Just about a week ago my plans to go to Brazil to spend some time there with and old friend and his wife were perfectly intact. My buddy, John Swingler, live on this amazing golf course in Buzios, Brazil, and I love getting down there.
John is in the oil rig business. He called to tell me he had an emergency in an oil rig in China, so I had to put off my trip for a while.
But last Monday, only a day later, I got a call from Carl Murgas, the team manager for Mark Boden's Fall-Line Motorsports team. Mark's originally-planned co-driver could not make it, so carl asked if I may be available to sub in the Florida Citrus 200. As it happens, I am now available.
I had tested the Fall-Line BMW M3 a while ago to help on some set-ups for my old friend and master race car set up guru, Jim Bell. I was really happy to get the call and so three days later I was off to Daytona for a quick 48 hours of race weekend.
Practice and qualifying were on Thursday and race day was Friday for the Florida Citrus 200, the opening of what has been renamed the Continental Tire GRAND-AM Sports Car Challenge It used to be the GRAND-AM cup, then the GRAND-AM KONI Challenge. Every year at Daytona it runs a Friday support race to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Mark Boden would be my co-driver. Mark is an accomplished race driver. He won a National Championship in his Porsche GT car and is stepping into the pro ranks these days with the Continental Tire Series.
Practice went well and all three Fall-Line BMWs were running in the top 15 of 45 GS class cars. The series has two classes, Street Tuner and Grand Sports. The GS class is quicker, bigger-engined cars like the 2010 Ford Mustang Boss 302 "1970 flashback" cars, 2010 Camaros, Dodge Challenger, Porsche 997 and Cayman, Subaru Impreza WRX and many BMW M3s like Mark's three-car entry.
Mark wanted me to qualify the car. I was happy to oblige, putting in a pole time of 1min 59.636 secs, or an average speed of 107.124mph for a 3.56-mile lap, compared to the second place factory Ford Mustang of Joe Foster at a 1min 59.660sec, just :036 sec slower.
In Mark’s series, the driver who qualifies has to start the race, so that was a great start to my year to lead 81 cars – yes, 81!! - to the green flag.
I had a good first half of the 2.5-hour race and led all 29 of my laps, at one point by 12 seconds.
That’s an uncharacteristic lead for this series, and was helped in no small part by the fact that the Ford guys in second and third place were fighting among each other, instead of working together to catch me, and that allowed me to get away. Also, traffic was very kind to me. The slower Street Tuner class guys were excellent at using their mirrors and gave me plenty opportunity to increase my lead and save the car.
I pitted under a yellow caution flag, which helped us, as it wasn’t the fastest of pit stops.
Mark had a great run and was poised to bring home the car in a solid fifth place, but on the final lap, there was a bit of fender action between the BMW and a Camaro, resulting in an 11th place finish for Mark.
The other Fall-Line team BMWs cars came in 2nd with Charles Espenlaub and Charley Putnam, and 5th place with Terry Borcheller and Andrew Hendricks. In all, it was a fantastic performance for a new team running at this level.
I hope the Fall-Line team has a great rest of the season; it was a pleasure to run with them. Running a three car team in a pro series for the first time the Fall-Line crew guys did a great job.
My next race will be with the GMG Porsche in the 12 Hours of Sebring. I’ll tell you more after I test with them on Feb. 22.