The Willis Brothers / CRG Race Team was in South Bend Indiana for the Annual South Bend Airport Grand Prix July 20-22. This is a joint event for the Great Lakes SKUSA Region and for privately promoted classes. There were over 30 classes open for...
The Willis Brothers / CRG Race Team was in South Bend Indiana for the Annual South Bend Airport Grand Prix July 20-22. This is a joint event for the Great Lakes SKUSA Region and for privately promoted classes. There were over 30 classes open for competitors from across the country. The weather would again force all participants to struggle with kart setup while trying to stay physically prepared for the 90+ degree heat and near 100% humidity.
This flat and smooth 7/8 mile track is a temporary course setup on the runways and taxi ways of the South Bend Regional Airport. The event is heavily promoted locally and runs in conjunction with a number of other events at the airport including a classic warbirds plane show, live music and numerous food stands. This track would become the fastest track we have run so far this year and we will probably not see any higher speeds the rest of the year.
All six WBR/CRG Team drivers were in attendance- James Willis ran both the Pro class for cash and the S1 SKUSA class. Chris Leonard and Pete Koch were the 80cc Senior drivers with Matt Melster and Graham Rahal doing the 80cc Junior duties. Jesse Fischbach was our 60cc Cadet representative.
Track temperatures were well over 120 degrees for the second event in a row. All of the Team drivers had good luck with setup but bad luck mechanically with the exception of Pete Koch and Jesse Fischbach. James Willis, Chris Leonard, Graham Rahal and Jesse Fischbach all set fastest race lap times for their respective classes. However, what looked to be a chance of winning all the classes the Willis Brothers/CRG Team entered would turn out to be spoiled by mechanical problems and just plain bad luck.
In S1, James Willis was forced to start the feature race from the back after mechanical problems in the qualifying and heat races. James made quick work of running through the field and was up to 4th place by the half way point of the 20 lap event. A quick spin during a passing attempt would drop him back to the rear of the field again. James managed to come from the back to 8th place at the checkered flag while setting fastest race lap time in the process. In the Pro cash race, a loss of bodywork forced James to drop out of the race early and he would not finish the event.
In the 80cc Senior SKUSA division, Chris Leonard again hit the mark with setup while 2nd Team driver Pete Koch was slightly off but was the second fastest kart in the field. Leonard would start on the pole for the 20 lap feature and pulled out to an early lead. By half way he had extended the lead over Koch to nearly a half lap. Meanwhile, Koch was almost as far ahead of the 3rd place kart. With the laps winding down and a comfortable lead in hand, Leonard was struck by mechanical failure. The front wheel broke and parted company with the kart. Chris was fortunate to hang on for what could have been a rough ride and would not see the finish. Koch would go on to take the victory in 80 Senior.
Graham Rahal was fast all weekend and continued by qualifying on pole and winning the heat race. The feature had Rahal out to an early lead with Matt Melster falling back from his 5th place starting spot. Rahal lead until the late stages of the race when he too was struck by mechanical problems in the form of a flat rear tire. With less than 1 lap to go the tire went completely flat and the 2nd - 4th place karts managed to pass Graham. Meanwhile, Matt Melster was as fast as the leaders in the early stages of the feature but dropped back while struggling with carburetor problems. Melster just missed passing Rahal for 4th at the finish line by a kart length and was credited with 5th place.
Jesse Fischbach would be running in a mixed class. The race director chose to combine the Yamaha Junior Can class with the SKUSA 60cc shifter class. The 60 class was made up of kids under 9 years old while the Junior Can class was kids from 12-15 years old. The Junior Can class requested that the 60 drivers start the feature ½ lap behind them thinking that 60 class would be slower and less experienced- were they surprised. Jesse managed to pass all but the top three drivers and given about 2 more laps would have passed them as well. Fischbach also managed to set fastest race lap time for the entire class. So much for the slower and less experienced theory.
Overall, it was a weekend of some very good results mixed with some huge disappointments. This track was very smooth and brutally fast. The 125 class had top speeds of over 100 mph while the 80cc karts were topping 80 mph with the 60cc kart of Fischbach topping 70 mph.
Again the whole Team seems to be getting closer to winning every event we enter but for bad racers luck the results are still mixed. Luck has got to go our way soon.
On another disappointing note, Graham Rahal will not be able to finish the season with the WBR/CRG Team. His father's job as CEO of the Jaguar Formula 1 Racing Team in London England has required that the family move to England. Graham will be attending school in England while racing for CRG in the JICA class. He will return for several more races this year as his schedule permits. The entire Team will miss him greatly.
Special note- Graham Rahal tuner Clay Filson also ran the 125 S3 class and finished a very respectable 8th. Another great run for Clay!
The Willis Brothers/CRG Team's next scheduled event is the World Karting Association Grand National event at Dousman Wisconsin on August 17-19. WBR/CRG will have only 2 drivers for this event- James Willis in the 125 Shifter National class and Matt Melster in the 80cc Junior class. There is also a possibility that both James and Matt will run at Dousman the weekend of August 4-5 the Midwest Sprint Series event.
-Willis Brothers/CRG Race Team