Jackson-Dawson takes the National Road Racing Championship at Mid-Ohio, a Scion world first!
Historic Milestone Marks World’s First National Road Racing Title for Scion
TORRANCE, Calif. - September 18, 2008 - It wasn't really supposed to happen. A Scion taking a national championship in road racing. But that's exactly what happened at NASA's third annual national championship at Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course this past weekend. Driver Dan Gardner and the Jackson-Dawson team brought home the title in Performance Touring C. And they also won overall in Race Group J, being the first car to cross the finish line out of almost 60. It's a world first for Scion, a brand launched just five short years ago.
"It still hasn't quite sunk in," said Gardner. "I knew we had the juice to have a respectable finish, but to win it...to win the national championship, that's something special. It was no cakewalk; that's for sure. We battled until the end. For me personally, coming off a broken right foot, it was a huge challenge. This is just so sweet. The team is so excited to bring this home for Scion and for all of our committed sponsors who were always there to support us. And to all the owners out there, thanks for cheering us on. This win is for you."
The week started off with a decent-enough practice day on Thursday, but the team wouldn't know what the weather gods had in store until the next morning. Weather patterns seemed to be shifting every 15 minutes, and just five minutes before going on track it was unclear what the track conditions would be. Some teams had wet and dry tires at the ready even in pre-grid. The JD team would routinely put the car on jackstands and have both a wet and a dry set of tires ready to go on at a moment's notice. They were also ready to make speedy sway bar and shock adjustments as needed.
On Friday morning the track was already a mess, as rain had been pouring down. Some race groups were running in the wet, and others were running in what seemed to be a monsoon. It was a total crapshoot, but at least in the morning, the decision was easy...rain tires or die. Crew chief Brad Allen disconnected the rear sway bar before the morning practice. No huge shock changes were made, as the team had already dropped to softer springs the day before. "It's really like splitting aces," said Allen. "When it rains, we pull the rear bar. It's pretty quick actually. We just disconnect one endlink and then zip tie it up so it's not flopping all around. Especially with as big a rear bar as we run, it's important to dial out some of the oversteering tendencies when conditions get slick."
Practice went well, as Gardner felt out the limits of the car in the wet. He was shifting his foot position on the brake pedal, as the day before had sent sharp waves of pain through his foot, still on the mend after a significant fracture. Still, the car was tearing up the wet track, passing other cars almost at will. By the time Friday Qualifying came, it was betwixt and between. The track had started to dry out a bit, but menacing clouds loomed overhead. Less than five minutes before going out on track, the JD team decided to throw rains on. Other cars, including the high-powered Mazda RX-8 factory team, were still on dries. One minute before track time, the rain began to fall again. One Mazda actually pulled out of grid to swap to rains, as they had gambled that conditions would stay dry.
Gardner qualified well, putting the car second on grid for the start of the first Qualifying Race. Again, the track would be rain-soaked, so the team maintained the same setup. Gardner would start in the first row on the outside, alongside Speed World Challenge and Grand-Am driver, Jim Daniels. When the green flew, both drivers got a good jump and were neck and neck, until Gardner started to pull ever so slowly on the RX-8. Still, in the braking zone, the Mazda had the edge, as the two cars went side by side inches apart going into the first turn. Gardner was hounding Daniels in the rain, as pressure came from behind by other RX-8s and the turbo Miata. In the Carousel, Gardner's Scion got sideways and spun. As Gardner tried to save it, it kept going. Finally, in order not to leave the track surface, Gardner put the brakes on hard, and wound up facing traffic, but still on the track.
It was a brutal waiting game, as a train of 15 cars were coming, and Gardner had to wait around 30 seconds before he was able to find a break, do a lighting-fast U-turn, and then rejoin the race. His 2:07 lap time in the rain was the third fastest in the group, and within two-and-a-half laps he would run down the pack, catching and passing cars, sometimes three at a time.
Halfway through the last lap of the race, Gardner was beating on the back bumper of the second-place RX-8. Gardner went side by side in the Carousel, but would be chopped down on hard by the Mazda, who at the same time went hard on the brakes. As soon as the brake lights went off, Gardner put the go pedal to the floor and swung to the inside of the front straight. It was a drag race to the finish, but the Scion's supercharged power would prevail, finishing less than 50 thousandths of a second ahead. It truly was a photo finish, and a great rain-driving clinic, as Gardner worked his way back through the field to take second place. Saturday's morning warm-up session began with a light rain and wet conditions again. Just a couple laps into the session, the skies opened up. It was virtual blindness as wipers on full speed could not clear the water fast enough, despite the copious amounts of Rain-X the team had put on the windshield. Down the back straight Gardner couldn't see a thing going 120 mph in a downpour while rooster tail spray from the cars in front pounded the windshield. Then the windshield fogged up, and it was simply too dangerous to continue. Gardner got on the radio to tell his crew he was coming in, only to learn that most other drivers were doing the same thing.
The anti-fog treatment on the glass simply wasn't enough during a downpour. Crewman Sean Morris got to work, making a run to Radio Shack to buy a mini-fan that could be rigged to help clear the fog from the windshield, should the team be caught in another downpour during a race. "Our glass looked better than a lot of other cars, which wasn't saying much," said Morris. "I found a decent fan and started the wiring and mounting project. I wanted to make sure that the fan wouldn't be an obstruction, but I also wanted to make sure we had a solution that would work. After all the crazy rain, we wouldn't even get a chance to try it."
