Scuderia Corsa entered Saturday’s Championship Weekend at Lime Rock Park with a shout of the Rolex Series GT title.
Their championship fortunes, however, took a significant turn on the second lap of the two-hour and 45-minute race when the points-leading Magnus Racing Porsche was taken out in a crash.
While the John Potter and Andy Lally-driven No. 44 Porsche eventually rejoined after lengthy repairs, the early race despair for the Magnus crew turned into a race of destiny for Alessandro Balzan and the California-based Ferrari squad.
“It looked like I was in perfect position, but I had to fight with lapped cars that were slowing me down,” Balzan said. “My pace could have been much better than it was. But the team kept on telling me to stay out of trouble.
“Sometimes when you are so good in the car, it’s difficult to slow down because you lose the focus and concentration. I had a big problem in the middle of the race that was not so nice to manage but I was really lucky I did not crash into the wall.”
Despite the mid-race scare when the No. 61 AIM Motorsport Ferrari of Jeff Segal made contact with Balzan’s Prancing Horse, the Italian and co-driver Leh Keen soldiered home to a runner-up finish in class, enough to claim the final Rolex Series GT championship.
It marked Balzan’s first North American title in his rookie season in GRAND-AM, as well as the Giacomo Mattioli-led team, which fielded two cars on Saturday.
“This is crazy for me, to get the championship in the first year for Scuderia Corsa, and in the last year of the Rolex Series, is really magical,” Balzan added. “It was a wild race, but the car was so good and our strategy was good. But believe me, I never relaxed out there today. It was so hot, and so hard.”
The No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro of John Edwards and Robin Liddell, which entered the weekend trailing Lally and Potter by 11 points, challenged early but dropped back with a tire puncture late in the opening hour.
While the duo rallied to a fourth place finish, the Magnus pairing still claimed runner-up honors in the championship, thanks to getting its Porsche back on track to score points.
“What a gutsy performance from the Magnus Racing Porsche crew,” Lally said. “Our car was destroyed; totaled; wrecked; done … But after Potter was punted off the track and then t-boned on lap two, the crew got to work, pieced this car back together and got me and John onto the track for 67 laps and a 13th-place finish.
“That effort gave me the required 30-minutes, Potter his 30 minutes, and made the difference between second in the championship rather than the fourth a DNF would have given us.”