Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 57- Rolex Sports Car Series 250 by Visit Florida

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Greetings from 30,000 feet. Its once again time for The Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional look at racing-related television programming. Saturday afternoon was a doubleheader at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In addition to the Bucyrus 200 for the Nationwide Series that ran later in the day, the Rolex Sports Car Series raced at 11am local time as a prelude to the Nationwide race.

SPEED’s usual on-air crew was on hand for the action from Road America. And there was plenty of it.

There were more pre-race interviews than normal, which I thought was interesting at the time I was viewing the race. Then, I remembered that it was at Road America. Laps behind the pace car take four minutes or more on average, so they could fit in more content than normal just because of that. Regardless of their reasoning, it was still good to see.

As you probably know by now, Saturday’s Rolex Sports Car Series race will go down in the record books as simply “the race where a Camaro left the park.” About five laps into the race, the brakes apparently failed on the No. 07 Chevrolet Camaro GT.R driven by Gunter Schaldach. Schaldach described it as such: “I went to brake for Turn 1, and nothing happened.” As a result, Schaldach ran into the back of the Visit Florida No. 40 Mazda RX-8, then ran through the sand trap, and crashed into the tire barriers. However, since Schaldach hit the tires at what seemed to be 120 mph, the impact lifted the Camaro into the air high enough for him to clear the catch fence and roll down the other side. A clip of SPEED’s coverage of the crash and replays can be found “here”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9cuY8IRuww. Even better, a clip of the crash from the in-car camera installed by the Banner Racing team can be seen “here”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kT6moE8yNQ on co-driver Oliver Gavin’s YouTube page. Thankfully, Schaldach walked away from the wreck and the car almost looks good enough that it could conceivably be used again after an overhaul.

The wreck, along with the extrication of Joe Foster from the Mazda and the repairs to the tire barrier and catch fence required a yellow that lasted almost half the race. During that time, SPEED covered the pit stops that occurred during that time and brought viewers multiple interviews, including with Schaldach. They also gave coverage of another incident that hampered the efforts of Aim Autosport’s No. 61 (the car dug into the grass at pit-in as a result of a late call into the pits).

The SPEED on-air crew clearly did not want to jump to conclusions about what they were seeing and did not speculate on the conditions of either Schladach or Foster. They did show Schaldach walking through the trap in order to get back to the pits, so based on that (and the aforementioned interview that Jamie Howe did with Schladach in the paddock), the booth was able to declare him good to go. There didn’t seem to be a lot of concern in the booth about Foster’s condition, but SPEED did have a trump card in their favor. Foster’s No. 40 was carrying an in-car camera that was facing the drivers’ seat. That shot confirmed that Foster was awake, alert, talking to corner workers, and rather ticked off about the safety workers wanting to cut the roof off of the RX-8 to get Foster out.

Towards the end of the race, Scott Pruett was running away with the race as a result of the (once again) superior strategy that the team employed. For those of you wondering, they got the lead because they executed an extra pit stop during the 55 minute full-course caution to swap Memo Rojas out of the driver’s seat in favor of the all-powerful Scott Pruett. The other contending teams had to perform driver changes under green on their final stops. Then, Pruett used his nearly 30 years of top-fight experience to drive away from the pack.

As a result of Pruett’s dominance, almost all of the focus of the last 30 minutes of the race was focused on GT, where all kinds of strategy was in play. First, the Brumos Porsche No. 59 driven by Leh Keen was leading, but they had to pit with 15 minutes remaining for fuel. The Magnus Racing No. 44 Porsche took over for a lap before pitting and handing the lead to the No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro GT.R of Jordan Taylor with a big lead. Meanwhile, there was a heck of a race for positions two through six in class behind Taylor. It was really quite exciting and SPEED covered it the right way. Not all of those teams that were fighting for the class victory are usually in the fray, which made it that much better.

The downfall for Autohaus Motorsports was their placement on the track in relation to Scott Pruett. As a result of the placement, the GT cars had to do an extra lap even after the two-hour time limit had been reached (I’d like to see the rule where it allows this). As a result, Taylor’s lead was gone within three turns and Spencer Pumpelly took over in the TRG No. 67. Unfortunately, he ran low on fuel with just a couple of corners to go, gifting the class victory to the Marsh Racing No. 31 Chevrolet Corvette driven by Eric Curran and GM tester John Heinricy (Heinricy was subbing for regular driver Boris Said, who was at Infineon Raceway to drive the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing in the Sprint Cup race). It was the first-ever victory for Marsh Racing at any level (remember, they used to be a part-time team in the now-Nationwide Series a few years back).

Post-race coverage was nowhere near as fulfilling as pre-race was. There were post-race interviews with the DP class winners (Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas) and Eric Curran, who drove the final stint in the Whelen-sponsored No. 31 Chevrolet Corvette. In addition, there were checks of the DP and GT point standings before SPEED left to get to coverage of Sprint Cup Practice from Infineon Raceway.

The lack of post-race coverage was sadly expected due to the fact that the race is timed and viewers would have had a general idea when the race was going to start and end. Unfortunately, we can’t do much about that when SPEED has NASCAR obligations.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this critique of the Rolex Sports Car Series 250 by Visit Florida telecast. Next week, I’m covering the Friday afternoon Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race at Road America which airs Saturday afternoon. Until then, I hope that everyone has a great Fourth of July weekend and enjoys the action from Daytona. Bye now.

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