Hello Isabel, meet Mid-Ohio! After Hurricane Isabel came ashore on Thursday in North Carolina, the fast-moving storm carried heavy rain to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course all night Thursday and into Friday morning. Since Friday marks the switch from "getting ready mode" to "race mode" for the hundreds of race teams and race drivers who want to bring home a Sports Car Club of America National Championship in Club Racing, the change in weather was significant.
Race 1, for C Sports Racer, got things underway on a wet track under heavily overcast skies, and the conditions made an immediate impact. Polesitter Jacek Mucha took the lead at the start in his beautiful Ralt JMS, a converted Formula Atlantic car, but spun on the wet pavement at the exit of the first turn. He backed into the tire wall, damaging his car's rear wing, but got going again and completed lap 1 in 4th place.
After Mucha's spin, Jeffery Miller took off with the lead in his unique Kohler-powered Wynnfurst, while Jack Ruscelli and Dennis Pavlina were fighting for second. Mucha, despite his spin and damaged wing, was fast! Mucha passed Ruscelli for 3rd place at the start of lap 2, took 2nd place away from Pavlina under braking for the esses later that lap, then moved Miller out of the lead in the Carousel turn by the end of the lap.
Mucha built a big lead over the next several laps, with Miller, Pavlina and Ruscelli in a close battle until Miller pulled away a bit. Keith Young, Jr. was running well in 5th place a few seconds back. Behind them, two drivers were making good progress, John Mirro running in 6th place after starting ninth and E.B. Lunken, who had started 13th, was in 7th. Lunken's great run was spoiled on the fifth lap when he spun into the wet grass and lost four laps before he could get back underway.
As the track began to dry, Miller was catching Mucha again, but he spun away all he had gained in Mid-Ohio's fast turn 1 on lap seven, then spun again three laps later into the gravel trap at the end of the back straight.
In the meantime, Ruscelli had gotten past Pavlina and soon after, Young passed him too. After a full course yellow to fish several cars (including Miller's) out of the gravel, the field got the green with three laps to go. Mucha held the lead over Ruscelli, and Mirro was challenging Young for 3rd. Over the next two laps, Young managed to pull away from Mirro and got second place when Ruscelli spun off track at turn 11.
On the final lap, the wing that Mucha had damaged at the start collapsed completely, and he slowed dramatically. Young tried to pass him for the lead in the Carousel, but the two cars touched and both spun. While they recovered, a surprised Mirro came through for the win!
Pavlina followed Mirro across the line to finish 2nd and Young recovered from his spin to finish third ahead of Ruscelli.
The Showroom Stock C cars were next to take to the track, and now that the rain had stopped, the surface was beginning to dry. Polesitter Mike Kramer took the lead from the start of the weekend's second race and motored off for a flag to flag win, the first National Championship for the Saturn marque.
While you might think that made for a boring race, it certainly did not. Not only did Kramer have to fend off a mid-race challenge from the Neon of John Fernandez, but also the racing behind him on the drying track was very exciting.
Kramer, Tom Long (Honda Civic) and Fernandez pulled out on the pack early, and Kramer got away for a while as Fernandez tried to get ahead of Long for second. On lap 10, Fernandez made the pass and set out after Kramer. He made up some ground to the leader, but Kramer had been saving his tires and responded to keep a usable lead to the end.
The pack behind the top three had some great racing throughout the race. TC Kline (Civic), Pete Taylor, (after an excellent start from 18th grid position in his Neon) and Rene Marinus (Mazda Protégé) had a dandy dice for fifth place for much of the race - which became the race for 4th when Bill Hagerty's Civic lost power while he was holding that position.
A little farther back, a four-car pack was disputing the 9th position. Richard Boenning had his Civic at the head of this pack, but right on his tail was Chad Gilsinger (in another Civic), Jeremy Lucas in an Acura Integra and Ralph Porter, driving a Dodge Neon. The defending class champion, Joel Lipperini, had spun in the race's early laps, and he joined this pack on his way back toward the front on lap 13.
Before the end of the race, Lipperini had gotten to the front of this large pack and he finished fourth, an impressive run from his low point of 23rd place on lap 4! Tom Start was 5th, and the rest of the top ten spots went to Taylor, Gilsinger, Porter, Boenning and Lucas, all still running in close order.
The final race of the morning was for G Production. This race started on a dry track and before it ended, the sun was shining on Mid-Ohio again. This traditional sports car class pits older roadsters against newer (and some older) sedans and the wide variety of cars makes it an interesting race for the spectators.
The front row had the Datsun 510 sedan of Kevin Dennis on the pole with the MGA of defending class champion Kent Prather alongside. Three more 510s started third-through-sixth (Karl McColl, Jeff Winter, and Kevin Allen) and two later sedans, Chris Albin's VW Golf and Jonathan Goodale's Suzuki Swift shared the next two rows with the sports car roadsters of Bill Wessel (Datsun 1600 roadster) and Gary Johnson (MG Midget.)
Dennis took the lead at the green flag ahead of Prather, both pulling away early from McColl and Allen. Goodale got the best start, dropping into 5th place just in front of Albin and Winter.
Dennis couldn't get away from Prather, and on lap 6 Prather passed for the lead in the Keyhole. Allen and McColl traded 3rd place a couple of times in the early laps, a pattern that would continue through the race.
Chris Crisenbery was moving up through the top ten and passed Goodale for 5th by lap seven, but he spun in the Esses just a lap later, costing him several positions. Goodale's race lasted only a few laps longer, his car coasting to a stop with electrical failure.
Prather held on for his fifth National Championship and second in a row. Prather said he hand-grooved his Goodyears for the race. "I felt that if the sun came out, the track would be cool enough that the tires would be fine. I just did it for a driver comfort thing. They were very predictable.
"He (Dennis) was dogging me really hard. I was impressed with his drive. I had to get really wide at the end."
Dennis got close in the late laps, but couldn't do better than the second step of the podium. Allen made the last pass in his battle with McColl to finish third. Behind McColl came Wessel, Albin and Crisenbery.
After lunch, five more classes will run for National Championships. Check here for reports on those five races later today.