22 Mar Race Report: Sebring 2018
For the second time in seven weeks, the Winward/HTP Motorsport team left the Sunshine State with a mixture of frustration and a pronounced sense of what might have been. Reliability issues and plain bad luck prevented the Houston based team from placing two of its AMG GT4s in the Top Ten in Round 2 of the 2018 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Sebring International Raceway.
Climbing onboard their respective cars for the final hour of the race, Damien Faulkner in the #33 Techemet Car and Indy Dontje in the #57 sister car sat in P19 and P20 respectively. Five laps under caution forced the hand of all of the GS Class runners as the majority of cars pitted to make what would be their final fuel stops. With 40 minutes remaining and after what appeared to be solid pit work by the Winward/HTP Motorsport crew the race restarted with Faulkner now seventh and Dutchman Dontje in P14. Within moments of that restart it became apparent that things were not going to go according to plan as Dontje was given a drive through penalty for an unsafe exit from the pits while Faulkner began to report on rear handling issues later diagnosed as a broken toe link. By lap 40 and with 15 minutes to go, Dontje got by the fast fading Faulkner for twelfth position and then continued his charge into the Top 10. Just as at Daytona in Round one, the Dutchman put on an impressive display of late race pace to grab 10th position with just two laps remaining. “Bryce did a great job and it was a shame about the incident during our last stop because the car was very fast at the end and we definitely could have battled for a Top 5 finish or maybe even the podium,” explained Indy Dontje.
Damien Faulkner had to settle for P29, just one spot ahead of the third Winward/HTP Motorsport entry of Kris Wilson which never fully recovered from an early incident which saw the Stor-It car involved in a collision with the #5 Porsche Cayman.
The race week had started in a similarly frustrating fashion for the crews of the #3 and #33 cars as Wednesday’s promoter test day was interrupted by a significant red flag stoppage which severely impacted on track time. Team owner, Bryce Ward was a little more relaxed having been able to get a considerable amount of track time during February’s test and it showed as he was able to significantly improve his performance during every one of Thursday’s sessions.
Russell Ward and the #33 team’s frustration was compounded by an incident which stopped the final practice session almost immediately. “We had a plan to do some simulated qualifying runs in the third practice session but that went up in smoke as soon as we left the pits as there was a red flag straight away,” Ward explained. “That was hugely frustrating as I felt like I didn’t have enough time here and I struggled in certain corners with the car.” The fortunes of the #33 Techemet car changed for the better during the 15 minute qualifying session and an eleventh best time left the younger Ward in a more confident mood. “The car did feel good in qualifying, at one point I saw my teammate Kris [Wilson] come up behind me and I let him by so I could follow him and it really worked!” I cut three tenths off my lap time by following Kris. I’m ecstatic about it. I started doing 2:18s and now I’m five seconds quicker, so I can’t be unhappy with that.”
For Wilson, playing follow the leader was all part of being a good teammate. “It was part of the plan and I was delighted to be able to pull Russell along behind me.” A start on the outside of row eleven was the reward for Bryce Ward’s efforts in the #57 AMG GT4 although both he and Russell Ward would move up one spot as the #3 Winward/HTP Motorsport car would move to the back of the GS field for the race due to the fact that Craig Lyons would start the car instead of Wilson.
The afternoon temperatures were creeping up as the Green Flag fell on Friday afternoon’s race. Bryce Ward’s Sonic Tools liveried AMG GT4 made steady progress while Russell Ward’s Techemet example was in a solid twelfth position until a spin over the Turn 17 bumps demoted him to to P17 directly behind his father. Craig Lyons was making solid progress in the third Winward/HTP Motorsport car until contact with the #5 Cayman forced him into the pits for repairs putting the car down one lap.
For several laps the Techemet cars circulated in formation with the younger Ward demoting his Father on Lap 14. Lap 20 saw the #57 car enter pitlane under Green Flag conditions for fuel, tires and a change of driver with the #33 doing the same one lap later. A short period of green flag racing came before the final Yellow Flag period on the hour mark which allowed all of the GS teams to pit for fuel and ensure the cars pro drivers could run to the finish.
After two rounds of the 2018 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Bryce Ward and Indy Dontje sit P5 in the Championship (47 points) with Russell Ward and Damien Faulkner P29 (18 points) and Craig Lyons and Kris Wilson P39 (5 points).