DG-Spec Scion Team Takes Podium Despite Fierce Competition at Mid-Ohio
Dan Gardner Drives 36 Car to Third Place While Earning Best Standing Start Award
TORRANCE, Calif. At rounds 8 and 9 in the World Challenge Touring Car race at Mid-Ohio, the DG-Spec team again fought at the front. An extremely healthy 16-car field was registered prior to the event, with a total of 42 cars registered in all three classes. Despite fierce competition and a big blow on Saturday, team owner and driver Dan Gardner would drive his number 36 DG-Spec Scion tC to a strong third place finish on Sunday. Gardner also was awarded the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start for advancing an impressive six positions on the first lap.
Robert Stout would keep his head and bring home a solid fourth place finish on Saturday in the 18 car, after Gardner was taken out by another competitor. In doing so, Stout kept his lead for the Driver's Championship. Even without running all the races, Gardner managed to push himself into third position for the championship after the Mid-Ohio performance.
"We did some testing prior to this event to sort out some really tough issues with the 36 car," said Gardner. "After the Toronto race, enough was enough. We had to develop a strong action plan and do whatever it took to figure it out. Long story short, though tireless efforts and some redeye flights, we found the solution. It was a great feeling to have a solid car for each session. I knew we had two cars that could run up toward the front, and the rest would be up to the drivers."
During testing and practice sessions, both Stout and Gardner would experience a bit of trouble.. First Stout had power problems, which the team tracked down to electrical issues. Once that was fixed, the 18 car didn't hiccup again.
Gardner was experiencing braking trouble, especially while going into the carousel. After a couple of laps of strange ABS issues, finally the brakes really bit the 36 car, as Gardner felt the pedal get hard, ABS engage, and then instantly lock up the rears and loop the car. Despite full brake application, Gardner got into the grass, and slid the car rearwards toward the tire barrier. The car backed itself into the tires as the rear climbed high into the air, before coming to a stop. Fortunately a bumper and toe hook appeared to be the only victims.
The first official practice session would show just how close the competition would be with the top five cars separated by a wafer-thin three-tenths of a second. The leader had run a best lap of 1:38.5, with both Stout and Gardner running a 1:38.8. The times put the Scions ahead of several faster-class GTS cars.
For Qualifying, the team did the normal process of putting sticker tires on the car. Unfortunately there would be unforeseen consequences. Both drivers reported that the cars felt more or less fine, but that the times just didn't seem to be there. The cars would lose a full second, pushing them down the grid for the first race. It was disappointing, but luckily the team had a plan.
World Challenge rules state that you have to race on the same tires you qualify on. However, the rules allow teams to change out one tire in the event of the unforeseen. Change more than one, and you must start from the back of the pack. The team theorized that the cars had gotten too tight with the significant increase in rear grip. In order to remedy the situation, the team put an old tire on the left rear of the car, as Mid-Ohio is a predominantly right turning track. They wouldn't be allowed to change the right rear tire, but they did make a change to that corner to help remove some grip. A few other changes were made to combat the situation, and then it was time to cross fingers.
A great start and clean driving during Saturday's race saw both Scions move from running seventh and eighth to a strong third and fourth. Gardner was leading the way with Stout not far behind. The times had indeed come back to the cars, as Gardner ripped off a 1:38.6 best lap.
Two full-course caution periods wouldn't much help the team, as a Mazda RX-8 was raging from behind. Up ahead were another RX-8 and a MazdaSpeed3, and the Scions were gaining on the leaders, as they battled and their tires dropped off.
Before the second restart, Stout and Eric Meyer's RX-8 would battle, with Meyer eventually getting around the number 18 Scion. Gardner would still be in third place trying to take second from Jason Saini. When the restart happened Meyer was hounding Gardner with barely 5 minutes left in the race. Gardner was defending hard, and on the second to last lap of the race with Gardner in third place, Meyer drilled the Scion in the right rear on the way to the keyhole. The contact instantly punted the Scion as it turned hard right into the grass at 100 mph. The car slid back across the track, and a dozen or more cars somehow managed to swerve around the hapless Scion.
Gardner gathered the car back up, and was able to finish the race, but the podium would in a heartbeat be gone. Stout managed to hold onto fourth, as he improved his starting position by a solid four slots.
"It's disappointing and deflating when that happens," said crew chief, Brad Allen. "You're running a solid race, in contention for a podium, and then that type of driving by another competitor ends your race. The crew was understandably upset, but those are the bitter pills you sometimes swallow in racing."
A late change to the schedule would remove the second qualifying session, and replace it with another practice. This meant that the teams would have to start from the same position they did the race before, based on their qualifying performance from the day before. That put both Scions again back to the middle of the field.
It apparently didn't much matter, as again, Gardner and Stout got great starts, with Gardner winning best standing start award for advancing six positions on the opening lap. The Scions were soon in running fourth and fifth. Gardner and Stout exchanged positions a few times early on, but the 36 car would lead the 18 for the remainder of the race.
As the two came into the carousel about ten laps in, Stout went late on the brakes and got into the ABS in the same spot Gardner had in practice. As that happened he went into the right side of Gardner in the 36 car. The contact bent the left front suspension of the 18 car, but fortunately resulted only in body damage to the 36. Gardner continued on while Stout pressed onward with several bent pieces.
"It's really hard when something like that happens," said Stout. "I hate that I got into Dan, but I'm glad it didn't take him out of the race. >From there I just tried to stay out of the way of everyone else. It was survival time, and every position counted for a few more points."
Gardner felt his car out, and it seemed fine, though he was struggling with huge oversteer issues in fast left-handers. The team would try to alleviate the problem, but would later find that the camber had slipped significantly as a result of the contact with the Mazda the day before.
Gardner took those turns cautiously, slowing the lap times down, but keeping the car on the track. Several times on the exit of Turn 1, the Scion would get sideways, but Gardner caught it each time...once while going side by side with Ryan Eversley in the Maxwell Paper RX-8.
With Robb Holland's VW GTI ahead in third place, Gardner just kept driving. As GT traffic approached, one of the Vipers and Holland would get into each other. Gardner rocketed by, claiming third place, and hoping to take another position.
Sunday's race also had two caution periods, and late in the race, Gardner found himself in the same predicament, with Meyer's RX-8 right behind him for the final restart. Again, big defense kept the RX-8 behind for a couple of laps. Finally, going into the carousel Meyer would loop his car and drop back, giving Gardner some breathing room. In the end, the two cars ahead would maintain their positions, but Gardner would claim the final step on the podium, with a solid, mistake-free race.
With a bent car, Stout would hang on for 10th, earning valuable points toward his run at the Driver's Championship. In spite of repeated contact throughout the weekend, both Scions ran almost flawlessly, as the crew of Brad Allen, Sean Morris, David Fredrickson, and John McNulty did their best to give the drivers great cars.
Stout still has the lead for the Driver's Championship. His 959 total points keeps him 149 points ahead of second place. Gardner further accrued points for the 36 car in the team championship, keeping the car solidly in third position. The team's performance in Ohio nets Scion a total of 62 points, keeping the brand's lead for the Manufacturers' title, ahead of second place Mazda, which now moves in front of VW.
Standings and results can be viewed at http://www.world-challenge.com/index.php. The race will be broadcast on the Versus Network on Saturday, August 28 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. Twenty-four hours later the program can be viewed online at www.world-challengetv.com. The Mosport and Toronto races as well as a great season recap can be seen at http://www.world-challengetv.com/2010/#/races/243.
The team now prepares for another double-header at Virginia International Raceway, which takes place on September 10-12. Both of the weekend's races can be viewed through live timing and scoring at www.world-challenge.com.