2018 RVA Graphics and Wraps National Championship
NCM Motorsports Park June 16 – 17, 2018
ChampCar Endurance Series
Story by Doc Waldrop
Pictures by Bill Strong and Rich Sainato
As 22 Championship eligible teams (out of the 80 total) gathered at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park to decide the 2018 crown in the ChampCar Endurance Series, they also faced 32 other competitors that had also gathered at the 3.2-mile circuit situated in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The Championship contenders had been seeded by their 2 best finishes in 2017 and would be seeded on the NCM grid in that order. The lowest number format was used and the NCM finish was added to this total with a tiebreaker of this race’s finish as the deciding factor and the two 8-hour days were run as a continuous 16-hour race separated with Park Ferme conditions set upon Saturday’s conclusion. The non-championship teams were gridded in the order of pit stall numbers.
It was quickly apparent that this was to be an epic battle over the next 2 days as the teams streamed into the turn 1 chicane for the 8:30 am. You could certainly see and feel the intensity of the cars on the track as opposed to the calm demeanor teams tried to exhibit in their pit stalls. The calm demeanor was probably more a result of the weather conditions as an oppressive heat just beat down on the teams huddled in every bit of shade and shelter they could find. This was the kind of Southern heat only Flannery O’Connor could describe accurately. It was brutal and would take its toll on man and machine all weekend; mostly man.
As the field got to the business at hand the GWR #991 BMW had surged into the lead from their 8th starting position by the 1-hour mark having rebuilt the front airdam/splitter overnight from a test day incident at “Deception”, turn 12. Cone Crushers #917 Porsche 944 had 2nd place followed by the Ludicrous Speed MR2 # 162 that had made some impressive gains from their 19th starting position with Visceral’s #918 Porsche 944 and the Uncommon Friends Racing #246 Datsun 240Z rounding out the top 5 cars. Other Championship contenders had not fared nearly as well with NNM’s #15 Dodge Neon behind the wall already, RBankRacing’s #90 Saab getting a costly black flag (BF) penalty for passing under the yellow (PUY), while Burningham Too’s #55 Lexus SC300 had also served a BF for contact on track when they came upon a slower car in Deception and could not avoid them.
Other contenders were having their share of problems as well, with the #1 McKibbins Biohazard MR2 reportedly very loose, the #150 Team MiElan Miata in the garage fighting fuel pressure issues, joined soon after there by the #246 Datsun which had spun and broken an axle. The only non-contender to crack the top 15 (rising to as high as 6th overall) was the Ethan Low Racing #408 E30 before a host of niggling problems dropped them down in the order. Other contenders having problems included the Nine Four Motorsports #840 Lexus SC300 that was black flagged for a 5-minute penalty when they were judged to have passed a safety vehicle too aggressively with a spin to add injury to insult and the Premium Dudes #32 BMW 325is for a PUY. The #1 MR2 had also been pushed down pit road after running out of fuel and the #991 GWR BMW was having problems keeping their driver cool and stopped a bit early to get it straightened out. The overall Championship had no apparent takers it almost seemed.
By the quarter distance (halfway on Saturday), Cone Crushers had a strong grip on 1st followed by the RBank Racing #194 Honda (despite a very loose exhaust train) in second. Both the #55 Burningham Too Lexus and the RBankracing’s Saab had recovered from their respective penalties to run in 3rd and 4th followed by the RVA Graphics & Wraps #111 BMW in 5th. Visceral Racing’s #918 Porsche 944 had 6th place followed by Team Jacky Ickx’s #935 Mitsubishi 3000GT, the plucky Level 1 Racing #412 Miata, Ludicrous Speed’s MR2, and the Nine Four Motorsport’s half-sister Toyota (to the Lexus) Supra #83. The Uncommon Friends’ 240Z and the Miata of Team MiElan had rejoined the fray, but all chance of a Championship had been dashed with their trips behind the wall.
As the afternoon bore on and the sun bore down even harder, Cone Crushershad the lead, followed by RVA’s 325is and the Rbankracing Honda, but Burningham Too had the benefit of Wyatt Foster behind the wheel for their 3rd stint of the day and their lead slowly shrunk for a while, with the Lexus first dispatching the CRX and then the BMW. Try as he might, he could never quite catch the speedy Porsche though and the Cone Crushers’ Porsche slowly increased their lead. The Burningham Lexus did move into the lead when Cone Crushers pitted as did the RBankracing Honda.
