As one of 29 teams in the GT Daytona (GTD) category to arrive in Florida this January for the debut of the all-new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Magnus Racing can look back fondly at a season that featured a number of highs, lows, and everything in between.
Following two incredible final years in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series in which the team took three victories, including at the 50th running of the Rolex 24 and the inaugural Brickyard Grand Prix, the team entered 2014 as a championship contender. During the previous two seasons, the team took the title in the inaugural North American Endurance Championship, followed one year later by a runner-up ranking in the Rolex Series, creating high expectations for this year’s revamped category.
While the team would enjoy a number of highlights, including five podiums and an incredible victory at the historic 12 Hours of Sebring, a series of incidents combined with off-form weekends would set the inaugural championship out of reach, with the team ultimately finishing fifth in both Team and Driver categories. One significant highlight, however, is the team’s No. 44 Flex-Box Porsche 911 GT America holding the distinction of being the lone Porsche to take victory in its respective category, a tradition that has carried since the 2012 Rolex season.
Additionally, the team was voted by the fans as the “Team to Win” at the end of the year, a Microsoft-sponsored competition in which motorsports fans around the world were encouraged to vote for their favorite team, with Magnus taking top honors against such names as Corvette and Dempsey Racing.
“We certainly had our struggles in 2014, but we ended the year on a high,” stated Magnus Racing team owner and driver John Potter. “Winning Sebring was huge, and set us on a good bit of momentum in to the spring, but unfortunately we had our struggles during the summer. That set us up for an incredible rebound during the fall, however, and we ended the season on a high which was incredible. It was a great tribute to the crew who put in an amazing effort to get to the bottom of our struggles, and ultimately we could walk away satisfied.”
Continuing the team’s annual tradition of pinpointing the most defining moments of the season, below are the five incidents the team could have done without, and the five highlights that made for an incredible year.
FIVE MOMENTS WE COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT:
5. An Indy Misfire. Following a couple of off-song performances at Detroit and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Magnus came into the famed Brickyard Grand Prix in search of a turnaround in form. Having visited the podium in the two previous visits, and knowing that their championship was in need of a bump, the final 90 minutes of the race halted any hope of momentum. The usually bulletproof Porsche engine developed a strange misfire as Andy Lally’s stint progressed., and the team was helpless to do anything to cure it. While the car was able to continue, the souring pace was amiss with the lead pack, eventually falling back to 12th and further behind in series standings.
4. Daytona Goes Down the Splitter. The known Achilles heel of the Porsche, the very fragile front splitter that helps maintain aerodynamic downforce to the front of the car, has long been a problem at the storied Daytona International Speedway. Preventing the team from possible victory in 2013, the issue once again appeared during the 2014 Daytona 24, with the team needing to replace the splitter several times, through no fault of the drivers. The issue was such a prevalent factor for all Porsche teams that there were no spares left during the closing hours of the race, with the team having no choice but to limp home with a damaged car for hours, eventually finishing 12th, the worst finish at Daytona in team history.
3. Canada Remains Green. While “green” racing is very sought after these days, it didn’t help Magnus at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The traditionally caution-filled race was anything but, which provided a trying day for the team. Struggling to find the pace of the lead cars, the team turned their focus to one of their core strengths, pit strategy. Unfortunately with no caution flags to encourage alternative pit stop decisions, the team simply ran their pace to ninth.
2. Butchered in Wisconsin. If the Championship wasn’t out of reach before the eighth round of the championship at Road America, it certainly was after. With the team showing a few moments of speed in practice and possible renewed form, a race restart would ruin the day for the Magnus team. With John Potter showing strong, a rookie driver behind him failed to properly understand the “accordion” effect during a restart and clocked the No. 44 in the rear, causing Potter to not only run in to the cars in front of him, but created substantial damage to his Porsche in the process. The crew would do a remarkable job to get the car turned around and back on track, but the time spent in the garage would send the car down 15 laps and in 14th place. Critically important, Andy Lally also failed to get his minimum drive time in the car, meaning he would score zero points on the day and was effectively eliminated from the championship.
