VR-JPMD #11: Huffaker, Mazdas
Valvoline Runoffs '97
Copyright (c) 1997 John P. M. Dillon
Joe Huffaker returned to the GT5 fray today--in his backup car. As mentioned earlier, his rear-drive car was disallowed in tech. The backup car, another Mini, is tentatively gridded behind Gilcrease, in 7th place, I believe.
Last year's SSC winner Paul Bonaccorsi switched from a Neon to a Mazda Protege this year. The change was prompted when the Comp Board "recommended for approval" the new Touring classes; he expected to campaign in T4. Though the new class structure was defeated, he's pleased to run the Mazda. In only three outings, he's running as quick as he did last year in the Neon; it's just that a gaggle of Neons are quicker than him! His other reason for the switch is because "Mazda support is superb." Lastly, he smiled and said "Now I can eat in the Mazda tent: Jeannie Ross prepares a great spread every year."
SportsCar magazine listed its picks-to-win in SSC, then followed with several drivers including Eric Morehouse as those who would "circle like vultures" to gain the victory. As a result, the buzzard squad is sporting vulture decals on their cars.
Brad Drew is campaigning a Mazda-powered FA this year. He spun in oil on Tuesday and sheared the engine from the transmission. A new transmission was shipped from Atlanta, and new conversion kit air- freighted from California, so that he could qualify today. According to Mazda Motorsports rep Steve Sanders, "This is a developmental year for the Atlantic car. Brad is doing an outstanding job. He's only tested the car once and it's his first visit to the Runoffs, yet he's making a good showing. We just want to showcase the car and its potential." Sanders reports too that the heat problem has been resolved and the engine sounds much mellower than rotaries of years past. As a result, the muffler doesn't have to be repacked nearly as often.
For some reason the '95 Neons are faster than the '96s and '97s. Reportedly even "Neon Neil" has changed over to a '95, and he supposedly can make any Neon go quick.
It's windy and cooler today, so yesterday's qualifying times appear to be the strong ones for the three days. I'll have final qualifying results for you later tonight.