By: SCCA Public Relations staff
TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 12, 2008) -- All 25 SCCA National Champions have now been crowned at Heartland Park Topeka as the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs came to a close. In true Runoffs fashion, the week even ended with one of the closest finishes in event history.
Race 19: SSB Title and Triple Crown to Niffenegger
Lee Niffenegger, of Delaware, Ohio, claimed his first National Championship in style, winning the Showroom Stock B title as well as the SCCA Chicago Region Triple Crown®. Chad Gilsinger, of Marysville, Ohio, and Kenneth Flory, of Commerce Township, Mich., completed the SSB podium at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs, at Heartland Park Topeka.
Shortly after the green flag appeared from the starter's stand, the dust began to fly as three cars got together at Alpha. A total of five cars needed to be removed from the area, which in turn brought out the full-course yellow. None of the drivers were injured.
When green flag racing resumed on lap six, polesitter Niffenegger led Gilsinger and the No. 25 Hoosier/Phoeniz/Carbotech Pontiac Solstice of Michael Scornavacchi into Turn One. Niffenegger began to pull out a lead of nearly two seconds as Gilsinger and Scornavacchi battled for second. When Scornavacchi passed Gilsinger on lap nine, he immediately set his sights on Niffenegger's No. 42 Honda/BFG/Cobalt/Traqmate Honda Civic Si.
Once Scornavacchi caught Niffenegger on lap 11, the next four laps were a constant back-and-forth battle. On lap 15, Scornavacchi hit the Turn 10 curb, which resulted in a flat tire and the end of his race. With only three laps remaining Niffenegger sailed to the checkered flag, winning by 8.129 seconds.
"[Scornavacchi] was running me down pretty quick," Niffenegger said. "I didn't block, but I did drive down to the inside and guarantee that Mike had to go around the outside going into four. We were both sliding wide, and didn't touch at all, but he went off and blew a tire and that was that."
Mirroring the battle that had just played out ahead of them, Gilsinger's No. 07 BFG/Traqmate/Honda Civic Si and Flory's No. 8 Pratt & Miller/Hoosier Pontiac Solstice spent the closing laps of the race glued to each others' bumpers. Though the pressure from Flory was tremendous, Gilsinger held strong to take second place.
Richard Cullen, of Marshfield, Mass., and Chase Lin, of Lewis Center, Ohio, completed the top five.
Ken Payson, of Worcester, Ma., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing seven positions during the race in the No. 95 Mazda/Hoosier/RedLine Mazda MX-5.
Race 20: Osborne Crowned C Sports Racing Champion
J.R. Osborne, of Atlanta, won his first-ever C Sports Racing National Championship at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Heartland Park Topeka. Chris Farrell, of Salt Lake City, and Jim Downing, of Alpharetta, Ga., completed the podium.
Osborne, who started fourth in the No. 4 Rilltech/Goodyear/Redline Oil Stohr WF-1/Suzuki, got a great jump at the start making it three-wide coming down the front straight heading into Turn Alpha. At this point, he picked up two spots and was right behind the rear deck of polesitter Farrell for the first lap.
On lap two, Osborne passed Farrell in Turn Six for the lead. At one point, he had nearly an 18 second lead. But, on lap 13, his car began to misfire. This misfire slowed Osborne's pace, shrinking his margin of victory to 5.182 seconds.
Driving the No. 58 C&M mfg/GDR Engines/Hoosier Tire Stohr WF-1/Suzuki, Farrell got a good start and took the early lead once the three-wide cars settled into single file by Turn Two. Unfortunately, his lead was short-lived and Osborne passed him. Once Osborne made his move, Farrell had to concentrate on running consistent lap times in order stay with Osborne. But, in the end, Farrell came away with a solid second-place finish.
Downing, driver of the No. 63 Downing Atlanta Inc Peach Day-01/Mazda, spent the early part of his race engaged in a heated back-and-forth battle with fourth-place finisher Bill Goldkind, of Holbrook, N.Y. The two drivers exchanged positions on four consecutive laps before Downing took third place for good on lap 10.
Harvey Goldman, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, finished fifth. John Metzger, of Charleston, W. Va., was the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing four positions throughout the race.
Race 21: McDermid Lands Fourth American Sedan Title At SCCA Runoffs
Andrew McDermid, of Grand Ledge, Mich., earned his fourth career Championship in a shortened American Sedan race at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Heartland Park Topeka. McDermid battled 11-time Runoffs winner John Heinricy, of Royal Oak, Mich., who finished second, and Jason Von Kluge, of Ann Arbor, Mich., finishing third.