1. Detroit. Everything. It’s tough to define one moment about Detroit that we could have done without because the whole weekend was a disaster. Qualifying last, an incredible amount of confusion on a yellow flag procedure, all topped off by a late-race mechanical black flag… it was forgettable in every way.
FIVE MOMENTS THAT MADE THE SEASON AWESOME:
5. Lally Goes Twice in Monterey. Quickly. So often races can be won by fuel mileage, but Andy Lally and the team proved sometimes the opposite is true. With the shortened format of the series’ third round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, combined with a timely yellow pushing some teams to try and run the event in one stop, the team decided to try the opposite with one hour to go. Pitting Lally for fresh rubber and plenty of fuel to go the distance, the Georgia resident had a sprint ahead of him. Whereas the leading competitors would spend their time running conservative, Lally drove flat out for the entirety of his final stint, climbing to fourth by the white flag and eventually taking third when the leader ran out of gas. It would serve as the team’s third straight podium at Laguna Seca and put the team in the thick of the championship chase.
4. Testing Positive in Atlanta. Often times it’s not the race that generates the result, but the time leading up to it, a reality never proven more true than during an early fall test at Road Atlanta. Following a disappointing, and busy, summer season the crew of our small team gave up any hopes of time off to make the hike down to Atlanta to get a handle on their performance woes. With the following two rounds at Circuit of The Americas and Road Atlanta netting podiums on both occasions, the effort clearly paid off.
3. Preparation for 12 Hours. While issues with the splitter put the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin for any hopes of a good performance at Daytona, one underlying issue also presented itself during the race and pre-season tests: the Porsche’s shift mechanism. With the 911 GT America being an all-new car and for the first time including a paddle shift mechanism, the process in which the system that changed gears had a few nagging issues. Unable to diagnose the specifics of the problem, the team instead turned their attention to being able to replace the key components in a timely fashion should it occur again, and this paid dividends at Sebring. When Andy Lally encountered the problem early in the race, the team was ready, and in under 90 seconds they were able to switch out the ailing system, preserving the team’s contention… and ultimately contributing to their historic win.
2. Potter Goes Three Times in Atlanta. One critical component of the GTD category rules was the ever-present minimum drive time. Designed to enforce each entry as a team effort, a driver who wants to score points is required to compete for a defined amount of time at each race (specific to the race length), which in the case of the season-ending Petit Le Mans was two hours and forty-five minutes. This effectively meant a triple stint if the team wanted Potter to start the race and not get back in, thereby eliminating the need for a costly driver change. However, with many teams electing to put their veteran drivers in early, Potter attempting a triple stint ran the risk of losing a lot of ground to the more experienced leaders. You would have never known this, however, as John drove a masterful series of stints, maintaining a pace with the lead pack through the entirety of his run, and when he pitted for the final time he was right with the lead pack. This opened the door for the more experienced Marco Seefried and Andy Lally to drive the remaining seven hours, meanwhile the cars in front still had to rotate their lesser experienced drivers through… ultimately playing a big role in the team’s fifth podium of the season.
1. A Quick Call Wins Sebring. There’s an old adage that the “first team to make the last stop wins,” and that proved true at Sebring. With Andy Lally running among the leaders but struggling to get to the front, a slowing car on the track caused the Magnus crew to call in the No. 44 for the final stop with 45-minutes to go. This proved a critical move as the other cars stayed out, and when a yellow flag would eventually come about the Magnus Porsche found itself in the lead with 30 minutes to go. Lally would take the job on from there, defending his position well and crossing the finish line in first, and ultimately the lone Porsche GTD-category victory in 2014.
With the season now behind, all attention is now focused on the next venture for 2015. While the team has yet to announce any firm plans on the specifics of the program, rest assured the team will be back in action and ready for a new series of highlights by this time next year.