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Grand-Am KONI Challenge - Pony Premonition
The Grand-Am KONI Challenge Invades Mosport
"AMustang will win at Mosport," predicted Dean Martin in a RehagenRac ing.com video podcast. "Either I'm going to win, or Hugh Plumb is going to win. It would be nice to sweep the podium." Would that confidence foreshadow the outcome of the KONI Challenge at the 2-mile course north of
Mustangs have won the KONI Challenge's last two visits to the high-speed track, with Martin and teammate Ken Wilden finishing Second in 2007. So Martin's prediction was based upon past performance rather than sheer optimism, but not even the boldest gamblers would bet on the result of a 2-hour race.
Why do Mustangs do so well at Mosport? The course favors cars with horsepower and grip over cars that are nimble, such as BMWs. The track's first four corners are sweeping, high-speed arcs that require a steady hand and nerves of steel. Jack Roush Jr. explained to John Clark, Roush Performance's PR rep., "If you go over the limit here, there are severe consequences." Turn 5 is a low-speed hairpin that brings the cars to a virtual standstill before they accelerate down the long back straight.
It was no surprise that Rehagen Racing's No. 60 Mustang, driven by Hugh Plumb, set the fastest time in the first practice session on Friday morning. Dean Martin then set the fastest time in the afternoon practice in Rehagen Racing's No. 59 Mustang, with the No. 55 Hypersport Mustang of Scott Maxwell just 0.047 second behind.
After practice, the teams then scurried to prep the cars for qualifying with new "sticker" tires--the weapon of choice because they're quicker than "seasoned" tires--but just for a few laps. After that, they overheat and get "greasy." Qualifying was a close battle between Joe Foster in the No. 55 and Jack Roush Jr. in the No. 59. When the dust settled, Foster topped the charts with a 1:30.853, with Roush at 1:30.936.
Jack Roush Jr. told Clark, "I initially had a good run and got a Top-5 position and Dean [Martin, team co-driver] almost decided to bring me in to park it. I then took a lap to cool the tires, luckily. Once around this time, I turned it loose again. I pushed the car as fast as it would go, and the tires seemed to get hotter and hotter, which will slow the car down quickly. However, my lap times kept coming down. I was apparently able to sync into a rhythm faster than my tires were falling off and put the No. 59 Roush/Valvoline Mustang into second position."
With a Mustang monopoly of the front row, it appeared that the circumstances were aligned for Martin's prediction. However, there were five BMWs and one Porsche between Roush and the No. 37 Mustang of Bret Seafuse, who qualified Ninth. Once the green flag dropped, the German cars would come hard and fast.
At race start on Saturday, the front row was all Mustangs as Joe Foster and Jack Roush Jr. led the field to the green flag. Roush ducked in behind Foster and the two led the pack for 38 laps until an incident at Turn 3 initiated a full-course caution. Foster immediately ducked into the pits, handing the lead to Roush. Foster handed the No. 55 car over to Maxwell, who re-joined the field in Fifth.There was some confusion as to when the pits were "open" for each class, so Roush didn't pit until the next lap. When Roush pitted, Ray Mason in Rehagen's No. 52 assumed the lead until he pitted on Lap 47.
By this time, Hugh Plumb in the Rehagen No. 60 was running Second behind Billy Johnson in a BMW Z4 Coupe. However, over the next few laps Johnson was passed by Plumb and Maxwell. Martin worked up to Fourth, so it was Mustang, Mustang, BMW, and Mustang.
On Lap 66, Scott Maxwell's FR500C out-braked Plumb in the No. 60 Mustang to snatch the lead after Turn 1. Martin in the No. 59 Mustang pressured Johnson in his BMW, trying to force an error. Four laps from the end, Martin seized an opportunity in the "esses" and slipped beside Johnson. They unfortunately made contact in Turn 10, sending Martin into a tire-smoking slide. Martin rejoined in 17th position but had to pit on the next lap for a fresh rear wheel and tire.Maxwell went on to win in his No. 55 Hypersport Mustang, with Hugh Plumb closely behind in the No. 60 Sunset Hills Vineyard-sponsored Rehagen Racing Mustang. Billy Johnson finished Third in the No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group BMW Z4 Coupe.
Martin commented to John Clark on the incident that could've resulted in a Mustang 1-2-3 at Mosport: "I got behind the No. 18 BMW and found it very difficult to pass because that car is very fast and he is a talented driver. I worked him hard for eight or ten laps and finally pressured him into making a mistake. We were going through Turn 10 when I got hit hard enough to bend the right-rear wheel and axle. The impact spun me around in a 360 but I was able to recover enough to limp back to the pits and get two tires changed and finish the race, but by then we were well off the pace."
So Martin's prediction of a Mustang winning at Mosport was spot-on. However, he didn't join Joe Foster, Scott Maxwell, Mike Canney, and Hugh Plumb, on the podium. It was a great weekend for the Mustang drivers as they looked forward to a couple of weeks off before the fourth round of the KONI Challenge at Watkins Glen.