With just a few drops of fuel left in his tank, defending Grand-Am GT champion Andy Lally delivered the TRG team a home state victory in Saturday's U.S. Sports Car Invitational at Laguna Seca.
Lally led TRG teammate Daniel DiLeo in a 1-2 finish under caution in the two-and-a-half hour, 92-lap race.
Cautiously working his way through the field all afternoon, Lally chased Kelly Collins around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn track for several laps before getting by Collins in Turn 5 on Lap 90. Fortunately for Lally, he was able to save a little bit of fuel as a caution came out moments after he passed Collins when Andrew Davis spun the #72 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 in Turn 11, forcing the last of four caution periods.
Officials could not get the track cleaned up in the time remaining to go back to green flag conditions, giving Lally and his co-driver RJ Valentine the victory over DiLeo and his co-driver, Ross Smith. Lally and Valentine also picked up the “SunTrust Improve Your Position Award” after moving up 15 spots from the 16th-place starting position. The event marked the first GT class team 1-2 finish of the 2007 season, and the team's first 1-2 since last year at Lime Rock Park.
“It is a huge deal,” said Lally, whose only lead came in the final three laps of the event. He was also the final of nine drivers and nine lead changes, and did not stop during the final 66 laps. “The really cool thing is, this is my first win here. I've had two second-place finishes in Rolex and I had a third-place finish here in Barber Dodge a long, long time ago. I just mentioned to (team owner) Kevin (Buckler), we've got two seconds and a third, and we really need a win here. It was wonderful to come through. It's one of those things where it clicked just right, and our guys just did an awesome job.
“I've got to thank RJ, my engineer and Kevin for the three of them getting together and helping me build a real good car this weekend. I've got to say the handling was just unbelievable. I've also got to thank the guys who raced me clean, because the last three guys that we picked off were all very much gentlemen, and nobody was trying to cut my nose off.”
“It's obviously a privilege at my age,” added Valentine, who helped the pair scored its second podium in three races. “You begin to wonder, 'The older you get, the faster you was.' Having Andy as a teammate is a real privilege. To have the guys around me with TRG and all the group of people that prepare the car, sometimes it looks easy just driving. The reality is, you can't drive something if it's not set up properly.”
Lally ran up front all day, breaking into the top five shortly after taking over the car during the first 15 laps of the race. He also didn't drop too far from the leaders after his second stop on Lap 36, returning to the track in ninth. Lally then quietly worked his way into the top five with patience. He used passes on Lap 61 (Jean-Francois Dumoulin) to take sixth and Lap 73 (DiLeo) to take fifth. Then, he reaped the benefits of late pit stops from two drivers, and made a daring inside pass on Collins for the victory. The win put Lally and Valentine into a ninth-place tie in the latest point standings.
DiLeo took over the reigns of the #65 machine early in the event, after Smith had an adventurous start. Smith entered the race in 13th but stayed out when many drivers pitted during an early caution when debris was found on the track. He ran as high as fifth before falling back to seventh on Lap 10, and was nearly involved in a collision before handing the car off to DiLeo during the mandatory pit stop, scheduled within the race's first 45 minutes.
Several one-car spins, slide-offs and an incentive kept the team in contention. DiLeo fell a lap down on Lap 37 before officials waved him by, as he earned the first chance award for being the top running lapped car. DiLeo then played the same game as Lally, patiently waiting for the right time to pounce.