Daytona Beach, FL: The busiest and likely most challenging week of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season is now in the record books and the second of those back-to back races ended with the best DP result to date for Spirit of Daytona Racing. Heading into Rounds 5 and 6 of the season, the #90 Porsche Coyote was in 9th place in team points standings. Dropping back one position following a disappointing 8th place finish at Lime Rock, the team came back strong at Watkins Glen. Their hard-fought 3rd place result boosted them to 6th place in the team standings. That finish marked the first podium for Spirit of Daytona since they joined DP competition.
The Lime Rock race presented a set of unique challenges for the team. Neither Buddy Rice nor Antonio Garcia had ever raced at Lime Rock, and the one day format allowed little practice time. However, the #90 quickly proved itself as qualifying driver Garcia narrowly missed pole position, putting the #90 on the front row in 2nd place. Unfortunately, a technical infraction for the height of the rear wing sent them to the back of the field for the start. Despite that setback, the team’s strategy combined with Garcia’s driving skill soon had the #90 back in contention. As Garcia explained, “We managed to pass everyone who was on our same strategy and in less than 30 minutes I moved up to 4th, knowing the three cars in front of us hadn’t pitted yet. As soon as they went in I was in the lead.” He held that lead for 30 laps before valuable position was lost when the door broke off the car during the pit stop for the driver change. The #90 dropped back further as contact with another car forced them in for an unscheduled stop for repairs. Buddy Rice praised the team’s hard work but acknowledged they still had lessons to learn. He said, “It’s disappointing to have a fast car and not get the result we deserve, but this is part of developing a new car, a new engine and a new team. There will be issues, but we are going to go through tough times to get to the good times.”
In fact, those good times came just five days later, as the team’s efforts were rewarded with a long-awaited podium finish in the Six Hours of the Glen. While many teams recruited an additional driver for the endurance race, Spirit of Daytona counted on Rice & Garcia’s familiarity with the Porsche Coyote, a strategy that paid off. The car came off the truck in good shape and Rice qualified in 4th place. Quick pit stops and good strategy helped keep the #90 in contention throughout the event as the car avoided major problems on track. Garcia was among the top five in the closing minutes of the race when he took advantage of a mistake by one of the leaders to move into 3rd.
As Garcia explained, “We weren't in a position here like we were at Lime Rock or Barber where we were really strong. We lacked a little bit of pace to the front three cars, so I was pushing really hard. The team did a great job, especially with the pit stops. The one that counts the most is the last one and for that one I entered the pits in 6th and left gaining two positions. The most important thing is that we finally can bring home a good result. This is the first podium for the Spirit of Daytona team in DP competition and I am really happy for the team about that. This is another good step for us.”
Manager Troy Flis was delighted to see his team’s hard work pay off, saying, “This is the best reward we could have for our guys for all the long hours and work they have put into development of this car. Ben Lozano’s group and Pratt & Miller have done a great job for us. Buddy and Antonio kept us in the running without an extra driver and took advantage of every opportunity to move us up. To have the #90 at this level in our first year of development just indicates the quality of our team and their determination. Spirit of Daytona is finally getting some long overdue reward and recognition – I could not be more proud.”