The Spirit of Daytona Racing team battled through several incidents on Sunday to earn a solid finish in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International, race six of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and race three of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.
On a weekend that saw many teams, including Spirit of Daytona (SDR), display patriotic liveries to honor the upcoming 4th of July holiday, the team displayed true American Spirit, never giving up despite two skirmishes early in the race.
Hydration was the order of the day, as temperatures approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the legendary upstate New York circuit. Drivers Tristan Vautier and Matt McMurry hoped to translate their 12th-place qualifying run into a strong race finish despite a currant set of IMSA regulations that keep the Cadillac Prototype from showing its full strength.
But the team’s hopes for the day were dealt two substantial early blows. On the opening lap, Vautier lost downforce in the pack and was clipped by the No. 31 in Turn 3.
In the resulting spin, he was collected by the No. 22 prototype, sustaining right front damage. With a puncture in the right rear tire, the team was forced to enter pit lane for tires and a lightning-quick nose change and were relegated to the penalty box for 60 seconds for taking service in a closed pit. Then, on Lap 7, Vautier tangled with the leader who was trying to lap the Cadillac in Turn 7, putting Vautier into the tires. The team once again made quick work of the wing change, removing the rear panel and sent Vautier back out to regain as many positions as possible.
At the 90-minute mark, McMurry took the wheel, intent on continuing Vautier’s charge. By the end of his stint at the halfway mark of the race, the 20-year-old Arizona native had placed the No. 90 Cadillac DPi-V.R back in connection with the Prototype field, running in 13th position. Vautier and McMurry each completed one more 90-minute stint, with Vautier taking the helm for the final 40-minutes. The Frenchman ended the race turning laps as fast as the leaders (with his quick time of 1:34.36-seconds coming on Lap 195 of 198) as the team took its first checkered flag of the season in 11th position.
While both drivers were disappointed with the result, they were quick to show their appreciation for the “never quit” attitude of the team, who performed flawless work through 11 pit stops.
“The first lap was a bit freaky,” said Vautier. “I was very close to the No. 38 car and lost a lot of downforce, so I had to get out of the gas. The car got very light with no downforce, and with the tight quarters, a little tap sent me spinning. We were lucky to keep going. In the second incident, I just didn’t see Dane Cameron coming: I was focused on pushing to not lose another lap. It’s a shame, apologies to the team. It’s racing, but we were hoping for a trouble-free race. We found good pace at the end of the race, but we were struggling for pace all weekend. I really need to give it to the team for never giving up and thank them for the way they kept pushing all day.”
“After the first lap, it became a very different race for us,” said McMurry. “We just tried to push as hard as we could and do the best laps we could. We had switched the nose of the car after the Lap 1 damage and that nose made the car understeer a lot more, so I dealt with handling issues in my first stint. But once they put the old nose back on, that made it so much better. We were consistent, and our lap times were very good. That’s a huge positive. And the team did such a great job; they’ve never given up and push hard on every stop, and in everything they do.”
Team owner Troy Flis remained frustrated by both the continued balance of performance issues in the Prototype class, and the uncertain future. The team has committed to the season-ending Petit Le Mans but Flis is hopeful that funding can be secured for additional races.
“It wasn’t the weekend we wanted for sure,” said Flis. “Wrong place, wrong time. Qualifying wasn’t good for us because of the BoP, I believe, and that put us back in the pack. You never want to tell your drivers not to push but we can’t really make any mistakes. You look at the car that finished fifth through eighth, they made no mistakes and still couldn’t make up any ground. We hope IMSA looks at that. We know we have a great program and a great team, it’s just a matter of us coming to the racetrack. Coming to the races here and there is tough, it doesn’t give the drivers enough seat time in this car or give us a chance to learn this car. This is only our fourth race with the Cadillac. We ended up trying things in the middle of the race that we can take forward to the next race weekend, learning some of the characteristics of this car that are different that cars we’ve run in the past. We have to leave with a positive – we know what we need to do. We just need to keep coming to the racetrack, keep learning and keep pushing hard. We’ll be back on top here soon.”