BRASELTON, GA (Oct., 2011) - Robertson Racing is not your typical professional racing team.For starters, the driving pair (and team owners) of David and Andrea Robertson are a married couple.Secondly, the team has entered a somewhat unconventional pair of cars to do battle against the world's most experienced sports car racing teams and manufacturers.(While many upstart teams would turn to a proven Porsche, Ferrari or Corvette, the Robertsons have chosen to race the Ford GT supercar.)Finally, in the world of professional racing where most drivers' egos are usually only bettered by the speed of their cars, the Robertsons and their entire team are among the friendliest people in the paddock.
Competing at some of the most prestigious sports car races against the world's best is a point of massive pride for the team, as they launched their operation just a few years ago on a much smaller stage.Even though the couple got into racing later in their lives following successful careers in the aviation field, both David and Andrea caught the automotive bug very early on.
Andrea cites drag racing and terrorizing the streets in her 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner as a teenager for the beginnings of her automotive passion.David remembered seeing the Ford GT40s take the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 on ABC's Wide World of Sports as a boy, and has been hooked ever since .While both have had an appreciation for cars most of their lives, it wasn't until the late 1990s that they realized racing could be an option for them.
"I've always been interested in it, but it was never feasible to think about doing due to our careers," said David."But in 1998 I found out about the Waterford Hills (MI) historic races and came out to watch.I realized it would be a great way to get our feet wet and get started in the sport because it was close-by, it was affordable, and it's full of some pretty smart people who will help you out and teach you how to have fun with it.We bought a spec-racer Ford in 1999 and we shared the car; she would drive and I would be the mechanic and vice-versa, and it just grew from there."
David and Andrea have come a remarkably long way in quite a short amount of time.They've gone from entering their spec-Ford in local vintage races to competing in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) - the country's premier sports car racing series.Wisely, they enlisted the services of the legendary Dick Barbour and his well-established racing organization to help them take their passion to the next level.
Robertson Racing joined the ALMS in 2007, entering a Panoz Esperante GT2 car in several races.Campaigning the Ford-powered car out of Braselton, Georgia, gave them a good idea of what racing at such a high level would require, and for 2008, they upgraded considerably.The team entered a GT2-spec Ford GT supercar, built by Kevin Doran, dubbed the "MK VII."
The team took delivery of its first car just before the 2008 12 Hours of Sebring, and over the past three and a half years have transformed it from an undeveloped, untested GT to one that can legitimately compete with factory-built cars from the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, BMW and General Motors' Corvette program.Team manager Andrew "H" Smith told us a bit about the car and the kind of development that has been invested in it.
"A lot of it has just been refining the package that we got from Kevin (Doran)," said H. "The general layout of the vehicle has stayed pretty much the same from the get-go, and the car was pretty good right out of the box - but we've refined it, improved the fit-and-finish of the parts, and really developed the way it performs on track.
"We've come along way since we've had the car, and a lot of it has to do with the engine development with Elan Motors and the tuning of the suspension to make it run as well as it does now."
From 2007 to 2010, the team ran a single car, driven by David and Andrea Robertson and professional driver David Murry. The team's first big taste of success came at the 10-hour-long Petit Le Mans in 2009, when Murry put their Ford GT on the GT2 pole position! The best was yet to come, though.
For 2011, the team entered a pair of Ford GTs for the full ALMS season, as well as applying for both cars to go to France for entry in the biggest race of them all - the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans.Much to their delight, one car was awarded an invitation and the second was added to the reserve list.Unfortunately, the reserve car didn't make it onto the final entry lineup, but the team was still thrilled to be competing with the one car.
After seeing the Ford GT40s win Le Mans on TV as a child, David Robertson was about to realize his dream and actually compete in that prestigious race.The team ran an almost-flawless race with their only problem coming from a faulty paddle-shifter system.After a full 24 hours, drivers David Murray and the racing couple from Ray, Michigan, finished third in their class. It was a history-making event, as David and Andrea became the first married couple to ever stand on the podium at Le Mans - with Andrea the first woman to stand on the Le Mans podium since 1931.And to make matters even more special, the race happened to fall directly on their wedding anniversary!
All things considered, it proved a remarkable accomplishment for the team, and Andrea was overcome with emotion as she took the checkered flag.
"The feeling was overwhelming!" Andrea said. "Throughout the race I never bothered to look at what position we were in, but in the wee hours of the morning I was getting ready to get back in the car and I thought, wow, we're still running, and look where we are!And I could feel tears welling up, but it was too early to celebrate."
