Despite making a late in the day change from the 4 cylinder MG XPOWER until produced by AER to the Judd MG XPOWER V8 the #37 Intersport MG-Lola EX257 still came home to take class honours at Petit Le Mans.

Duncan Dayton and his co-drivers, Jon Field and Larry Connor, did everything they could to have a good showing in Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta Motor Sports Park, as did everyone else connected with the Intersport Racing #37 MG-Lola.

Their efforts were rewarded with the LMP 675 class victory, which was the third such triumph this year for the pairing of Dayton and Field.

Unfortunately it was still not enough to give the duo the class drivers' title, as Chris Dyson, also in an MG-Lola EX257 finished second in the class and scored enough points to take that championship.

The Dyson Lola #20 crashed once in turn three and had to go behind the wall for repairs. Later a Corvette spun it out in turn five. It experienced a lot of other problems in the race too, and for a long time it looked like the Intersport team just might nab the title as well as the class victory.

The Dyson #20 had to complete 276 laps, or 70 percent, of the 1,000-mile race distance to be awarded points and allow Dyson to win the drivers' title. It accomplished that at 8:02 p.m., about an hour before the chequered flag. Then it went on to nail down second place in class behind Dayton, Field and Connor, showcasing how close the competition has been all season.

The Intersport team left feeling like they'd won the battle but not the war, although all concerned admitted that they would have needed a lot of luck Saturday to nab the drivers' crown. The team did continue its domination at this particular road course, as Dayton and Field won their class at this race last year too, as well as took the class victory at another race here in June.

Their car, which is sponsored by Banana Joe's, Highcroft Racing and Goodyear, was rarely out of the lead in its class all day, but it had some challenges Saturday too.

Primarily it was very, very thirsty. Field was the class leader when he pitted at 3:34 p.m. due to an overheated engine, and the same problem was evident when Dayton took over for a stint at 4:19 p.m. From that point on the car was forced to make regular stops to add water, but it still went on to win the class and finish 12th overall. The Dyson #20 was 21st overall.

"There was a pin hole in the radiator or a loose fitting in the cooling system, so we had to re-pressurize the system and then add fluid at every stop," Dayton explained later. "It held for an hour, hour and a half, so we just worked around it."

The Intersport #37 finished 357 laps to the Dyson #20's 320 laps. Field got the class lead for the first time just a half-hour into the 10-hour race when the #20 pitted. Dayton took over after the first hour and there was a little shifting of the top two class positions due to pit stops before Chad Block had his shunt in the Dyson #20 in turn three at 1:23 p.m.

Connor took over from Dayton at the two-hour mark and the Intersport team was back in the lead five minutes later. Field took the controls again around the three-hour mark while repairs were still being made to the Dyson #20, doing a double stint. Around the four-hour mark Jason Workman threatened to complicate the picture, as he worked his way up to second in class and was on the same lap as the Intersport #37. Field still had the lead, however, when he pitted 10 minutes shy of the half-way point for Dayton to take over, but that stop was a long one due to the overheating problem.

The Intersport team got a stop-and-go penalty at that point for having too many crew members over the wall, and lost additional time when they had to add pit stops to top off the car's coolant. That put them in second place in class, but Dayton got the lead back a little past the six-hour mark. It was around that time that the Dyson #20 had a small fire in the pits when the fuel overflow ignited, but they only lost about eight minutes for that problem.

Dayton was still in the lead when he turned the cockpit over to Connor about a half-hour later, and the team was never again headed.

Ron Fellows tapped Dyson in the rear around the eight-hour mark, causing Dyson to spin and then continue after a little pause. Field was in the #37 and still the class leader when Dyson recorded enough laps to win the drivers' title.

Dayton took over the Intersport car again at the nine-hour mark. About 25 minutes later Dyson passed Howard Katz to nail down second place in class. Dayton then brought the car home in one piece for the class victory, the fifth of his ALMS career.

"It was a nice way to end the season if we couldn't win the championship," Dayton said afterwards. "Congratulations go to our crew for having worked so hard with three different cars, really, and two different engine configurations. To win the first time out with a new engine package is pretty cool. The crew deserve all the accolades.

"We also have to congratulate Chris Dyson and all of the Dyson guys for the drivers' title," Dayton added. "It was a long, hard-fought battle all year, and we gave it our best."

Dayton said he really didn't have any close calls Saturday. "Actually is was a fairly clean race, generally," he said. He also said that he hopes to continue to compete in the ALMS next year. "Hopefully I'll be doing more of the same, and with Jon [Field], if it works out," he said.

[Pic: ALMS / Rick Dole]



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