09 Jul Race Report: Winward Racing makes history in Canada
Winward/HTP Motorsport made history at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last weekend as the team gave Mercedes its first podium finish for the AMG GT4 in IMSA competition.
With just over an hour to go in the two hour event, Damien Faulkner jumped on board the #33 Techemet AMG GT4. Once the Green Flag pit stops had been completed, the Irishman found himself in sixth spot less than ten seconds off the lead. Over the next ten laps, sixth became fifth and the man from Moville in County Donegal set the fastest lap of the race. A full course caution gave the team a chance to add enough fuel to see them through to the chequered flag. The #33 rejoined in P5 ahead of all of the other GS Class pit callers. Over the remaining 45 minutes, Faulkner gradually reeled in the leaders but traffic issues meant third place and the final spot on the podium were the best the Houston based team could manage.
Thursday’s three hour promoter test session was a welcome opportunity to maximize Russell Ward’s seat time and fine tune the car, a late loss of a drive belt brought the session to a slightly premature close with both drivers happy with the progress made during the afternoon.
“I love this place”, explained Ward. “Any track that has elevation change like this makes it exciting so there’s a lot of corners here that drop 3 or 4 stories and it just feels awesome in the car. I was less than a second behind Damien and there was a probably three or four tenths at last corner just under braking which we should be able to fix pretty easily. It will be interesting to see where are after the first officially timed session on Friday but I’m pretty confident that we will be close to the top of the time sheets.”
Friday’s final session saw Winward Racing top the time sheets with fastest times in sectors one and three. Damien Faulkner was optimistic about his teammates prospects for Saturday Morning’s qualifying session. “We’re going to make some small changes but we had a great debrief after the session. Russell will get new tires to run a qualifying simulation during final practice and then we’ll see what he has for qualifying.”
What Ward did have was a car which good enough for seventh just .455 seconds off Alexander Primat’s pole winning AMG GT4. But even though this was arguably the young Texan’s finest qualifying performance to date, he was less than satisfied with a berth on the fourth row. “Really P7 isn’t where I wanna be because it’s generally tough to pass here and even more so in the Mercedes.”
At the Green Flag, Ward’s job became somewhat harder still as he lost two more positions as the AMG GT4’s Continental Tires came up to operating temperature. What unfolded over the next 45 minutes was a testament to the 26 year old’s growing talent as he settled into a smooth rhythm which saw him regain both of those lost places within ten laps. Ward never let the leaders out of his sights and by Lap 32 he was in fifth place. The graduate of Texas Tech managed to reach as high as third place as the leaders began Green Flag pit stops. He came in on Lap 37 having made a mockery of his own pre-race thoughts and having driven the most impressive stint of his young career. The Winward crew changed fuel and tires before handing the car over to Faulkner for the run to the flag and that extremely well earned maiden podium.
For Russell Ward, this is the breakthrough the team had been looking for. “It’s awesome, it really is. We have struggled a lot this year and we are a new team. To bring it home and put it on the podium for the whole crew is truly special.”
His veteran coach and partner was also delighted to see the whole team’s efforts finally rewarded. “We have been working really, really hard since making the switch to the Mercedes AMG GT4, and Russell and I have just been chipping away. There’s not a debrief, video or data session missed and we certainly saw that with Russell’s performance today. He was the fastest in the first sector in final practice today and then made a couple of great moves in the race. When you see little glimpses like that you know that he is doing well.”
Ward is keen to take this momentum into the next Round at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park. “It’s just gonna snowball from here partly because I think the car really suits that track. I mean there’s there’s not a lot of straightaways and there is a lot of high speed stuff. It felt really good there in World Challenge back in May, so it really should perform just as well there in Conti. Damien and I are looking forward to it.”