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LALLY: Watkins Glen Debrief

Andy Lally files latest Sportscar365 debrief after Watkins Glen…

Photo: Magnus Racing

Photo: Magnus Racing

Any time you can finish on the podium, you have to be thankful. In a series like the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which is so incredibly competitive, walking away with a trophy and the smell of champagne is an accomplishment every time you do it.

Yet, every now and then you have those races where even though you’re on the podium, you know a better result slipped away. Those are the tough ones. You don’t want to come off as unappreciative or thankless, so of course you do your best to put on a good face, but deep down you’re pretty upset that you’re not on the top step.

I think back to our race at Circuit of the Americas back in 2013, when we were leading and knocked off with one lap to go… or New Jersey in 2012 when we were in a good position to win and got blocked on a restart. This weekend’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen was one of those races.

Most people reading this know that this is considered my home race, so of course I always want to win. I’ve been fortunate enough to have won three times at this track over the years, and even made my NASCAR Sprint Cup debut here. That being said, Magnus Racing has come close, but never been able to win the “six hour,” and it’s one that John Potter and the team really want.

We’ve won at Daytona, we’ve won at Sebring, we’ve won Indy, so this race would be the next major endurance race to conquer, and we’ve been on the podium the last two years.

The team has been doing a ton of testing this year, and it’s no coincidence that we put a lot of time testing at Watkins Glen very specifically. With Marco Seefried also joining us, we knew we had a very, very good shot.

Normally the Porsche has an advantage in the wet because of the engine over the rear, but in the dry I actually think we had our best shot at a win. Friday’s practice had beautiful weather, and we were fastest in the morning and right near the top in the second session. We were set up well and we definitely had the car to beat.

Unfortunately, once the weather hit for the weekend, everything went out the window. Saturday morning’s practice just poured, and the day was so wet that they cancelled qualifying.

Once race day hit, we were still confident, but with the weather you never know what’s going to happen. John did an excellent job to open the race, keeping within a good distance to the lead pack and made zero mistakes… as usual. We agreed that I wouldn’t step in until the final couple hours, so Marco Seefried had the job of running the middle portion of the race, and he was excellent.

Marco had never raced at Watkins Glen before, but you would have never known it. He made a lot of good passes, slowly moved his way to the front, and once again made zero mistakes.

It was toward the end of Marco’s run that the race took an interesting turn. While the track had started out a little damp, and there were moments of rain during the first half of the race, it never rained hard enough to necessitate rain tires. However, as Marco came close to finishing his stint, the rain started to come down harder and harder.

Watkins Glen is such a big track that it can downpour in one part of the circuit but be completely dry in another, and that makes it really tough to make a good tire call. With two laps before I got in, we were going to keep slick tires on, but Marco was warning us that it was getting worse. All of a sudden with one lap before I got in, the team made a last-second decision to switch me to wet tires, and the team made a mad-dash to switch tires around before I got in.

Everything went flawless during the stop, and as it turned out it was absolutely the right call. I went out and it was raining everywhere, but more importantly, no one else had switched to rain tires yet. This was especially critical because there were some other teams who’d just made a pit stop a lap or two earlier, which meant they were going to have to come back in.

As it all cycled through, we were in the lead! This was the first time all year we were still in it like this toward the closing stages, and I wanted it bad. There were a lot of very fast cars behind me, but I just stayed focused and tapped in to my experience over the years.

Watkins Glen is a really unique track in the wet. A lot of the corners have some banking in them, as well as several cement patches, all things you want to avoid when it’s raining. The weather had gotten so bad that they threw a red flag with just over an hour to go, and once the field got restarted I knew I’d have my work cut out for me.

Once the race resumed, it was chaos. We were going three wide at some points, everyone was trying different lines, and you had to do your best to look ahead and behind during the whole run, it was nuts.

Unfortunately, on a restart, Marc Goossens in the No. 93 Viper slipped past me. After the next yellow, the No. 23 Porsche tried to pass me by diving inside in to a part of the track that was really wet, and he ended up running in to me and pushing us both wide. All of a sudden I’d fallen back to third. Once Goossens was in front, he was just untouchable.

I have to say I was pretty pissed off, but I had to keep my head down. Eventually the 23 car would go off on his own, and second is where we’d stay until the end.

It’s weird, I’m disappointed but happy at the same time. We could have won this thing, and after a season like we’ve had that would have been extremely welcome. However, settling for second was still a good change of form for the team, and I think we’ll only get stronger as the season goes on.

Thanks again to John, Marco, and everyone on the team for such a great weekend…. off to my “other” home track, Lime Rock!

Andy Lally (@AndyLally) is a three-time GRAND-AM champion and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year, currently driving for Magnus Racing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

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