It was a series of unfortunate events for Conquest Endurance and Martin Plowman this weekend. The team struggled through the Baltimore Sports Car Challenge, as they handled a damaged race car, a shortened practice as the league altered the track, an engine accessory issue, a surprising penalty, and a suspension failure, all which led them to a disappointing third-place finish. It was the first time since the Sebring season-opener that the team had finished outside the top two.
The weekend actually got off to a great start, with teammate David Heinemeier Hansson setting the pace in the P2 category. Once out of the #37 car, he relayed to the team the intense bumpiness of the Baltimore track, which was laid out on the streets of downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. With only a few laps under his belt, Plowman realized how true this was. While traveling over the railroad tracks on the front straight, the car’s anti-roll bar broke from the sustained bumps, and the team was unable to finish the practice session.
Many cars throughout Friday’s practice had suffered from the terrain, including a few frightening incidences when cars launched over the railway tracks. ALMS, INDYCAR, and Baltimore Grand Prix officials called off many of the practice sessions in order to install a temporary chicane on the front straight, aiming to slow the cars down as they approached the railway tracks. This shortened the final ALMS practice session by a half hour.
Qualifying was exciting, as Plowman continued to set the fastest lap until the final minute, missing the pole by only 0.08 seconds. The car was struggling to find speed, as an engine accessory problem slowed him down, and Plowman was unable to show the true speed of the car set up.
Heinemeier Hansson started Saturday’s 2-hour race in oppressive heat and humidity. He dominated the start of the race, plowing through the field and putting the team in a 30-second lead over the second-place car. However, a surprisingly harsh 60-second stop-and-go penalty pushed the team to third in class. Plowman took over the wheel at the one-hour and thirteen-minute mark, and focused on climbing his way back to the top. A full-course caution bunched up the cars, and as Plowman planned his move, a suspension failure disabled the car. With only 14 minutes left in the race, the heartbroken Conquest Endurance team watched as he attempted to limp the car back to pit lane, but was unable to do so when the car simply gave up the fight, parking itself on the sidelines.
This finish was especially heartbreaking, as the team had expectations of further reducing their gap to the championship leaders. They had just come off an exciting win at Road America, leaving them only 5 points away from the championship. With two races left in the season, there is still time left to earn the points needed for the ALMS P2 championship. They will next be seen at Virginia International Raceway on September 15th.