#07 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R drivers Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins dominated the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve GT competition Saturday afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park, racing to the chequered flag 30.591 seconds ahead of the field in the two-and-a-half hour Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant.
The pair started from the pole and almost never looked back, leading 94 of the race's 95 laps. Edwards, running the team's first stint, had already stretched the lead to 4.616 seconds over the #85 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Shoes For Crews/Recaro Porsche GT3 co-driver Craig Stanton by Lap 15. Edwards maintained a several-second lead behind the wheel before passing the #07 Pontiac GXP.R to Edwards on a Lap 28 pit stop.
As the GT field cycled through the first pit stops of the afternoon, Edwards suddenly found himself in the lead on Lap 31 nearly ten seconds ahead of the #06 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R driven by Leighton Reese. Ten laps later, that lead had stretched to 23.77 seconds.
The closest any driver got to Edwards from there was during the race's only full course caution period, when Dominic Cicero slammed the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Corvette into the Turn 1 tyre wall on. Edwards was the first in-and-out of the pits as the field bunched up under the caution.
The disappearing lead didn't seem to rattle Edwards. One lap after racing resumed, Edwards ripped off the race's fastest lap in a time of 1m 29.917s, only four tenths of a second off of the car's pole speed. The lead continued to grow until the final margin of victory.
“It seemed like an easy one, but it wasn't,” Edwards said. “We had to find the right balance. We seemed to run the same times as we did in practice, and I was surprised the others were a second or more off our pace. I guess our car was just working that well around here, and nothing went wrong. No misfire; everything went well for once. I guess the performance kind of speaks for itself.”
The win was the first of the season for Edwards and Collins, who have utilized a number of strong finishes to stay in the championship hunt. The Banner Racing duo now trails points' leader Dirk Werner by just six points with only two races remaining in the GT season.
While Collins and Edwards drove away from the field, the battle for the remaining podium positions became a battle to the end. The second-place duo of #66 TRG CRG/Maxter/Rotax Porsche GT3 co-drivers Andy Lally and RJ Valentine continued their strong showing with their fifth top-two finish in seven races. Valentine began the afternoon 18th and, continuing with the team's common strategy, pitted early to hand the car off to Lally.
When Lally returned, he ran more than a minute behind the leaders before the first round of pit stops. Lally found himself in fourth position after the first pit cycle. Pitting so early caused the car to fall back during the middle of the race, but after the yellow flag pit stop found what he needed in order to get the car back on track.