"A Top-Five Result for ...
"A Top-Five Result for #76; a Test of the Cage for #75"
"Better than a kick in the pants." Driver Aaron Povoledo pretty much summed up the Kensai Racing with Compass360 team's Mid-Ohio weekend with those few words.
As it has been for the season thus far, it was clear from the outset of the event that both Acura RSX-S's were able to run at the head of pack, being as high as third in the practice sessions, and never out of the top ten, regardless of the conditions.
The practice sessions on Thursday and Friday were good for wet testing but for little else, as fine-tuning of the set-up of the cars was left for the dry conditions of Saturday morning. The team did a great job of getting as much data as possible before qualifying in the afternoon, and adjusting the cars accordingly. The result was a fifth place position for the #75 piloted by Travis Walker, with Karl Thomson in the #76 car 3/100ths of a second behind (qualifying seventh). Yes, competition in Grand Am Cup is THAT close!
Sunday morning practice saw Thomson in third spot, the changes to #76's set-up having made a world of difference.
When the race started on Sunday afternoon, both cars took off, with Walker storming to second place by the end of the first lap! The #75 car was able to hang on to the bumper of the #01 Cobalt SS driven by Jamie Holtom, but wasn't quite able to take the lead. That said, Walker ran an absolutely flawless stint, dealing with traffic ably and being gentle on the car. He handed the car to Taz Harvey on lap 40, still in second place.
Thomson, meanwhile, managed to clear traffic and had some great battles with the BMWs of Turner (#95) and Tuaty (#12), as well as the #144 RSX of Michael Galati. He ran as high as second as the other ST cars made their pit stops on the second yellow flag of the day. Thomson handed the car to co-driver Aaron Povoledo, who exited the pits in fourth after a spectacular pit stop by the Kensai team.
So the Kensai Racing with Compass360 cars were in good position to take two top-five positions -- and potentially finish with both on the podium.
Unfortunately, a short way into his stint, Harvey ran afoul of lapped traffic. Now, Taz needs no introduction to fans of production-car road racing, having been a stalwart pilot of Hondas in SPEED World Challenge since its inception in the early 90s. He's a great driver and a real team player, and Kensai was truly thrilled to welcome him again to the fold after his awesome performance at Phoenix earlier in the year.
On lap 47, second-place Harvey was involved in a spectacular incident with the lapped cars of Mike Leibl and Cyril Hamelin. Harvey moved to pass the #189 Trois-Rivieres Honda Civic of Hamelin going into turn one, while Leibl in the #29 Southern Auto Auction Acura tried to pass Harvey (although not for position). At Mid Ohio, it's usually the case that three into corner one don't go, and all three cars suffered extensive damage as the result of the collision. Hamelin's car flipped end-over-end, while Harvey's RSX-S barrel-rolled five times. Thankfully, all drivers walked away with little more than small bruises on body and ego, with perhaps larger bruises on their checkbooks.
Traffic played a huge role in the outcome of this weekend's GAC race, and this was the most obvious example. Thanks to the Mid Ohio safety workers and medical staff that did such a great job of getting the drivers out of the cars and safely attended to.
Povoledo, meanwhile, was circulating in third position, honing in on the #70 Mazda RX-8 of David Haskell and the #01 Cobalt, now with Eric Curran at the helm. The long yellow flag which resulted from the clean-up in corner one allowed time to cool down the cars and tires, which meant the battle for the podium was on with the drop of the green flag.
With the #75 car out, Aaron worked to keep the #76 car in the hunt, moving through traffic and staying with the Cobalt and RX-8. Meanwhile, the #27 RSX-S of Matt and Hugh Plumb was tight on his bumper, and when a lapped Honda Accord ran Povoledo wide, the Plumb car took advantage, dropping Aaron to fourth place.
That was how the event ended, with the #76 car finishing fourth on the road. However, Grand Am assessed the team a 10-second penalty for a man over the wall before the car came to stop during its pit stop, which relegated them to fifth place in ST.
In all, a weekend of mixed emotions. The team is proud of both cars' performance, and are thrilled with the fifth place for Thomson and Povoledo (its' second-best of the year, after the fourth place finish of Thomson and Billy Johnson at Laguna Seca). They're also grateful that Taz emerged unscathed from the wreck of the #75 car.
Plans are under way already for the construction of a new car that will appear for the next GA Cup race at Barber in a month's time. No doubt, both Kensai Racing with Compass360 cars will have what it takes to get on the podium there.