After a year filled with disappointment, for driver and team, last weekend’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen proved to be a breakout performance for both Martin Plowman and BAR1 Motorsports.
The reigning FIA WEC LMP2 champion and 2013 Le Mans class winner, who was left without a full-time ride this year, had the race of his life, helping take the cash-strapped Ohio-based team to a surprise first podium finish of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season.
Teaming with reigning Asian Le Mans Series champion David Cheng and first-year prototype racer Doug Bielefeld, expectations were rather low for the carbon black No. 88 Oreca FLM09, especially after a challenging start to the season, marred by costly accidents for the hardworking Brian Alder-led squad.
Yet Plowman, a late call-up for only his second Prototype Challenge race of the year, came from nearly two laps down during his memorable, flat-out 3.5-hour stint to the checkered flag.
“When I first got in, I think we were P8 they told me that Bruno [Junqueira] was a corner behind me,” Plowman told Sportscar365. “So I was 6 seconds ahead of Bruno, who was going to put us two laps down.
“At that point, I didn’t think about the podium or the result. I was thinking just to do the best I can and the team deserved that from me. I just wanted to push and see how fast the car would go. If we weren’t going to get a good result, I at least wanted to try and set a few fast laps.
“But after a half an hour, they told me I was extending the gap [over Junqueira] and then I thought, ‘You know, we have a really good car here.’ So I kept pushing and pushing and taking bigger and bigger risks. With that, every lap the confidence grew with the car and things started to come our way.”
Plowman was a man on a mission, having moved his way up to fifth, all while during a lengthy green flag run.
“Then with about an hour to go, there were two cars in front of me and they told me they were for P4 and P3,” he said. “I just put my head down and was taking massive risks pushing the car in passing some of the GT cars.
“Sometimes it would pay off because you were able to gain 3 or 4 seconds a lap depending where you passed them. I just went for every gap and I guess I got lucky because we didn’t make any contact.”
Aided by a late-race yellow and a few causalities in the spec prototype class, the BAR1 entry came home with a season-best second place result, in a race that Plowman ranks just below his LMP2 class win at Le Mans last year as one of his most memorable in his career.
“It was such a great team effort,” Plowman said. “The guys did a great job in the pits. We went into the race with a good direction. I think the engineer nailed the setup just right.
“A lot of credit goes to him, as well as Doug and David. The progress that Doug made, he’s very new to prototype racing, he improved his personal best time by three seconds. He’s still got a lot of things to work on, but to make that improvement in the race and to hand over the car in one piece, that’s worth a lot of credit.”
Despite his starring role on Sunday, Plowman doesn’t know what the future will hold for him.
The 26-year-old Briton, who made a 600-mile road trip from his Indianapolis home to Watkins Glen in order to save money, remains optimistic of landing additional drives this season.
“I hope I can do more with [BAR1], and if not, hopefully some more drives with other teams in PC,” Plowman said. “My relationship with them is race-by-race. I did Sebring for them at the last minute and this was also a last-minute call up too.
“They’re not really in a position to offer anything long-term or for multiple races. It just depends on the current drivers in the car and what they can offer.”
Plowman, who made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year as part of a two-race program with A.J. Foyt Racing, is hoping last weekend’s performance could help solidify a full-season ride.
“After [winning] Le Mans last year and the World Championship, I’ve never taken things for granted and I never expect things to happen without hard work,” he said.
“In racing, if you’re out of sight you’re out of mind. No matter what happened the last year or the year before, there are people that always forget it.
“In my position, I’m just really grateful to be given the chance to get back in a car of any sort. We were able to showcase what we could do again.”