at Mid-Ohio Finale
Jeff Segal, co-driver Emil Assentato and the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team earned a season-best runner-up finish for the third time this year in Saturday’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series 2011 finale at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Segal, the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Series Champion with Assentato and the No. 69 FXDD team, moved to second in a late-race restart, nearly taking the race lead as well.
“The restart was really messy,” Segal said. “We had a lot of slow cars, a lot of lapped cars in there. I had been eyeing the pit exit road for some time. I actually used it in a Continental Tire Challenge race a couple of years ago, and it worked pretty well. So I had that in my bag of tricks. They got stacked up in Turn 1 and I just went right through, went far left, smashed the gas pedal and away I went, but I just kind of ran out of time to get that first place position.”
Assentato started the No. 69 Mazda from a solid sixth-place on the grid and ran as high as fifth before handing off to Segal at the race’s 45-minute mark. Segal began his stint in 11th but immediately began to climb through the field. A key move came two stops later when the quick-thinking FXDD crew called Segal to the pits just seconds before a race slowing caution period. Segal returned to the race in the lead and was part of one of the most hard-fought GT battles of the season in the race’s final 45 minutes.
“Our car was really, really good,” said Segal, who was also fastest in Friday’s final practice session. “Big credit to the SpeedSource team, they definitely gave us a great piece for the last race here, so I was really happy about that. Unfortunately I put myself in a position where I was coming from behind, I threw the car a little bit wide on one of the restarts, and got tangled up with another Mazda, which was unfortunate, it damaged the car a little bit and I lost some time.”
Segal’s lead lasted for 15 circuits, from laps 67 to 81, but he stayed in the thick of the battle even when he lost a few positions in the late scuffle.
“Last race of the season, everybody wants to win it,” Segal said. “I knew there was going to be some desperate driving. We were determined to get back up there and I was sure that we could win that race. I think another lap and we would have had it.”In addition to Mid-Ohio, Segal also finished second this season at the Grand Prix of Miami in March and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in July. He also finished third in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and fourth at Barber Motorsports Park in April. Despite the top finishes, a disastrous DNF in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, and the competitive balance of the current GT regulations, never quite let Segal and his teammates mount a strong title defense this season.
“Our season was definitely disappointing coming off of last year,” Segal said. “I think all things considered, looking at the record, we had some ups and downs, but to be on the podium as much as we were was a good season. It was also great to end the season with a podium, but still a little bit disappointed not to get a win.”
Noteworthy: This year’s racing season has only been over a few hours but Segal has already shifted his thoughts to 2012 “Next year I think big changes are in store,” Segal said. “Looks like we will be in a Ferrari, Emil and I, and the rest of the program should all shake out shortly. Really excited about it, I think that is going to be a good piece for the GT class, and looking forward to trying to be a two-time champion next year.”
- When his friend and fellow driver Leh Keen won his second GT Championship Saturday with Brumos Porsche, Segal wanted to be the first to thank him as they drove to the pits after the finish. “I was trying to open his passenger door so I could really congratulate him fully,” Segal said. “Instead we just ended up rubbing fenders. Those guys earned it, they had a great season, the entire Mazda contingent, I think we pushed them hard and came up a little bit short at the end. They were consistent, they were fast and I am just really happy for those guys.”