"Once we got to the end and we knew we had Third Place, I tried hard not to think about it," she continued. "I just tried to focus on driving the car and being calm.Then I came around the final corner to see the gentleman on the track waiving the checkered flag and thought, this was just like in the movies!From there, I just cried for the entire lap coming in. The corner workers were waiving flags, the fans were jumping the fences and trying to touch the car and cheering for us - I had never been so overwhelmed. Then you get to the podium and look out and just see a sea of people cheering you on.Wow! What an experience!"
Following Le Mans, the team returned to America for the second half of the ALMS season, and their good fortune continued.The pro-car' of Murray and Anthony Lazzaro scored another podium with a third-place finish at Lime Rock Park.Robertson Racing was on a roll!
Another aspect of the ALMS that make it such an intriguing place for the Robertsons to compete is that the series is the global leader in "green" (environmentally friendly) racing.Cars can be powered by a variety of fuels, including E-85, E-10, isobutanol, clean diesel, or even by hybrid power.It's a formula that makes the series one of the most relevant in terms of real-world technology transfer.
"The American Le Mans Series is, in my mind, the one race series that is genuinely important because of the kind of development that goes on," said David
Robertson."Racing is a sport and it doesn't have to justify itself, but the ALMS does justify itself with all of the testing and development that takes place.They
test different fuels and ways to make fuels that you could use in your street car."
I love Formula One because of what it is, but you're not looking at anything in Formula One that's going to make a difference in your street car," he noted. "The ALMS, on the other hand, is quite relevant, and there's a lot of technology being explored in the series that could make the world a better place. That's what makes it so interesting to be a part of."
Building on the theme of "green racing," the ALMS recently introduced the Michelin Green X Challenge. The challenge awards the cars in the series that demonstrate the best overall performance and fuel efficiency while making the smallest environmental impact.It's an important aspect of the series both for the environment and for the teams.The winners at season's end receive an automatic entry for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans - something Robertson Racing would love to earn!The team took first place the challenge at Lime Rock and scored a 3 rd at Mosport.
Later in the season, Robertson Racing made a bit more history - this time at the Mid-Ohio round of the ALMS schedule, and again at Mosport, near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. David Robertson stepped out of the car to allow Melanie Snow to drive.Melanie and her husband, Martin, have run Porsches together for years, but it was the first time she had driven a GT2 car. It also became just the second time in history that an all-female crew had taken the start of an ALMS race.
We had a chance to speak with Melanie at Petit Le Mans, the series' final round, and she gave us some insight into what racing with the Robertsons is all about.
"I've had a wonderful time racing with the Robertson Racing team," Snow told us."Dave and Andrea are amazing people who love racing their Ford GTs, and from the first time I joined the team, they made me feel like family. They've put their heart and soul into this team and they deserve all the success they've earned.I'm extremely honored to have had the opportunity to race with them - they're a great group to be a part of!"
We joined the team at the ALMS' final round, the 10-hour/1,000-mile (whichever comes first) Petit Le Mans.Unfortunately, the weekend didn't start off how the team had planned. Accidents in Wednesday's testing and Thursday's practice sessions required hasty rebuilds and cost the team valuable track time. The passion and resolve of the team came through, however, as their silver-and-red Ford GT made it out onto the track for the morning warm-up ahead of the race. The team would run just one car in the race, to be driven by Andrea Robertson, David Murry and Melanie Snow. Missing qualifying due to their accidents resulted in the team starting from the back of the grid. But after 1,000 miles the team was still running!
Looking back after a rollercoaster season for this small but dedicated team, one statistic really stands out: In a sport where just finishing an endurance race is a huge accomplishment, the team had finished all three of the year's true endurance events. Their Ford GTs took the checkered flag at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans. The team also had at least one car finish in every ALMS race they entered! That's something that even many big-budget factory teams can't claim - and for Robertson Racing, it's a badge of honor that they wear proudly.
Robertson Racing could well be described as "the little team that could." They've done a whole lot with very little, and they've done it on their own. On top of that, they've done so while remaining some of the nicest people in motorsports.
Any Ford enthusiast loves to see the modern-day Ford GTs in competition, and we wish Robertson Racing the best of luck in the future. Their Ford GTs are eligible to race in the ALMS and at Le Mans for one more season, so the team hopes to be able to compete with them again next year. No matter how their season goes next year, one thing is certain: They're extremely proud to be an American team, racing a great American car in international sports car racing. And we're proud to see them waving the Ford flag.Photos Courtesy of Robertson Racing / Richard Price Photography