Two Second-Place Finishes Keep DG-Spec in the Lead for WERC Endurance Series
LONG BEACH, Calif. This past weekend at Thunderhill Raceway Park, the DG-Spec Scion road racing team pushed hard to capture two silvers at the WERC short-format enduro double-header. In both races drivers Scott Webb and Dan Gardner finished close behind the leader, as both drivers and crew ran a nearly perfect pair of races.
Webb would take the wheel for Saturday's 90-minute race, while Gardner would take over driving duties for Sunday's two-hour race. Each was to be a separate points-scoring affair, and with the short lengths of the races, a driver change wouldn't be prudent.
"With how the crew performed, how the drivers drove, and how the car ran, I'd by lying if I said we weren't disappointed," said team owner and driver, Dan Gardner. "We were within striking distance of the leader, but just ran out of time. Sure, you can focus on the positive, but we're relentless and don't want to lose another race this way again. We're working on multiple fronts to ensure it doesn't happen exactly like this the next time. At the end of the day, we still put the car on the podium both days, and the crew can hold their heads up high."
On Saturday, the race was to be started from a random grid order, as no Qualifying session was planned. The method was selected just before the race start, and simply used the team's pit space order. The first pit stall took pole, the last stall started at the back of the bus. The team's second-to-last pit space put them in the last row. Luckily their top competition was just a few spots in front.
On the first lap, Webb put the hammer down, passing nine cars on the first lap. By the second lap, the lead car was within his sight. At the start of the next lap, the Scion was just a couple car lengths off the bumper for the lead.
Unfortunately it would never get closer than that, but the gap would remain fairly consistent, with Webb slowly chipping away at the lead.
On lap 28 of what would eventually be a 40-lap race, the team chose to pit, doing so before the leader. The pit crew of Sean Morris, David Fredrickson, Shawn Meze, and Aidan Spraic performed a near-perfect pitstop, challenged this time by the fuel door being on the far side of the pit wall.
There was now ground to make up, but the team remained hopeful that if Webb kept his head down, they'd get the time back in the pits, when the lead car would be forced to pit for a mandatory five-gallon splash.
Two laps later, the leader came in for fuel. Based on the time of their stop, the DG-Spec crew knew it would be close. Still, once the leader went out, the Scion still trailed by over ten seconds. With just a handful of laps left to go, Webb would try hard to get the position, but there just wasn't enough time. Two Second-Place Finishes Keep DG-Spec in the Lead for WERC Endurance SeriesAs the checker flew the Scion crossed the finish line nine seconds behind the leader.
"It was hard to finish second, given the way it went down," said Webb. "I'll remain tight-lipped for the time being, but as Dan alluded to, we're determined to not let it happen this way twice. I have to thank the crew for a great stop; without that I wouldn't even have had a fighting chance."
Weather was moving in on Saturday night, and indeed rain fell late at night and into the early morning. At 6:30 a.m. the team arrived in the paddock to find a cold and wet track. Light rain came and went, and it was a situation of being in between a dry and a wet car setup.
The race start was planned for 8:10, and by 7:45 the team made the decision to go out on a full dry setup: tires, swaybars, and shocks. The hope was that the rain would hold off until later in the morning and a dry line would quickly form.
The team also finalized the plan made the night before to skip the eight o'clock warmup, since it was an unofficial session, and the team didn't want to risk a mishap that close to the race start.
The choice would prove costly, as the warmup quickly turned into a part of the race, as officials decided to invert the grid and form it during the warmup session. The team scrambled, but their position would now be relegated to the very back, with the E1 class leader a dozen rows ahead.
The team did a hurry-up preparation, and then sent the number 18 Scion tC out to catch the tail of the pack. Once Gardner caught up, he reported light puddles and a very damp track. Still, as the tires began to warm up, there seemed to be more grip than he had expected at that point.
There would also be a communication problem between race control and the corner worker stations, so the cars circulated for lap after lap until the problem got sorted.
When the green flew, Gardner got a decent jump, and going into turn 1 noticed that all the cars were being very conservative, apparently concerned the track was wetter than it actually was. During the long series of pace laps, Gardner had felt out grip in various areas, carving the car back and forth to test for rear grip. What he found was surprising...despite the dampness, the track actually had good grip, provided you could get heat in your tires.
By the end of lap 1, Gardner had picked off over a dozen cars, and he was continuing to move through the field, eventually getting second place in E1. On lap 8, Gardner would make a move and slingshot past the leader two turns after the Bypass.
He never looked back until it was time to pit, having built up a solid cushion. There were patches in traffic where the cushion fell to just a few seconds, but until the pit stop, the Scion remained in the lead.
On lap 30 the team did come into the pits, as the second place car shot by. The crew dumped 10 gallons, and the Scion was off, but only a half a lap behind the leader, who still had not pitted.
At this point, Gardner switched to an all-out, pure sprint pace. In the first half-dozen laps that followed the stop, the Scion slashed five seconds off the lead. With just eight laps to go, the leader would pit.
As Gardner pulled onto the front straight, he heard that the lead car was just being released. It seemed as though he might end up back in front, but halfway down the straight, he saw the leader turn into Turn 1.
Still on a sprint pace, and with just a few laps to go, Gardner slashed another five seconds off the lead, pulling to within three seconds of the leader. With four laps left to go, Gardner turned a very fast 2:00 lap, the fastest in class.
At this point, Gardner was constantly trying to get a time check from the pits, as he knew time was running out, despite quickly catching the leader. As the checker flew, it would be déjà vu, with simply not enough time to complete the forward march. It was disappointing, as two-thirds of the Scion's laps were faster than the leader's. The grid position really made the difference, proving again how invaluable a start in the front rows can be.
As the third round of the WERC series came to a close, the DG-Spec Scion maintained their lead at the top with a total of 280 points, 40 points ahead of second. The team now prepares for the fourth round at Buttonwillow on June 25. The race is planned to be a three-hour affair.
Photos and video from the Thunderhill event can be found on DG-Spec's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/DG-Spec/202937143062874.