In a weekend in which 8star Motorsport looked set to deliver the team’s first victory in the Tudor United Sports Car Championship (USCC) Prototype Challenge class, the team returned to their Florida base with nothing more than a sixth-place effort and a bitter pill to swallow following a steward’s decision that snatched away what looked like an odds-on victory.
The team’s strong driver pairing of Sean Rayhall and Luis Diaz had exploited a decent qualifying effort, where Diaz had put the car in third spot on a competitive grid, and took the 8star machine quickly forward to lead the class and run eighth overall by the third lap. Diaz was at the wheel for the first stint and looked to be in control leading from the front and set to deliver the car to Rayhall.
A series of full course yellows bunched the field and while still leading, the team decided to use the third lengthy caution period to pit Diaz early, where great pit work saw him retain his lead as the other competitors chose to follow suit.
However, the team was informed that they had passed the red light at the end of the pit lane and had to pit again to serve a 60-second penalty for the infringement. With Rayhall having now taken over the car, he immediately returned to pit road to serve the punishment, emerging sixth in class and a lap down on the field with the true severity of the penalty being two minutes with pit road time and penalty time combined.
The best efforts of Rayhall were in vain, as despite a series of fast laps, he was unable to recover the deficit imposed on the team and was resigned to finish in sixth, scant reward for the pace and strategy the team had displayed.
The post-race mood was understandably disappointing and team owner Enzo Potilicchio found it hard to disguise his frustration and anger at a decision that had no reasonable explanation. “We could have won that, should have won that in fact,” he said. “We made a great call in the pits and we got hit with a penalty that gained us no advantage that our competitors didn’t, but it cost us the race.”
Diaz was equally vocal in his dissatisfaction at the decision that had blighted what was an excellent performance.
”I didn’t see the red light when I was coming out of the pits, and that was a problem,” he said. “I was busy with the buttons and you don’t expect the pits to be closed at the exit. These things happen, it’s a tough lesson, but I need to learn from this.”
Rayhall, who had nothing to show for what was in isolation a quick and faultless second stint, was defensive of Diaz and angry that the opportunity to win had been taken from himself and the team.
“Starting my stint with an outlap followed by a pit lane penalty was crazy, I should have been racing for the victory, not sixth place, the team and Luis did everything right and we had the car and the pace to win,” Rayhall said.
Gary Neal, 8Star team manager, was more upbeat as the dust settled and was looking forward to the next event as Road America.
“We’ve got to learn from this, it’s another race procedure system to add to our checklist, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the drivers to observe the signals of the officials,” he said. “That said, we got everything else right this weekend and have a strong package that will challenge next time out at Road America.”
The team is in second place in the Prototype Challenge standings with 172 points, trailing only the CORE autosport team, which leads the class with 200 points.