WATKINS GLEN, NY, AUG. 10 — Thetford / Norcold Dyson Racing`s James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger claimed their fourth Rolex Series victory of the 2001 Grand-Am season in the Bully Hill 250 at Watkins Glen. After claiming top honors at the Trois-Rivieres G.P. five days earlier, the Anglo-American duo were headed only briefly in the 89-lap tour around the famed short course at Watkins Glen. Their win was not without drama, however, as the #16 car`s crew gambled on fuel strategy and barely made it to the flag. When the team drained the fuel tank after the event, only one quart– or the equivalent of half a flying lap around the 2.5 mile layout– remained.
Weaver had qualified second Thursday afternoon`s twenty minute session, losing pole to erstwhile Doran Racing rival Mauro Baldi by less than half a second. In the post-qualifying press conference James was as witty as ever, claiming that the team had told him he needed “three seconds” to catch Baldi. The press room echoed with laughter. In the age of the soundbyte, Weaver never ceases to disappoint. Back to business, the English star worked hard to dial out some high speed understeer in time for Thursday evening`s happy hour practice, and went out and set a blistering time two-tenths under Baldi`s pole lap. “This is more reflective of our race pace,” the 2000 Grand-Am champion noted. “We are good to go.”
The sister #20 machine, which had been originally slated for Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Rob Dyson and Trois-Rivieres polesitter Dorsey Schroeder, spent most of Thursday`s practice in the hands of Dyson`s son Chris, who was surprised to making his debut in Friday`s Bully Hill 250. “I have been doing a good deal of racing this year, and at the beginning of this week my father told me to get a license and bring my kit up to the track. At first I was just going to treat the practice sessions as a test, but we decided to do the race together. Everyone has been a great help, and I am just trying to keep my nose clean and do a respectable job.” Elliott Forbes-Robinson qualified the #20 car fourth for the race. “The car has another second in it, but I figured I would park it because we have got to race on our qualifying tires and we are out to have a good time here.”
Weaver took an instant lead when the green flag fell at 6:30 PM Friday, while EFR settled in to a comfortable fourth. Weaver proceeded to stretch his lead over the first five laps before coming up on heavy traffic. Entering the final turn coming onto the main straight, Weaver checked up to avoid running up the back of a Porsche 911. Mauro Baldi, running in close company, attempted to pass the same Porsche and tapped the smaller car into a spin. Baldi soon pitted to repair bodywork damage, and the field was called under a full-course caution on lap 9 when the Porsche could not refire. The race restarted two laps later, with Weaver leading Intersport Racing`s Jon Field and EFR running third. When Field pitted on the next lap for bodywork damage, Dyson drivers found themselves running 1-2.
And it would stay that way until the first round of pit stops, when EFR handed the controls of the #20 machine to Chris Dyson. Running third, Dyson ran what he called a steady 35-lap stint before pitting to give the car to Rob Dyson. After a dozen laps– and nine short of the finish– the elder Dyson`s mount seemed to die on course. Rob managed to make it around to the pits where the crew diagnosed the car as a victim of a failed alternator or voltage regulator. “It is too bad,” Rob noted after the race. “With all the problems everyone else had, we probably could have finished third. It was just great driving with Chris and Elliott this weekend, we had a lot of fun. I look forward to doing it again.”
The #16 Dyson machine, in Leitzinger`s hands since lap 45, continued to pace the field under green with a spectacular sunset and huge crowds lining the historic circuit. Didier Theys was pushing hard at the wheel of his second-placed Doran / Lista Ferrari as Leitzinger was trying to conserve fuel, but the Pennsylvanian could breathe a little easier when the Belgian spun in Turn One with two laps to go. Leitzinger zoomed under the flag to claim his fourth win of the 2001 season, and set the stage for the Rolex Grand-Am championship finale at Daytona on September 12-13. Weaver and Leitzinger are currently 1-2 in the drivers tables ahead of Theys.
After the event, Leitzinger was elated: “It went great. James gave me the car halfway through and we were in very good shape. We made a pit stop kind of hoping that there would be a yellow flag, because it was a little bit early to make the rest of the way on gas. I kept going on without the yellow flag and they kept telling me to conserve fuel, so I was shifting in lower and lower RPMs and it was still not enough. I started coasting halfway up the straights sometimes to conserve fuel so I went on reserve. We had one gallon of reserve and I went on that a lap and a half from the end of the race. They just strained the fuel tank and we had a quart of fuel left, so it was very close. It was nice, the car was fantastic and the team played the strategy perfectly.”
In the hectic month that is August for Thetford / Norcold Dyson Racing, the team will be hustling home to ready its Riley and Scott mk3C in time for two successive weekends: next weekend`s American Le Mans Series event at Mosport International Raceway and the ALMS round at Mid-Ohio on August 25.