SEBRING, Florida (March 14th, 2014) – Scott Maxwell and Jade Buford earned their second P7 finish in a row in the #15 Ford Racing/Multimatic Motorsports/Miller Racing Mustang Boss 302R at the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) debut at the legendary Sebring International Raceway; the second round of the 2014 season.
After an uncharacteristically mediocre Q12 qualifying effort, Buford went on a tear to start the race, charging from P12 to P7 before handing to Maxwell. Mustang ace Maxwell continued the charge to P5 before being forced to a complete stop on track to avoid being caught-up in a major accident, relegating the #15 to its finishing position of P7. The #158 team car of Billy Johnson and Ian James had anything but an easy day with clutch issues forcing it off the pace and a brake line problem later in the race further exasperating the situation; the pair would eventually finish P17.
The Multimatic/Miller crew nailed down strong set-ups for the Mustangs at the Sebring winter test in February where both cars showed impressive pace and posted consistent top ten times. The cars arrived for the race ready to go as the #15 and #158 ended P3 in the first and second practice sessions respectively.
Due to rapid tire degradation on the rough Sebring surface, the drivers only had two or three laps to record a competitive qualifying time; Billy Johnson, on his second flying lap, participating in qualifying for the first time in six years due to his regular job as the finisher, managed to put the #158 Mustang Boss 302R Q3 with a time of 2:16.400. The data subsequently showed that qualifying wizard, Jade Buford was on pace for a top five position but, unfortunately, had his flying lap ruined in the final corner by a slowing car’s late cut to the pit lane. Buford’s fouled lap was still good enough to earn him Q12, with a lap time of 2:17.160.
The first hour and 33 minutes of the race was uncharacteristic of normal CTSC competition, running under green the whole time. Buford rallied from P12 to P7 before handing off to Maxwell as his fuel ran to reserve after 50 minutes. Maxwell further improved to P5 before the first caution finally flew.
Johnson, who started P3, lost the clutch in the #158 before the half-hour mark and he and James were forced to rev-match, struggling for every shift, for the remainder of the event. Despite the burden, Johnson only fell to P11 before passing off to his partner, who battled the car for the next 40 minutes only losing a couple more positions.
When the first caution finally did come, the #158 stayed out as the leaders pitted and James regained the lead lap before making a pivotal stop that needed to be quick to stay on the lead lap. The crew threw down a fast enough stop but on the out lap the #158 started to lose brake fluid and was forced to return to the pits to sort the problem. After a frantic scramble to fix the leak, which involved a minor fire, James rejoined the race down a lap in P17, where he would ultimately finish.
P7 finishes for the #15 at both Daytona and Sebring have given Buford and Maxwell an early third place in the championship, proving that consistency is key in the CTSC. Johnson and James are only 12 points back of the #15 car running just outside of the top 10. The team is looking forward to the third race of the season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the first weekend in May.
Highlights of the weekend:
A successful test at Sebring three weeks prior to the race allowed the cars to roll off the trailer with a fast set-up. The #158 Mustang of James and Johnson was on point all week posting P7 and P3 times in the practice sessions. The #15 was never far behind, setting P3 and P17 times.
The harsh surface of the Sebring circuit made tire wear a pivotal factor during qualifying; with the rules stating that teams must start the race on their qualifying tires, drivers and engineers had to play a risky game with how many ‘flyers’ they would attempt. Both cars would have been top five if Buford had not been balked on his final effort during qualifying.
The race went sour early for the #158 as Johnson reported clutch problems within the first half-hour. He and James were forced to rev-match for the remainder of the race and the team had to push the car from pit-lane after each stop. The #15 had a nearly flawless race as Buford and Maxwell slowly worked the car from P12 to P5 but a late-race incident in corner one, that took out the two lead cars and tantalizingly opened a gap that could have seen Maxwell running at the front, ultimately worked against him as the spinning CKS Camaro bounced into the Mustang’s path forcing it to stop dead while a group of following cars frustratingly streamed past. Although this ultimately dropped the #15 to a finishing position of P7, it was a better outcome than befell a number of the other front runners that lost out in the corner one altercation.
Multimatic Motorsports Team Principal, Larry Holt, commented: “Seventh and seventeenth aren’t really indicative of what we were capable of this weekend and so I am a little disappointed with the outcome. On the other hand I am very proud of how everybody dug deep and Ian deserves a medal for driving a clutchless car with little in the way of brakes for the last part of the race; he was only a second or two off the leaders which was fantastic. Scott and Jade were just unlucky. They drove from a mid-pack qualifying position which was no fault of Jade as he was totally robbed of a top five by a stupid and dangerous move by another competitor on his flyer, and then Scott just got caught up in the first corner wreck and had to come to a dead stop and watch everybody else drive by him. However, it could have been way worse as the CKS car was undoubtedly on its way to a win and ended up in the wall and Andy Lally went from being in serious contention to P8 for the same reason as Scott, so I’ll take what we got and look forward to Laguna in May.”
From: Multimatic Motorsports/ www.multimaticmotorsports.com