Team MPME Scion Scores Pole, Suffers Major Setback at Sears Point NASA Opener
- Driver Gary Sheehan places the turbocharged Scion tC on pole ahead of 60+ cars, only to suffer a weekend-ending crash on oil from a competitor's blown engine
- Team's first trip to the 2.52-mile twisting Northern California track shows great promise, speed and performance despite 92 mph impact with tire barrier
- Officials report the Team MPME Scion tC got more than 5 feet in the air before landing
- ScionRacing.com-sponsored car to undergo major repairs and will return to the track as soon as possible
Everything was going according to plan for Team MPME Scion's debut sprint race at Sears Point Raceway last weekend. Taking part in the NASA regional event held on the storied 2.52-mile road course in Northern California's wine country region, veteran GRAND-AM and SCCA driver Gary Sheehan, piloting the Scion Racing tC, captured pole position in the Super Unlimited class, also taking the overall pole ahead of more than 60 drivers.
After three years spent endurance racing the Scion tC, most notably in the grueling 25 Hours of Thunderhill event, the team's switch to sprint racing was beginning to read like a fairytale: pole position in the car's first laps around the track, and ahead of an incredibly packed field. But the fairytale ending would have to wait for another day.
"I said to myself, 'this is going to hurt.' The wall came at me in slow motion; just like in a movie, and from the cockpit, there were plenty of special effects going on when I hit the barrier and got launched into the air," said Sheehan, recounting the accident that ended Team MPME Scion's weekend prematurely.
Rocketing down the fast and narrow 'Esses' at Sears Point in the dying moments of qualifying, Sheehan and his BFGoodrich-shod tC were the first on the scene just seconds after a fellow competitor blew his engine, spilling quarts of hot oil directly onto the racing line. With no warning and no time to react, Sheehan found himself spinning on the oil, sending the Scion into the barriers at 92 mph, according to the onboard computer.
Hitting the wall with the right front corner, Sheehan was spun around, caving in the right rear of the tC's unibody. NASA officials estimated the car was launched five feet into the air between its first and second impacts. With bent frame rails in the engine bay and much of the right side of the car flattened, the car was put in the trailer and returned to its base at GST Motorsports in Hayward, CA.
Despite the setback, Sheehan was quick to point out the positives that came from the unfortunate accident.
"This is just one of those things that happens in racing. It wasn't anybody's fault. The NASA officials had no time to put out a caution flag because the guy's engine blew right in front of me. It was a hard hit; we maxed the G sensor's readings, so I can't really say how hard the hit was, but it was massive. GST Motorsports was here supporting me to run the car, and they remarked how amazed they were that I could still drive the car into the trailer after the crash. The Scion tC is one incredible car. This is the same chassis that was barrel rolled in 2008, and was rebuilt to its current state. My back is a little sore, but otherwise, the tC protected me perfectly. There's a lot of work to be done to get her back on track, but she took another huge impact and is ready to be rebuilt and to go after another pole. And a win...we took care of the pole...now we're going to come back and finish with a win."
Team owner Marshall Pruett, who was previously scheduled to be in Sebring, Fla., to report on the American Le Mans Series opener, was kept abreast of the team's fortunes out on the West Coast. As he tells it, he grew more and more nervous whenever a text message alert popped up on his phone.
"It's the first time my car has ever competed without me there to run the show. I was nervous, to say the least, but my work obligations came first. Gary was texting me regularly on Saturday during the 12 Hours of Sebring race to update me on their progress. Then I got a text from my wife saying that she hit a parked car, smashing the bumper on our SUV. About an hour later, I got a text from Gary -- while I was out shooting photo galleries at turn 5 -- saying the Scion had been crumpled to the same degree as the barrel roll of 2008. I had to go sit down at that point...two crashed cars in one day was about all I could handle!"
Pruett says he expects the tC to be down for at least a month while it undergoes frame straightening and a complete right rear unibody graft from a donor car.
"We're fortunate to have the continued support from Scion, and as they've done so many times in the past, when problems are encountered, they step right in to help their teams as much as possible. With my partners at GST Motorsports, we'll be burning the midnight oil to get our tough little tC back on track to show folks on a grassroots level what kind of high performance can be found from the Scion tC platform. Nobody expects to see a tC out qualify 60 cars, and that's just the kind of message we're trying to send. We'll be back, and stronger than ever. Plus, until I get Sheehan a win to go with his pole position, I won't hear the end of it!"
Watch the in-car footage of Sheehan setting pole position, followed by the oil-induced shunt at turn 8 at http://vimeo.com/10391044
Learn about team partners GST Motorsports at www.GSTMotorsports.com.