One would have assumed when the Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series rolled into St. Louis during Friday's rain storm that the weekend would have been setup for disaster. However the weather would turn clear and the track would stay clean and dry for ChumpCar's 12 + 8hr two-day enduro events.
The race at Gateway Motorsports Park is one of the last on the schedule in which teams can qualify for ChumpCar's Central Region Chumpionship. The first race on Saturday was a 12hr enduro followed by a 6hr sprint on Sunday. Both events would qualify cars for the Chumpionships.
Starting from the pole of a double wide start, the BMW 325i from Four Car Garage Motorsports took and quickly stretched out an early lead. Fubar Racing gave early chase, but a penalty for an off-course excursion set them several laps behind the field. The FM3 Marketing/Optima Batteries Ford Mustang also ran into early problems melting the cap to their power steering reservoir. The car would return the to track later, but was out of contention for the win.
As the time clicked off the clock it became clear that the challengers for the podium would come from a field of 4 cars. The two BMW E36s of 4 Car Garage Motorsports and Fubar Racing, One Nissan Z31 from Kentucy Spirits and what was once a Mazda Miata. As the team called it, it's more of a Miaro (Miata/Camaro hybrid). The four cars swapped fast laps and were having battles all over the track. Close behind was the sister Nissan Z-Car from Kentuck Spirits and the Ford Taurus SHO from Eggboy Racing, both clicking off times just a few seconds off waiting for any small mistake to make a charge to the front.
As the sun went down the racing did not slow one bit. Faster laps for teams were set and attrition was surprisingly low. Some teams were forced to update or make changes to lighting that resulted their cars being parked on pit lane for extended periods of time. The Acura Integra fielded by Holy Rollers was forced to park early due to low visibility.
After 12 hours the checkered flag waved on the #120 Kentuck Spirits Yellow. Their Nissan Z31 finished 1st, followed the #999 Fubar Racing BMW 325i and #4 4 Car Garage Motorsports rouding out the podium. All cars passed the post-race impound session with little fanfare.
Day 2 at Gateway brought more of the same, with one big surprise. Day 1's last place finisher, the White Lightning Mazda Miata, came back in rare form and surprising the field to take the win. In a strange coincidence Kentucky Spirits, Day 1's winner, finished last in the field after suffering race-ending damage on-track.
Just as on day 1, the top five cars spent all day shuffling for the lead. In the end it was EggBoy racing in their Ford Taurus SHO and 4 Car Garage Motorsports, with their second 3rd place of the weekend, finishing out the top three.
Four Car Garage Motorsports team owner and driver Mike Smith sat down to discuss their double-podium weekend and their home-field advantage at Gateway Motorsports park.
-When we spoke during tech-day, you felt pretty confident you were amongst the teams to beat. Were you surprised by the amount of competition found for this year's podium?
"I felt like Gateway was our best chance to podium out of all 5 of the races we'll run this year. We had previously placed 5th both days in our last race at Gingerman, so I knew that if we had clean driving, clean pitstops and good strategy we had our best chance to take home a trophy. Having Gateway in our back yard certainly doesn't hurt us since we all know the track pretty well. The advantage of knowing the track was evident in my Saturday start where I was able to run away from the field in the opening laps. The same thing didn't happen on Sunday because everyone was familiar with the track. Even though we knew our laptimes are competitive (based on previous Gateway practice), what we didn't know was how we'd stack up against the competition. We weren't surprised by the competition, there were a lot of fast teams here. The Eggboys have been winning races and taking home trophys in ChumpCar since 2010, also last year's Gateway winner Kentucky Spirits are fast and competitive. The Rusty Bucket SE-R also podiumed last year and they are also from the St Louis area with lot's of Gateway experience. We ran against the GORT Acura and FUBAR previously this year, so we knew both those cars were fast."
-Throughout the two-race weekend, did 4CGM have any setbacks that may have cost you the race?
"Our race went relatively smoothly and we didn't have many set backs. However a few things almost bit us. First, In order to minimize pitstops to five we had to make our fuel last for two hours. On both of my stints (Saturday and Sunday) we cut it really close on making it to the magical 2 hour window. On Saturday, the engine stumbled in turn 7 as I was about to pit, so I was able to get on pit road right away. Luckily earlier in that first stint, I had 3 full course yellow laps, or I wouldn't have made it to the two hour point. On Sunday, I had to slow down and conserve fuel, I did about 30-40 laps (out of 90) in fuel conservation mode, adding about 2 seconds to my lap time, and allowing Eggboys to catch us. Even still at the end of my stint the engine stumbled at the end of the front straight, so had to nurse it an entire lap in order to get back to pits. Both times I had about a quart of gas left in the tank, when we refueled. No one else on my team was using as much fuel as I did, so fuel wasn't a concern except when I was driving. Also, one of our drivers also had a spin and was unable to get the car started right away, luckily after a 10 sec delay, it cranked and we didn't loose too much time."
-I believe you said your next race was Road America. Do you have any changes planned for the car before that race?
"We don't have any major changes planned before Road America. The car handled superbly as evidence by how quick we were through the infield at Gateway. We are down on acceleration to some of the faster teams, this will hurt us at RA since it's very much a horsepower track. We're going to change fluids, slap on some new tires, new brake pads, check every nut and bolt and head to Wisconsin. I may also add a real engine temp gauge since all we currently have is the stock dumby gauge."
Next up for the Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series is a huge 3 race weekend that will have options for fans to watch a race from Texas World Speedway, Sebring International Raceway and up into Canada at Calabogie Motorsports Park.
For more details on ChumpCar please visit our website - www.chumpcar.com ChumpCar Schedule - http://www.chumpcar.com/events.php
Event passes are available for all events. Children under 15 are free.
ChumpCar World Series