The grand finale of the SCCA Club Racing season is made up by the five races that close the Valvoline Runoffs on Sunday afternoon. After a long season of racing, a week of constant racing activity and a long weekend of championship races the real...
The grand finale of the SCCA Club Racing season is made up by the five races that close the Valvoline Runoffs on Sunday afternoon. After a long season of racing, a week of constant racing activity and a long weekend of championship races the real die-hards are left to watch the last medals be awarded.
To keep the crowd around, SCCA schedules some of the most exciting races for the end of Runoffs week. Of course, the splendid weather for this year's race weekend helped keep Mid-Ohio's hillsides full of racing fans.
The loudest, biggest, and most powerful cars of the 24 National classes, GT1, opened the final afternoon. Cliff Ebben put his Corvette-bodied tube-framed speedster on the pole at a time nearly a full second faster than any of the other big-bore machines. He made it work in the race, too, sprinting off to an early lead over the cars of Bret Moyer, Lew Larimer, and Phil Simms. By lap 5, Ebben had a four second advantage on the three following racers.
Larimer and Simms would stay in the lead pack the rest of the race and finished close behind Ebben in that order, but Moyer's car was set up too loose and he would fade as the race went on. Moyer eventually finished sixth.
Behind the top four was perhaps the best racing in the field. Former GT-1 champ Tim Cowen was desperately trying to hold back a charging pack with drivers Jack Busch, Robin Giorgi, Craig Conway, and Amy Ruman. His Mustang had very twitchy handling, and that eventually caused him to lose positions to Busch and Giorgi (on lap 6) then Ruman on lap 13. Once they got past Cowen, Busch and Giorgi raced nose-to-tail for the rest of the race, only settling fourth place when Busch spun his Cutlass with one lap to go in the race.
Ruman had a good race in her father's TransAm series Corvette. After starting in 10th, she got by Conway, then Cowen, then Moyer and finished in fifth after Busch's spin.
Second up this afternoon was an SCCA class that was, even just recently, a home for traditional British and Italian sports cars. While you will still see Alfas and Fiats or Triumphs, MGs, old Elvas and variants of the spindly Lotus 7 racing in E Production, the class has become a home for Japanese sports cars. Mazda Miatas and RX7s and Nissan Z-cars now dominate the EP grid.
Today's EP race was a dandy battle with the Miata of Jon Brakke and the Nissan 240Z of Grayson Upchurch having the race of the day for the final three-fourths of the race. Brakke won the pole position over the three-day grind of Runoffs qualifying and got a good jump on the green flag for a strong early lead. Upchurch, a previous EP pole winner, started seventh, went to fifth on the start, and by the third lap had passed outside front row starter Dave Lemon for second place.
Three laps later, Upchurch had erased Brakke's opening lead and was pressuring to get by. By lap 9, he had the lead, and looked like running away with the race. But Brakke wasn't done. He repassed Upchurch on lap 12 as they braked at the end of the kinked Mid-Ohio back straight. A lap later, Upchurch duplicated the pass. On lap 14, it was Brakke's turn again, and you guessed it, Upchurch took the lead going into the Esses on lap 15.
On lap 16, the pattern changed. Upchurch got to the Esses with an advantage of a full second over Brakke, and looked to be ready to run away with the win. Perhaps he started to count his chickens already, because he drove off the track in the Esses and spun in the grass. Brakke took full advantage and roared by to win by over 9 seconds.
The Spec Racer Ford race followed the pattern supplied by the earlier GT1 race. John Black had the pole and led every lap for a surprisingly easy victory. Behind him though, some exciting racing happened. The threesome of Joe Colasacco, Mike Davies, and Lee Fleming scrapped over the second position for the whole race, thrilling the crowd and helping Black keep his small but consistent lead.
Richard Spicer had started outside of Black on the front row, and participated in the battle for second for a few laps, but by lap seven had faded back into the clutches of the next pack which included Nathan Offutt, Jeff Beck, and Jack Willes. Collasacco, Fleming and Davies had a great time sparring over the final two podium places and Collasacco finally took the 2nd place as they got to the Esses for the final time.
The 23rd race of the weekend featured the fast Formula Continental class, the same cars that are used in the Formula 2000 pro racing series. On the front row were two former champions. On the pole was Mike Anderson, who won this race on his last attempt in 2001, and beside him was a multiple time National Champion, wily veteran Dave Weitzenhof. Anderson got the jump on Weitzenhof at the wave of the green flag and drew off to a healthy lead. By mid race Phillip Lombardi, Charles Shaffer and Brian Tomasi were lining up behind Weitzenhof and Lombardi was looking for a way by. Shaffer had used a good start to get where he was from 8th on the grid.
After 9 laps, the pace car came out to control the field while several crashes were cleaned up. This gave Weitzenhof new life and another chance to take the point from Anderson. Weitzenhof did apply pressure, sticking to Anderson's gearbox for a few laps, but by lap 15 Anderson had a one second advantage that he would never lose again. On the restart, Shaffer had another good move to take third place from Lombardi. While Lombardi seemed to have a faster car, he couldn't find a place to pass and Shaffer got to stand on the podium.
The final race of the 2003 Runoffs was for GT3. Smaller and lighter than the Trans-Am style GT1 cars, the GT3 class is still filled with real racing machines, thinly disguised as production small sedans. Co-workers Collin Jackson and Dave Humphrey of Langley, British Columbia, Canada had made the long cross-country haul with their Nissan 240SXs, and surprised the class' regular competitors by qualifying on the pole (Jackson) and 5th (Humphrey). Some of the usual guys were still up front, with Pete Peterson and Wolfgang Maike qualified second and third in their Toyotas and Paul Young taking the outside of row two with his Ford Probe.
Four-time GT3 champion Peterson put his Celica-bodied car on point at the start with Jackson following closely. Jackson tried repeatedly to make a pass on Peterson, the two cars making bodily contact several times before Jackson shouldered his way by in the Keyhole on lap 6. Peterson's car was beginning to show a lot of oversteer and he soon lost places to Maike, Humphrey, and Young.
Peterson found a way to work around his car's handling troubles and retook fourth place from Young, who was beginning to lose the handle on his car too. Humphrey used the braking zone for the Keyhole turn to take second place away from Maike, who then had to defend third place from the resurgent Peterson. With just over one lap left to go in the season, Peterson's loose car got away from him and he spun to give Maike free run to the podium behind the two Canadians.
Twenty-four races, twenty-four National Champions. In just three days. The Valvoline Runoffs provide a unique test for hundreds of SCCA weekend racers each year. The intensity and excitement of the races combined this year with (mostly) fantastic weather and a spirited crowd to close the SCCA Club Racing season with style. See you there next year.