This is a part of a series of race reports from Tom Patton who races a vintage Sunbeam Tiger as a class GT2 in the SCCA
With the last race results at Pitt Race in the end of April we had a month to prepare for the June 3 event at one of our favorite racetracks: Watkins Glen International (WGI).
We took advantage of the month to do a deep preparation for the remainder of the season. The Tiger was stripped down to the tub and all the components went through their inspections. The engine was taken out so that a better valuation could be made on that pesky oil leak. We decided to pull the oil pan and front cover and replace the front seal, then reseal the pan with new gaskets. The valve train was inspected, and the valve lash reset as necessary.
Also, we did a leak down on each cylinder to make sure the motor is still sealed up. We have been running a 7800-rpm pill (pills range from 3000 to 10000 rpm and just snap in the rev control panel) in the MSD rev limiter which actually starts to limit revs around 7600 rpm. Typically, we run a 8200 pill. It puts less stress on the engine but also yields less performance. With fewer rpm we need a different rear end gear ratio to get similar top speed results. Engine looks great and has been running great; so onto the rest of the car. The brake system, front and rear suspensions were inspected / serviced and ready to go. We started the season using the race tires from the 2021 Indy Runoffs. We mounted a new set for this upcoming race. With the extra time we headed north to Ionia, MI and picked up the repaired engine from the Atlanta race. This engine has always been my favorite and we do not plan on using until we go to the Runoffs in late September.
The rules to qualify for the Runoffs this year are that you must run at a least three major weekends, finish at least three races and finish in the top 50% in points.
As in the first two races of the year we have a goal that we must meet at the WGI race, just turn a wheel and we are qualified for the Runoffs. Test days do not count so running the Thursday test is a gamble. But it felt necessary to get familiar with the 3.4-mile course. The first of four 20-minute test day sessions went great. The car felt great on track and posted good speed right out of the trailer.
We were back in the garage and rolled the Tiger back to fill the fuel cell for our next session. Race cars are not allowed to be fueled in the garages so we pushed the car out to refuel. That is when my heart sank. I saw two small pools of oil where the Tiger had been. We have had a nagging oil leak at the last two races but never had any on the ground. We spent the rest of the day to see what I had done to make matters worse. We even replaced the rear main seal. The transmission had to pulled, clutch removed and most of the headers removed. The seal did not look bad, but when you are in that deep, a new one goes in. The Tiger was all back together that evening and ready for the first practice.
With the first lap we met our race goal. Now we can race without pressure, just have fun. We ran a competitive lap at 1 minute 57 seconds, third fastest GT2. The first qualification session was Friday afternoon and we bolted on the new tires. If you were wondering, did the oil leak get fixed? Not exactly, but it seemed about the same as the previous two races, so we considered it was contained. Qualifying went very well running as fast a lap as we ever have at 1:55.819, still third in GT2 but sixth overall.
Saturday morning, we had the second qualifying session and the Tiger roared to a 1:54.761, a full second faster than our previous best. The grid was now set for the first race Saturday afternoon. The first five rows were dominated by six GT1 and four GT2 cars. The first position GT2 Corvette C7 was third overall, second GT2 Nissan ZX in fifth, The Tiger is seventh overall and the fourth GT2 Corvette C6 tenth. Unlike the rest of the year there was absolutely no threat of weather! The temperatures were low 70s and sunny. I love racing at the Glen! Fast smooth well-kept facility. Several of the corners are banked so corner speeds are very fast.
I have been asked many times, do you plan your starts? Well, it just happens because everyone around you has a plan and what you do or don’t do will change theirs. I knew I had to get by the GT1 cars on the outside lane to stay with my class leaders. We came to the green and I pulled right up on the Nissan and he was on the Corvette. They both made the apex ahead of the Porsche and GT1 Corvette.
I released my brake a bit and drove down inside the Vette. The Porsche took an evasive move by going outside to make it three-wide in Turn 1. This compromised the GT1 Corvette’s ability to get on the power and we shot in front to start up the esses.
My best start of the year, I was in fifth overall and my class leaders just in front. But looking in the mirror to see the gaggle of cars behind me made me smile. We settled in and stayed in contact with the leaders who were also having a spirited battle. The GT1 cars had too much top speed for me and eventually they got by. The lead for GT2 swaped going into the boot and two laps later there was a crash in the laces of the boot and the race was checkered five minutes early. That was fun another podium for the year.
Sunday afternoon brought Race 2 and another beautiful day for racing. The grid was almost exactly like Saturday and after the brilliant start Saturday, this time I got it all wrong. I did not protect my line and I was late on the trigger resulting in losing three spots. We did survive what was a very tight Turn 1 but barely. We knew were are much faster than the cars that passed us. Janet is on radio telling me to take my time. I quickly got by the GT3 Acura and closed quickly down on a stock car running GTX. I got inside on the entry to the boot (the laces) and he cut me off. I backed out without incident, then took him on the exit of the boot, and drove away.
The GT2 winner from Saturday, the Nissan 300ZX, spun on that lap so we were already in third. I got to the secondplace Corvette C6 by Turn 1. I was going to wait until after the bus stop but Corvette C6 tapped his brakes in the flat out esses. I was beside him and he was crowding me making my entry to the bus stop very shallow. I slowed, turned, took a lot of curbing, made the two quick lefts, and got back out in front. As I braked for the boot, the Tiger veered right (it is a very fast left-hand turn). I knew I was done and slowed waving cars by as I made it back to the pits. The upper control broke which made racing further impossible. Broken hearted but an easy fix for the next race. We left Watkins Glen feeling very good about performance but with room to improve. Next race up the last before surgery Mid-Ohio in six days.
Start of first race rear view
Saturday Race 1 video
Sunday Race 2 video
Sunday Race 2 start rear view