No. 9 car still on the brand new rain tires, the advantage was lost. Others came into the pits to change to slicks but Team Manager Mike Johnson elected to stay out on the wets thinking there would not be enough time left in the race to get back in the lead after a second stop.
They finished in eighth place with their only consolation being that they were the highest placed of the cars that also elected not to switch to slicks once racing resumed.
Johnson describes how the team felt coming into the weekend and how it all rolled out for them overall.
“Coming off our season best fourth place finish at Watkins Glen, the guys were very well prepared for the Indy Test and this one day Race. (The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series teams all had to practice, qualify and race in a single day, as opposed to having a few days to complete all three sessions.) We rolled off the truck well”, Johnson continued, “and went right to the top of the time charts in the one and only practice session. Matt qualified third as we thought the Indy spec tire would take a while to come in, and we started on scuffs, while some guys qualified on stickers. Matt’s first lap was very good, but just not good enough.
“As the race started, we knew we had a great car and we chose to stay out at the first yellow since our fuel mileage was pretty good. Matt opened up a 10 second lead and our strategy was working out perfectly as we were about to run out of fuel when we went yellow. About 10 pit stalls away from our box, it started to pour, and we made the quick decision to put on rain tires while half the field stayed on slicks. Unfortunately, Grand-Am threw a red flag for 45 minutes which was just long enough for the track to dry. We went back to green with about 20 minutes to go, and while we could have come down pit lane for slicks, I felt like it would take too long to drive through the 70+ car field of ST and GS cars to get back to the top 5, so we stayed on the rain tires.
“At that point, we knew we had no chance for victory, but we didn’t want to drop too far back. John did everything he could to keep the cars with slicks behind him and we finished eighth. Not a great result, but an amazing effort by the team to get an eighth place finish with rain tires on the car. In the end it, was the right call, because the cars that came in for slicks after the red didn’t make it very far up the field. We moved up a spot in the points, and now the guys get a well-deserved break before the last two races.”
Matt Bell was sure the Indy race would be a good one for the team but Mother Nature, and the powers that be in GRAND-AM, washed those hopes away.
“We had an incredible car, but were caught out by poor weather and couldn’t put it together. Having practice, qualifying, and the race all happen in one day is very tough on a race team. The track changes constantly and you can quickly fall behind on getting proper adjustments made before the next session. The car I had in qualifying was a bit off pace – it simple lacked the balance I needed on the increasingly hot track. Our engineer knew exactly what to do for the race and gave us the best GS car I’ve ever driven.” Bell stated.
“I started out in third, one place behind the best qualified Camaro. That didn’t work for me. Not long into the race I found myself right behind the then-leading No. 01 car. Thanks to Mike Johnson’s good judgment strategically, we soon moved up to the lead. With the brilliantly engineered car we had this weekend, I was able to pull quite a large gap on the rest of the field. Unfortunately, when the weather and an associated caution came out, the gap was lost. As Mike noted, it was a great last moment call to throw treaded rain tires on the car just as I was pulling in, because it was obvious we were starting to see rain. This strategy would have worked out had the series not held the field under red flag for as long as they did. Since most of the track was dry by the time the green flag flew, John simply had the wrong tire on to be very competitive.”
“Despite the outcome,” Bell continued, “it was an incredible effort by this amazing team, but it just didn’t happen for us here at Indy. I think we proved through the early portion of the race that we have developed one of the fastest cars under the current rules and I’m sure we’re all excited to show what we can do in the last couple races of the season.”
John Edwards too expected great things at Indy. “We had the car to beat in the GS race at Indy”, he said. “But in the end, even with the quick decision to switch to wets, the guys on the team delivered a great stop that ultimately was flushed away by the red flag period.”
“Matt dominated his stint, but rain was coming as we got ready to pit.” Edwards commented, “We were still planning to put on slicks until Matt was about 10 pit stalls away and Mike made the call to put on rains when the skies opened up. The last minute change didn’t throw the guys off a bit, and they got the treaded tires on with a great stop.”
Edwards agreed the red flag was needed because the rains had come down so hard, but he disagreed with the manner in which the officials handled the period.
“The heavy rain made a red flag necessary,’ Edwards noted, “but the sun came out after just a very few minutes of us being stopped on track. However, for some reason we continued to sit there for about 20 minutes and then we began circling around behind the safety car for another 20 minutes or so. That extended period allowed the track to dry completely, so the teams that put slicks on got lucky and we were put in a tough situation. With only a short time left in the race, we were forced to drive about 15 minutes with wet tires on a completely dry track. We fell down to eighth at the end, despite making all the right calls throughout the race. It was very disappointing for us and for the fans to continue circling behind the safety car for so long after the track conditions had reached a safe point to race.”
With just two races remaining this season, the championship standings are a
Team: Stevenson Motorsports – 6th place
Driver: Matt Bell – 7th place / John Edwards – 14th place (Edwards missed several races due to injury)
Manufacturer: Chevrolet – 3rd place
The next race in the 2012 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge 10 race schedule will be the C T Sports Car Festival at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, on September 9th.
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