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Larry Ott: Six hours of the Glen turns into survival mode

WATKINS GLEN –In a Sunday at Watkins Glen International that at times seemed more fitting for Noah’s Ark rather than sports cars No. 90 Racing co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante prevailed through heavy rain, low clouds, a red flag period and spinning cars to emerge victorious in the top-ranked Prototype class of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

The tandem of Westbrook and Valiante won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen in the No. 90 machine a year ago.

Other Tudor Championship class winners in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen Sunday were co-drivers: Renger van der Zande, Mike Hedlund and Alex Popow in the Starworks Motorsports No. 8 entry in Prototype Challenge; Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers in the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche in GTLM and Marc Goossens, Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence in the No. 93 Dodge Viper in GTD.

Sports car drivers often have to race during their careers every so often on rain tires in the rain but this weekend’s rains here were a bit excessive at times even for them.

“It was just survival,” said Valiante who was also battling the flu. “It was just so crazy. I’m not sure what to say. It’s been a tough weekend. I’m speechless. Richard did an unbelievable job again. It’s great for the team. The fans put up with a lot with the tough weather and it’s great to be in the Winner’s Circle again.”

The rain became too excessive with one hour and 28 minutes remaining in the six hour joust Sunday to force the yellow flag to be displayed for dangerous track conditions. Subsequently, seven minutes later the red flag was displayed.

The red flag was lifted 14 minutes after that and the race went back to green with one hour left on the clock. Ricky Taylor was leading the Prototype class in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP followed by No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford EcoBoost driver Joey Hand and No. 5 Action Express Racing Coyote Corvette DP competitor Christian Fittipaldi.

Suddenly Taylor lost control of his car on the wet and treacherous track and spun in Turn 10, hitting the wall with 49 minutes to go. Reacting to the Taylor spin, Hand spun in the ensuing chaos but kept going. Fittipaldi got by, gaining the lead as he and Westbrook avoided the spinning cars. Taylor went to the pits with heavy damage.

A lap later as rain was falling again Fittipaldi pitted and turned the car over to his teammate Joao Barbosa. At that moment as the yellow waved for weather, Hand inherited the lead over Westbrook.

The race next resumed with 16 minutes left. With just over 10 minutes remaining Hand had to pit for fuel handing the top spot to Westbrook. The yellow flag waved for the final time with eight minutes to go for an accident involving the No.007 Aston Martin entry of GTD class racer Kuno Wittmer. The race ended under yellow when the race could not be resumed before time expired.

“I saw them spinning,” said Westbrook of Taylor and Hand’s spins. “To be honest I wasn’t that concerned because I knew everyone had to pit. So once we made our last stop with an hour and 10 minutes to go I knew we’d pretty much win the race at that point.”

Teams had to change to full wet surface tires with just over two hours remaining as low clouds descended that began to complicate matters, especially driver visibility.

On Saturday, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) classes were showcased in what turned out to be a very weather plagued event that saw the Continental Tire 150 at The Glen end under yellow flag conditions due to heavy rain, high winds and flooding and puddling on parts of the circuit.

The entire race was run in the rain, which worsened as the race wore on eventually leading to the last 14 minutes of the race being run under yellow flag conditions to the finish. The Continental Tire 150 was a timed two hour and 30 minute race.

When the soggy checkered flag waved Robin Liddell brought the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Chevy Camaro Z/28.R home first in the GS class scoring the team’s third consecutive Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge victory this season for himself and co-driver Andrew Davis. The Liddell/Davis pair also won this event at The Glen a year ago for Stevenson.

“I’m not happy to have it finish under the yellow but of course I’m happy with the result,” said Liddell.

Fall-Line Motorsports driver Trent Hindman brought his No.46 BMW M3 entry home second after taking over the wheel from opening co-driver Ashley Freiberg.

Stevan McAleer crossed the finish line first to score the ST class win for his C.J. Wilson Racing No. 5 Mazda Mx-5 squad along with co-driver Chad McCumbee.

“That last 25 minutes of the race was obviously a long 25 minutes,” said McAleer. “I feel we had the car to win and Chad did a fantastic job. We had a pretty good car in the wet. I’m excited. I won here two years ago and it’s taken two years to win another one.”

Alara Racing’s No. 34 Mazda Mx-5 co-drivers Christian Szymczak and Justin Piscitell placed second in ST Saturday.

Team Sahlen had a tough weekend. The team’s No. 42 Porsche Cayman finished 12th in the ST class with co-drivers Will and Wayne Nonnamaker, both of North Canton Ohio. The No. 43 car, featuring Elma’s Joe Sahlen and Jeff Segal (Miami, Fla.) placed 28th.