© 2019 by Andy Pilgrim

Watkins Glen - Back on real race tracks

June 10, 2007

Watkins Glen International is about a pure a race track that you can still find here in the U.S.


The geography of tracks like The Glen, Road America and Mid-Ohio are about the only three throwbacks to European road courses still left in the U.S. At each of them, there are places you’re painfully slow, blindingly fast, and having to thread the needle on corners.


I’ve been racing at The Glen since 1986 when I first had a chance to come East and practice my new racing love, that replaced motorcycles.  I’ve raced The Glen more than 25 times, won there three times, etc etc. etc.


And I’ve done more than a couple years of the standing starts in the SCCA Speed GT Championship series with the Cadillac CTS-V. I was the series champion in 2005, right?Having said that, why is it I suddenly don’t seem to remember how to do a standing start under SCCA’s procedure.


I qualified on the pole with a new record 1:53.998 lap (107.370mph), but that doesn’t say much as the World Challenge cars haven’t raced at The Glen since 1998, and there’s nothing to compare these cars to nine years ago.


I was anxious at the start of the race, knowing I'd need to launch really well to have a chance to stay in the lead. I guess I suffered another case of Salt-Lake-itis – this time from the pole instead of from mid-pack -- and was so focused on trying to get a great start I jumped it enough to move the car about one car length.


As the old saying goes, it is like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. If I had moved the car six inches, the penalty would have been the same – a stop-and-go – and that should have totally ruined my race for me. The entire field would be soooo far ahead of me!


The race in Salt Lake was the first time I'd ever jumped a start and I guess that was still ingrained in my brain. I think we'll put in place a process where my crew chief reminds me over the radio to wait for the red lights to go out before starting! That sounds silly, but if that’s all it takes to re-program my brain and not do this again …!


However, somebody else’s misfortune became my salvation. Dane Moxlow had the engine in his Pontiac GTO grenade itself on the first lap, causing the yellow caution flags to fly, causing the field to make up a lot of ground behind the safety car, causing me to catch up with the field as I had completed my penalty before the yellow flags flew.


The track went green on lap five with me in 21st place, about 13 seconds behind the leader. Had Moxlow not suffered his problem, I’d have been close to a full lap behind now.


I had plenty of time on the yellow laps after my stop and go penalty to beat myself up for making the mistake and then re-focus on driving as fast as I could through the field to re-gain the best results I could from the situation.


Picking off cars ahead of me wasn’t that hard. I was 17th on lap 6, 12.8 seconds behind Eric Curran’s flying Corvette; 12th place on lap 8, 12.4 seconds back; 7th place on lap 11, 11.5 seconds back, etc.


But do you see a pattern here?  I was gaining positions, but not gaining time to the leaders because they were as fast as I was.


However, Curran suffered a misfire in his Corvette while leading on lap 10 and was no longer a factor. That put Randy Pobst and his Porsche in the lead.


Eventually I was able to pass Sonny Whelan, Tommy Archer and Michael Galati – all very stout cars – but only because I was so mad at myself that I was a bundle of controlled fury.


I set the race’s fastest lap on lap 9, a 1:55.650, then Randy unloaded a 1:55.167. I could only answer with a 1:55.554.With those laps, I think SCCA got to see what both the Cadillac CTS-V and the Porsche 911 GT-3 really have.


I finished the race in fourth place, behind Randy, my teammate Lawson Aschenbach, and Lou Gigliotti.


Or, at least, what those two particular drivers on that specific track on that specific day have.


I’ve raced against and with Randy ever since I my first time here at The Glen. We’ve won races as teammates, and struggled to beat each other.


But this race was not just “his,” the entire World Challenge weekend was his. On Saturday morning he won the Touring class race in a factory Mazda 6, and after our GT race, won the second Touring race of the weekend. Nobody can remember the last time any driver won three major races in a single SCCA weekend, and that gives Randy 11 races at The Glen. So my hat’s off to him.


On Saturday of this weekend, I was asked to share Leighton Reese’s  #06 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP-R in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Championship Six-Hour race.


Because of the length of the race, they felt it best to have a spare driver, so I shared #06 with Reese and Tim Lewis.


We were having a fine day until both cars pitted at once. I went to leave the pits, yanked the steering wheel to the left to swerve around our team car, but bumped one of the tires that was waiting for it.


It wasn’t like I launched the tire off the Watkins Glen property, I just nudged it. But again, you’re pregnant or you’re not, and I received another penalty.


I’m trying to remember the last time anything I did as a driver deserved a penalty, but cannot.  The answer may be “never.”  And now, in four races I’ve jumped two starts and knocked some tires. I do not believe I deserved a penalty for the tire deal, but I’ve learned another lesson.


After five races,  I still have the points lead with 143, but Randy is now second at 138. Lawson’s a solid third at 135.


Cadillac’s Manufacturers’ Championship points lead over Chevrolet grew from one to two points – 33 to 31, and Porsche is now nine points behind us.


The Watkins Glen Speed GT race will air on SPEED TV Saturday, June 2 at 4 p.m. ET.Our next race is a month from now, July 8-10, on the streets of Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto, Canada, where we’ll join the ChampCar Series.Too bad they went and copied our standing start procedure.



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