SEBRING, Fla. – In the type of occurrence that reminds of “The Engine That Could” – the story of a smaller-than-average train engine which realized bigger-than-average accomplishments – DeLand, Florida-based Racers Edge Motorsports on Friday captured Team Ford Racing’s best Ford Mustang Boss 302R performance thus far in the 2014 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season.
For drivers David Levine, Highland Park, Ill., and Lucas Bize, New York, NY, their solid fifth-place finish was nearly as good as a win, prompting high-fives and joyful glee among teammates, family, friends and competitors alike along pit road.
As well as the Mustang in which it was mounted, their high-output Boss 302 5.0L 4V T-VCT race engine came straight from the Ford catalog, yet giving away a full two-liters to the 427 cu.in. Chevrolet which finished first, as well as a similar amount of power to the BMW that finished second.
At least, such is the opinion of Multimatic-Miller Racing’s Billy Johnson, who had qualified fastest – inside Row 2 – for Friday’s race and who felt that the only way to presently attack those differences was to so finely tune the suspension of his and co-driver Ian James’ No. 158 Ford Mustang Boss 302R that the galloping horse would substantially out-hustle their competitors throughout the 3.74-mile, 16-turn course.
It very nearly did, a recalcitrant clutch stealing the team’s thunder.
“I don’t remember exactly when it started malfunctioning, but it wasn’t too deep into the race when I had to start pumping the clutch pedal,” Johnson said after concluding his opening race stint and handing the car off to teammate Ian James.
It wasn’t that the car stopped shifting as much as it took a lot of time between shifts to coax the gear selector into higher and lower gears, the upshifts eating the greater part of the time and thus slowly, almost excruciatingly moving the car ever farther rearward to a 17th-place finish, one lap down to the race victors.
Another Multimatic-Miller Racing Mustang, the No. 15 of Jade Buford and Scott Maxell, produced better numbers and at one point was found well inside the top 5, but ran out of tires long before it ran out of race, ultimately finishing in seventh place.
For the fifth-place-finishing Levine and Bize, the team’s plan was executed as desired, excepting one mishap and one piece of luck that went its way.
“My plan was to get what positions as quickly as I could after the race’s start, then go into ‘preserve mode’ so that I could hand off the car none the worse for wear to David (Levine),” said a broadly smiling and well-spoken 18-year-old Lucas Bize, who when not racing is in his senior year of high school in New York City.
“I got two places and then started saving the car.”
Ultimately giving back one of the two positions gained after the start, when finished with his part Bize handed a 9th-place car to Levine.
“Then, I was to burn as much gas and as much rubber as I could because we’d have to make a stop anyway, so we might as well make it higher up in the order, right?” Levine asked rhetorically.
Yet, the team would soon start sweating some bullets after the car’s grillwork took an unexpected knock and water temperatures started to climb.
“That’s when the caution came out,” Levine said. “It came out when we were in our fuel window and we were able to get the grill to breathe again. The pit crew really hustled, got me four tires, too, and back on the track. They really deserve a lot of credit for where we finished. So does my teammate.”
With that said, the celebrations began – likely keeping in mind and adhering to any necessary age restrictions, of course.
The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge next hits the track May 23 – 24 in Lime Rock Park, Conn.