Heinricy, driving the No. 58 Pontiac Firebird, slipped past polesitter McDermid in the No. 24 Felice Racing Engines Ford Mustang at the start of the race, and the two veteran drivers quickly pulled away from the field. McDermid shawdowed Heinricy through each turn for the first 10 laps, and the pair locked nose-to-tail crossing the start/finish line to begin lap 11.
Under pressure, Heinricy just missed the preferred line in Turn One and dropped a wheel off the inside of the track, allowing McDermid to race by.
The race was stopped after reaching its 40-minute time limit under a red flag following a single-car accident by Andrew Brown, of Kearny, Mo. Brown slid off track and made hard contact with the wall in Turn Eight in the No. 27 Steel Tech Chevrolet Camaro. That incident brought out a red flag to check Brown's condition, with the field stopped on the front straight. Brown was alert and awake following the incident.
With no chance to resume the battle, McDermid celebrated a SCCA Chicago Region Triple Crown? -- a Division win, SCCA June Sprints title, and a Runoffs crown -- with a tire-smoking burnout on the front straight.
"By about Turn Three John and I were hard at it and we just never let up," McDermid said. "He'd get me in spots. I'd get him in spots. It is always a blast racing with John because he is clean. We tear each other's mirrors off and think it's funny."
Jason Von Kluge finished third in the No. 78 JVK Motorsports/Steeda-Hoosier Ford Mustang. Von Kluge fell behind Kyle Watkins at the start, and after clearing Watkins in just a couple of laps he was not able to close the gap on the leaders.
Shawn Gray, of Fayetteville, Ark., finished fourth, just ahead of Michael Lavigne, of Hooksett, N. H.
Kristian Smith, of Brighton, Mich., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award after improving eight positions to seventh place.
Race 22: Eaton Takes First-Ever Formula Enterprises Title
Mark Eaton, of Melbourne, Fla., recovered from an shaky start to win the Formula Enterprises National Championship in the class' debut at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs. Eaton also took home the SCCA Chicago Region Triple Crown®. Nick Evans, of Dublin, Ohio, and Brandon Aleckson, of Watsonville, Calif., completed the podium at Heartland Park Topeka.
Starting from pole in the No. 92 Global Aerospace/RMS/Cincy Images Formula Enterprises, Eaton immediately dropped a spot to Evans and Matthew Inge, of Fort Myers, Fla., on the start. Eaton quickly got back around Inge's No. 20 Land/Development Solutions Formula Enterprises, and took over the lead from Evans on lap six. The pass enabled Inge to follow Eaton around Evans and take up the second spot, then stay glued to Eaton's bumper.
As the 18-lap race neared its conclusion, Inge began to push the car a bit too hard, making a brief off-course excursion in the Esses on lap 16. The following lap, Inge repeated the mistake, but this time could not hold on. With Inge out of the picture, Eaton crossed the finish-line 1.391 seconds ahead of second place.
"I felt a lot of relief when I saw [Inge] spin off with two to go. When I saw him spin again with one to go, I knew if I just didn't throw the car off I could probably win this thing."
After the spin, Evans was spared any decisions about making a pass on Inge and finished second.
Fourth-starting Aleckson finished third in the No. 83 Tico Const/Westek/Trinity Rcng Concepts Formula Enterprises.
Matthew Schneider, of Lexington, Ky., and Paul Schneider, of Charlotte, N.C., completed the top five.
Lee Walther, of Oklahoma City, Okla., was the Sunoco Hard Charger, advancing seven positions in the LRW, Inc. Formula Enterprises during the race.
Race 23: Harris Wins First F Production National Championship
Runoffs Rookie Rick Harris, of Derby, Kan., held off a hard-charging Steve Sargis, of Frankfort, Ill., by 0.483-second to capture his first F Production National Championship at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Heartland Park Topeka. Joe Walker, of Richland, Mich., finished third.
Harris started on the outside of the front row in the No. 8 Prather Racing/WBR Graphics and spent the early part of the race trying to gain back the two spots he lost on the start. With the help of some attrition, Harris moved up to third when Brian Linn in the No. 21 Hoosier Tires/RedLine Oil/CWH MG Midget spun in Turn 10. Harris then moved up to second when the right front suspension broke on polesitter Eric Prill's, of Topeka, Kan., No. 7 Fight-MS/Hoosier/Prather Racing/ESCP Lotus Super 7. On lap 11, Harris capitalized again when then race leader Sargis spun his No. 18 SBS Batteries/Goodyear Tire Triumph Spitfire in Turn 14.
