In the second of his two back-to-back Grand-Am Rolex Sportscar Series races, Olly Gavin fought against wet weather, spinning obstacles and random caution periods to come through for a much deserved 4th place in the GT class in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of Watkins Glen.
He and his team mates Gunter Schaldach and Mike Skeen (a 24-year-old originally from Virginia and now living in North Carolina) finished 10th overall from the 26 starters in the #07 Banner Racing Camaro GT.R. The British driver also claimed the honour of leading the race overall and recording the Fastest Race Lap in the highly competitive field.
It had been Olly’s turn to qualify this weekend and the run up to the session has been perfect. Fastest in Practices 1 and 2 and second in P3, Olly was therefore perplexed to find himself in 3rd place after qualifying, albeit just a few tenths of a second shy of the pole-winning Camaro.
However, as the super-experienced endurance driver knows, starting positions in a longer race matter less than in sprints…but that was without the rain factor! As the green flag dropped it was falling quite steadily which made for an exciting opening hour and several caution periods which ultimately decided the outcome of the #07’s race.
“The car was mega in the rain and I’m happy we got some more points to keep us in the Championship hunt,” Olly noted afterwards, “but it was hugely frustrating to have had the pit stop timing issues as I really think we had the pace and the car to have been able to go for a win. It was there for us to win but going a lap down so early gave us no chance to compete. The pit stops themselves were good and the boys did a good job throughout the race but the win wasn’t to be.”
He explains how the timing of the pit stops affected the Banner Racing Camaro’s race. “At the start I was behind Robin Liddell in the Stephenson Motorsports Camaro for the first few laps, and it was very ‘tippy-toey’ in the wet with everyone being very cautious. We were coming out of the Bus Stop when a DP spun in front of Robin and it was one of those situations where you have to make a snap decision to go either left or right of it and unfortunately Robin guessed wrong. There was nothing he could do and no where he could go but the resulting impact nearly got me caught up in it too.
“That caused the first caution and we decided to stay out on track instead of pitting, hoping we’d get a wave by. Antonio was in front of me in the Spirit of Daytona Racing DP and we thought we were about to get a Wave By but then he pitted and we found we were the overall leader of the race. That meant we had to go behind the pace car and then, when we finally pitted, we found ourselves at the back of the field.”
Olly drove hard to come back through the field but a further caution period occurred and the team took the decision to pit. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t fall in the #07’s favour and they dropped further down the order.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a bit,” said Olly, who had to leave Watkins Glen immediately after the race to return to Europe for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “We came in the same lap as everyone else, but with everyone else right behind us, and then found ourselves 90% of a lap behind.”
A gamble on when to switch from rain tyres to slicks profited the Camaro’s rivals and from then on the trio of drivers was forced to play catch-up. That they got as high as 4th was extremely fortunate, especially considering the final joker in Banner Racing’s Watkins Glen pack of cards.
Olly again: “I got back into the car for the last 90 minutes of the race but as soon as I did the gearbox temperature alarm was going off. For the last 45 minutes of the race all I could smell was gearbox oil and it was up to 320oF by the finish, shifting badly and making life very difficult. We were soooo lucky there!”