American Endurance Racing: Watkins Glen International (9 + 9)

Valiant CTO Gene McMurray is an endurance racing enthusiast, having participated in 3-6 races per year over the last six years. His team, JSCSpeed Racing/Team Cardorks, recently competed in the second American Endurance Racing event of the season, April 21-23 at New York’s Watkins Glen International.

AER’s largest turnout to date featured 80 cars, 22 of them in Class 4 for the Saturday race.

Our Friday qualifying went well but our pace was not quite as high as expected, placing our #56 BMW E36 15th in class.

Saturday morning, the design of the paddock and the large field resulted in a traffic jam getting cars to grid, delaying the start of the race. The green flag waved at 9:11AM and the race was on.

The start of the race was more exciting than expected, with the #99 BMW E46 of Team GTR bogging down as the green flag waved. Cars scrambled to get around it safely, and one of the Porsche Caymans of Team Sahlen was clipped by another car. It spun a full 360 down the middle of the front straight but ultimately continued unimpeded.

Josh Hughes started the race as usual for the team and had an excellent drive, hauling the #56 car from 40th overall to 4th. (Unfortunately, in-class position data is difficult to construct after the race is over, so only overall positions are reported for now.) Just as the window was opening for our first scheduled pit stop, a full course yellow slowed the field and we brought the car in at 10:40 for the first of five planned pit stops to refuel and change the driver.

Jake Katznelson took the wheel for the second stint, emerging onto the track 15th overall. After only a few laps, a bad wreck in the section of the track known as the laces of the boot red-flagged the race, stopping it for nearly 90 minutes to clear two wrecked cars and repair the barrier.

An announcement from AER told us that this long stop would count as one of the five mandatory pit stops for the race, screwing up our driver rotation plan. With one of the mandatory stops and its planned driver change eliminated, we would have to cut one of our six driver’s stints to remain competitive. As Peter was already scheduled to drive two stints in the #196 Porsche 944 of Loose Canon Racing, he volunteered to give up his stint in the #56.

The race resumed at 12:31, and Jake drove a clean and consistent stint, returning to the pits in 12th overall around 1:30PM under a short yellow flag. The pit stop itself was quickly and cleanly executed, but a small traffic jam at pit out cost us some time.

Fabian Berger re-emerged on lap 67 in 15th overall. He drove a fast and clean stint with relatively few yellow flag laps, and brought the car in on lap 104 in 6th overall, capitalizing on another luckily-timed yellow flag period.

I brought #56 back onto the track for the second-to-last stint in 10th overall. Between the 85-minute red flag period and long stints for the first three drivers, shorter stints with large potential pit windows were planned and I brought the car in early for full course yellow with 70 minutes left in the race on lap 128, 4th overall.

Bob Turgeon drove the final stint, emerging onto the track in 11th overall, but more importantly 4th in class, right into the middle of an extremely tight battle for the Class 4 podium spots. After the final few competitors’ pit stops settled out, a five-way battle was on between the #5 Enabler Motorsports car, our #56 car, #24 Rally Baby Tequila Petrol, and the #172 and #272 of Mancave Motorsport, all five of which are BMW E36 chassis.

With such a short amount of time left in the race, it was a sprint race to the end. Bob passed the leading Mancave car and the Rally Baby and tried to close in on our chief rival from last year’s Summit Point Race, the #5 Enabler Motorsports E36. Towards the end of the stint he radioed in that the car was starting to handle uncertainly and the clutch was almost gone. He slowed slightly to consolidate second place and make sure we finished the race, and a final yellow flag period guaranteed that we would not catch up.

Trophies collected, photos taken, and the car up on jack stands, we set to work preparing the car for the Sunday race. The expired clutch was replaced with a unit sourced from Alex Rubenstein of Reuben’s Performance Garage and BBQ, and the front left strut insert was found to have ripped its top off and the endcap had come unscrewed from the housing. With no replacement available we reassembled it as best we could, put a ton of Locktite on the threads, and hoped for the best.

The Sunday race starting grid is the finishing order from the Saturday race, so we gridded up between the #5 Enabler Motorsports and the #24 Rally Baby Tequila Petrol cars. A much cleaner grid setup lead to the race starting much earlier, with the green flag falling at 8:49AM. Josh drove well, putting in a 2:13.098 lap, but the front left strut didn’t hold up and we retired the car on lap 16. The #293 E36 of Reuben Performance Garage and BBQ went on to win, with the #1 S2000 of McParland Motorsport in 2nd and #5 Enabler Motorsports in 3rd.

Overall it was a good event for us even with the DNF on Sunday. AER always puts on a great event, our fellow competitors always give us a run for our money, and the Watkins Glen flaggers and EV crews are top notch.

As Valiant’s CTO, Gene is responsible for defining and enforcing technology standards. The depth of his experience means that he is often found rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty...

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