(05/02/2007) - With back-to-back wins in the opening races of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, championship winner SpeedSource had no time to slow down. At Virginia International Raceway, in the fourth event for the 2007 season, the SpeedSource Mazdaspeed GT RX-8 #70 posted a second-place qualifying run after two strong practice sessions. Before the race, team owner Sylvain Tremblay commented on the RX-8's strengths at the track as well as the new pit stop rules imposed by Grand-Am.
"This year seems to be all about tires and tire management, and our car is really strong at that. We don't have the outright speed of the Porsches, but what we do have is balance. The Mazda is very, very well balanced and hopefully that will pay dividends throughout this race. This new 45-minute rule changes our strategy a little bit, and I think it will be important that the good teams will always race to the top, and I think we have one of them."
Early in the race, Nick Ham held the #70 in 2nd position, with the gap to the leader under a second. On lap 20, in a duel for the lead in the uphill esses, #70 gained the top spot, and pitted on lap 22. Ham stayed in the car, taking on fuel and tires. He rejoined the field in 5th position, quickly regaining 1st place as competitors pitted in this 76-lap event.
Commenting on strategy and the decision to keep Nick Ham in the car on the first stop, Team Technical Director David Haskell said, "These guys are interchangeable, both of them very good drivers, and we could save some time on the pit stop by not doing a driver change. We started on a full tank so we knew the stop was going to be quick. We just wanted to fill the car with gas and get four tires on and get out as quickly as we could. We knew the race would be caution-free, hopefully, and if that works out for us we should be looking pretty good at the end."
By lap 36, Ham put all but 13 competitors down a lap in green-flag racing. He maintained a consistent 12-second lead over the field.
Also posting a strong run in this challenging race, the FXDD-sponsored #69 of Emil Assentato started from the seventh position, and had contact early in the race with minor body damage. On lap 15, the #69 pitted for fuel and tires; Assentato quickly rejoined the field.
Running in its highest position of the race, the #69 car followed closely behind #70 in second. The next 20 laps saw SpeedSource hold steady in first and fourth positions. Contact between #69 and a lapped car again attested to the gritty battles taking place throughout the 27-car field. #69 pitted and Nick Longhi took the wheel just before the halfway mark.
A final pit stop for the #70 car at 1 hour 38 minutes put team owner Sylvain Tremblay in the car, with new tires and a full tank. He left pit lane in third place, quickly fought back to the top spot, only to be moved back to second by the quicker #87. With no diminution of competitive spirit late in the race, Tremblay fell back to third.
The #69 Mazda continued to post its own gains and Longhi had moved up to eighth place. A problem with the driver-side door latch hampered Longhi, but the FXDD Mazda continued to make gains and moved through the field to fourth position. Despite a late-race spin, Longhi was able to get back on track, but sustained damage and dropped to fifth.
A race-end pit stop by the #85 car bumped the Tremblay up to second, while #69 regained fourth position. With a dozen laps remaining, Tremblay's gap to first place was 7.8 seconds. Longhi's distance to a podium finish was 9.5 seconds, with only the top five cars remained on the lead lap in this all-green race. On the final lap, the fuel ran out for #69 and Longhi fell back to an 11th place finish. Tremblay closed his gap to the race leader, crossing the line 5.5 seconds short of 1st place, with the third place car a minute and a half behind.
The team's strong finish stretches the gap in the championship race, putting them in the lead by 18 points.
SpeedSource will race next at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, May 17-20, followed by the Grand-Am Classic at Lime Rock Park, May 25-28.
SpeedSource Race Engineering's 2007 Mazda RX-8 campaign is supported by Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development, Mazda North American Operations, Road & Track, Racing Hart, Sparco, Motec, Hawk Performance Brakes, Dynamic Suspensions, Mothers Wax and Polish, Goodridge, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, and Mechanix Wear. For information on SpeedSource's 2007 season, please visit Speedsourceinc.com.
On any given weekend, there are more Mazdas on the road-race tracks of America than any other brand of vehicle. At the track, you'll see MX-5 Miata, RX-8, MAZDA3, MAZDA6, RX-7 and other vintage Mazda models competing, because every Mazda has the soul of a sports car. In fact, the fastest growing road-racing class in the U.S. is the SCCA's Spec Miata class, with nearly 1,500 first- and second-generation Miatas tearing up America's racetracks, making it the most-raced production car in the world. Mazda's involvement in motorsports extends to its relationship with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, one of the world's premier road-racing circuits, and the Skip Barber Schools for driving and racing.
Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., Mazda North American Operations oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers. Operations in Canada are managed by Mazda Canada, Inc., located in Ontario, Canada, and in Mexico by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City.