Saturday's Qualifying would be dry, so the team went back to their dry setup. Gardner would struggle to find room, only able to place the car third on the grid behind Daniels's RX-8 and an SRT-4. The start was similar to the previous day, as Gardner got a good jump. He would be in P2, tucking behind Daniels in the first turn. From there it was a game of holding off another RX-8 from the Mazda team. Gardner made the car wide, making it difficult to be passed. The Scion was clearly faster than the Mazda in places, but was giving it back up in others. Gardner was doing everything he could to keep the Mazda behind. On the final lap, the car would unfortunately bobble for fuel, just enough for the Mazda to get beside the Scion. Fans and announcers were on the edge of their seats as the Scion and Mazda went side by side, inches apart, through the entire last section of turns. In the end, the RX-8 would get the best of Gardner and the Scion, finishing five or six car lengths ahead. Still, it was a good race, and the fans got a heck of a show.
With the qualifying races over, Daniels earned 200 points, while Gardner and another Mazda RX-8 were tied for second with 175 points a piece. The rules stipulated that ties would be broken by the driver with the fastest lap time during either of the races. Gardner was edged out by a scant single tenth of a second, which would put him in P3 for the start of the National Championship Race on Sunday. Sunday looked like it would be dry, and during the morning practice Gardner actually secured the fastest laptime of the field, though starting position was already predetermined. Nonetheless, it was a good sign, and a decent start to the day.
Winds would start to blow their way into Mid-Ohio as the day went on. Hurricane Ike's remnants had clearly made their way inland, as gusts of up to 75 mph hit the track before the day was done.
On the start, Gardner found himself on the inside behind two RX-8s and next to a big-horsepower SRT-4. It was going to take a massive jump to keep the Dodge behind, and that's exactly what Gardner got. On this start, the Scion rocketed ahead briefly pulling to the inside of the two Mazdas. Gardner thought better of going three wide, and let the Mazdas battle as he tucked in behind and fended off the SRT-4. On several occasions the RX-8s were practically banging doors and fenders as they fought with each other for position through the first several turns. Gardner stayed patient, tucking behind and forming a three-car train around the track.
Going into the Keyhole, the Mazda in P2 made a move to the inside and actually got around the first place car as they headed onto the back straight. Halfway down the straight Gardner went to the inside of the second place car, but didn't have enough room to get the pass done. Again he tucked in behind as he fended off the SRT-4. Right before going into Thunder Valley, the Scion and the Mazdas were again locked in a three car train. In an instant, one of the Mazdas found itself having mechanical problems. Gardner and the other RX-8 zoomed by on the inside. Gardner would chase the now-first-place car down, and repeatedly try to get around him.
After three or four laps, Gardner saw an opportunity. As he began to catch lap traffic, Gardner timed a pick-and-pass just right, as he passed an incident and swung to the inside of the Keyhole, using a lower-class Neon as a pick. The RX-8 would get around the Neon as well, but not before Gardner had taken over the position. Now the Scion was showing the way, leading the class and the entire race group. The Mazda was banging on Gardner's door trying desperately to get around. He was at the same time fending off the SRT-4, as the Dodge would pass him down the back straight and he would pass him back under braking going into Madness.
Several laps went this way, until a full-course caution brought the pace car out. The pace car collected Gardner who was leading the group. Serious accidents meant that it was unclear if the race would end under double yellow conditions. In the end it was not to be.
After three to four pace laps, the pace car finally pulled off down the back straight, and Gardner waited for the single-file restart. The green flew, and Gardner got another spectacular start, pulling away from the Mazda, who tried to get around the tC under braking. Gardner positioned his Scion in the center of the track and turned in early to thwart the RX-8s attack. Lap after lap, the Mazda tried to pressure Gardner to force him to make a mistake, but he was experiencing huge pressure of his own from behind, as the SRT-4 was trying to get around him, and sometimes did down the back straight. Gardner was holding onto the position despite the pressure.
With the race getting close to the end, the SRT-4 turned on the heat, picking up the pace, and passing the RX-8 early down the back straight. Gardner would now be forced to fend off the car with the most power in the class. As they came out of the Keyhole on the final lap of the race, Gardner got a little bit of breathing room, but the SRT-4 was on the gas. Gardner set his car up in the middle of the track, as the Dodge tried to get inside.
Gardner apexed at the turn down the back straight to hold the SRT-4 off, and then blended track left to set up for Madness. A slower RX-7 helped pick the Dodge, forcing him to remain behind the Scion as they went into the curviest part of the track. With the Dodge on his back bumper, Gardner started to get a tiny bit of room between himself and the blue SRT.
As he approached the Carousel, Gardner knew if he didn't make a mistake he would take the win. As he came onto the front straight, Gardner looked back and saw the SRT-4 at least three car lengths back. As he crossed the finish line, with fist pumping in the air, Gardner would take the National Title, bringing Scion its first-ever in road racing. It was close, with the Scion crossing the line less than half a second ahead of the second-place car. The fight made the victory even sweeter for the team.
All of this came after the team scrambled to put the Scion back together again after the big wreck at Watkins Glen. They weren't sure if everything would be exactly right, but the car was bulletproof, completely reliable all week. Gardner worked around the mending right foot, using various techniques to keep the pain away. In the end, it would be enough to secure the win, and the victory party would begin!
"What an accomplishment by the JD team," said Steve Hatanaka, Scion auto shows and special events manager. "They were really able to accomplish something special this past weekend. We are really proud of our first national road racing championship. The tC is developing quite a performance reputation, and this is a great end to an amazing season."
Final results from the National Championship Race can be found here: http://www.mylaps.com/results/showrun.jsp?id=963321