When Sargis spun on lap 11, he dropped to third. Undaunted by his spin, Sargis put his head down and passed Walker in the No. 5 Walker Racing Lotus Super 7 two laps later. At this point, Sargis was in second and was more than seven seconds behind race leader Harris. Over the final four laps, Sargis cut the lead down to under a second and even tried to take the race lead on the final lap. But, in the end, Harris proved to be too much for Sargis.
Walker did not get off to a good start. He dropped two positions at the start. But, much like Harris, he also benefitted from race attrition and moved up to third when Prill went out.
Mark Carpenter, of Burlington, Conn., finished fourth in the No. 38 Ream GGS Racing/Goodyear Acura Integra. Peter Morton, of Milford, Mich., put on an impressive drive. He started 10th in the No. 4 Creative Threads/Goodyear/DME Lotus Super 7 and finished fifth. Mike Halbrook, of Coppell, Texas, was the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing nine positions throughout the race.
Race 24: Grant Earns First SCCA National Championship With Formula Atlantic Win
David Grant, of Germantown, Tenn., earned a hard-fought National Championship in Formula Atlantic at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Heartland Park Topeka. Grant finished just ahead of Mirl Swan, of Platte City, Mo., and David Wilcox, of Derby, Kan., for the title.
Grant's goal, behind the wheel of the No. 12 Hoosier Tire Swift 014/Toyota starting from the outside front row, was to beat polesitter Swan to the stripe at the green flag. When Swan missed the start and bumped the rev limiter shifting to second gear Grant, passed him.
Swan pulled his No. 88 Swan Racing/Hoosier/Saferacer Swift 014/Toyota in behind Grant's machine for most of the race. Swan tried a number of times to make a run on Grant, including a thrilling side-by-side race through the third, fourth and fifth turns, but couldn't pull into the lead.
Swan settled for the runner-up position rather than make a risky move that could have jeopardized both top driver's race and Grant finished with a 0.209-second victory.
"I'm ecstatic to win a National Championship," Grant said. "I knew I had to get Mirl on the start, or it would have been almost impossible to get by him later. I lucked out and timed the start about as well as I could. One lap he'd be right up on my tail, and the next he'd be washed out behind me. He would shoot right up to me. With the aero, its hard to get up underneath somebody and make a pass."
That one-position improvement from second to the lead also earned Grant the Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
David Wilcox, whose No. 70 Hoosier/Toyota Swift db4/Toyota is a 20-year-old machine, recovered from a first lap off-track excursion that dropped him to sixth place to fall into line behind Grant and Swan at the finish.
Keith Grant, of Germantown, Tenn. and brother of the race winner, finished fourth. Fabio Castellani, of Streamwood, Ill., was scored in fifth at the finish.
Race 25: Gray Nips Ave for GT-1 National Championship
Bill Gray, of Fayetteville, Ark., capitalized on a last-lap mechanical failure for Tony Ave to earn his first GT-1 National Championship in 10 years at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs. Ave, from Maiden, N.C., held on to finish second at Heartland Park Topeka, followed by James Goughary Jr., of Jupiter, Fla.
Defending GT-1 Champion Ave immediately took over the lead at the drop of the green flag in the No. 36 Lamers Motor Racing/Pro-Motor/Goodyear Ford Mustang. Ave put the hammer down, pulling away from the field with each lap and opening up a lead of more than five seconds.
Ave's Mustang began to experience a fuel pressure problem and on the final lap he slowed on the back half of the course. Try as he might to make his Mustang as wide as the course, Ave could not hold off Gray, who pulled his No. 49 BGR, Inc. Chevrolet Corvette alongside Ave in the final corner. Gray took the win by a mere 0.009-second. It was the fourth-closest finish in Runoffs history.
"[At the end] I wasn't thinking about anything but holding it on the floor," smiled Gray. "To be honest with you, I didn't think I'd won it was that close."
Quite a distance behind Gray and Ave's spectacular finish, Goughary held off a charging Glen Jung to bring his No. 70 Luna Sueno Tequlia/Red Line Chevrolet Corvette home in third.
Jung, of Osteen, Fla., and Tom Smith, of Springdale, Ark., completed the top five.
Kevin David Rich, of Round Rock, Texas, was the Sunoco Hard Charger, advancing seven positions in the race behind the wheel of the No. 95 Cleaning Systems Specialists Ford Mustang.
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