Fifth through Ninth place was hotly contested as well with the Level 1 #412 Miata, Nine Four’s #83 Supra, Visceral’s Porsche #918, the #96 RBank Saab, and the McKibbins Biohazard MR2 all trading those positions around while the Slugworks Mitsubishi Eclipse #49 and the Premium Dudes #32 BMW 325is lurked not far behind. The two Team Jacky Ickx 3000GTs, the Ludicrous Speed MR2, and the #840 Nine Four Motorsports’ Lexus were barely keeping contact with the field running anywhere from 4 to 7 laps in arrears; their Championship dreams wilting as it were with the heat of competition and the weather.
The Blue Shells #38 Ford Focus had briefly made an appearance in the top 15, but a broken header Saturday morning pretty much ended their chances and the car shutting down in the 3rd stint period caused them to withdraw the car. Likewise, the #236 Pomona Speed Shop BMW could never seem to find the power they needed and hovered just outside the top 15 for the day. The teams that were marginal on fuel for a 2-hour run and hoping for full course caution to employ some race strategy were simply out of luck. Not a single pace car was dispatched all day and hot pulls were handled with ease by the safety crews.
With a tick over 30 minutes to go the RVA #111 finally made a pass stick on the Cone Crushers #917 to regain the lead lap, moving into 3rd place over the RBank Honda while the Burningham Too Lexus #55 slowly fell back from the Porsche who led by a half of a lap. The Nine Four Supra held down 5th place on their own lap. Again, with no full course cautions, you could set your watch with the leaders coming in every 2 hours. Unfortunately, the 8-hour duration was too much for Visceral Racing Group’s #918 Porsche’s clutch and the car rolled to a stop in Deception from 8th place.
Numerous teams had to be seen changing out left front tires on their last stops but soon after Visceral’s 944 rolled to a stop on course, the Cone Crushers 944 was seen heading to their pits with a bad left front wheel hub. A replacement was ready as they rolled to a stop and repairs were effected in 14 minutes, fully half of those minutes wasted while parts cooled off enough to reassemble the parts. By the time the Porsche left the pits after being push started they had dropped to 9th place. As the Championship contenders were brought down pit road at the end of the first half of the race, Burningham Too held P1 followed by RVA’s #111, both on lap 178. Down 1 lap the RbankRacing Honda led over the Nine Four #83 Supra and the #90 Saab one lap further back.
Sixth place went to McKibbins Biohazard MR2 with the Jacky Ickx #935 3000GT and the Premium Dudes #32 BMW all battling each other on lap 174 for 6th through 8th. The #935 would not see Sunday’s start as a contender anymore though as a front hub failed on the cool down lap and the car was retired to the garage. Under Park Ferme rules, any car that goes behind the wall is automatically moved to EC class and therefore not eligible in the final standings. Their lone chance remained with the #66 3000GT running in 10th followed a lap down by the #162 Ludicrous Speed MR2. The #840 Nine Four Lexus was served the same cold dish of reality as it too was pushed behind the wall for an overnight engine change.
The Momo Champ Miata #230 ran on its own lap in P13, followed by the Pomona Speed Shop BMW and the Level 1 #412 Miata, both on lap 168. The Level 1 Mazda had suffered an alternator failure with 30 minutes to go and the team had relinquished 5th place, going to the garage to effect repairs, rather than wait to go after the race ended for the day and thus be moved into EC class. They had set their sights on their self-proclaimed A class National Championship. Who’s to say that is not a legitimate claim, with the C class cars (except for RBanks Civic) holding court at the front?
Sunday dawned clear and sunny with not a cloud in the sky: It was going to be another scorcher. As predicted, most of the leading cars streamed into the pits as soon as possible, except the leader. Incredibly, the Burningham Too Lexus rolled to a stop, the victim of a broken half shaft! The #991 pitted as well and replaced their cool box setup, but most of the leaders just pitted for fuel and to check tires. Under the scorching conditions, teams had been allowed to service their cool shirt systems, but the teams were adamant about not changing the driver stint limits just because of the weather.
The #111 RVA BMW was now on its own lap by itself, but 2nd through 5th, the RBank Honda #194, Nine Four’s #83 Supra, (the #935 was now EC), and the RBank #90 Saab could all be considered still in it, all under a handful of laps down. The next hour was somewhat jumbled among the leaders with the Cone Crusher’s #917 pitting to check the left front control arm, #49 Slugworks’ Eclipse dealing with a broken exhaust hanger, GWR’s E30 replacing the faulty cool box fittings and looking at the right side, and the Nine Four #83 replacing front tires. Meanwhile, the #111 just kept circulating in P1 with no apparent issues. As the 2nd hour of the race approached, teams started preparing to pit. Nine Four’s #83 (P3) came in first and as they exited, the Jacky Ickx #66 (P10), Premium Dudes #32 (P6), RBanks #90 Saab (P2), and our leader, the RVA #111 all came in for their required stops.
Conspicuously missing from this list was the RBank #194 Honda which had suffered a rear axle failure while in 2nd place. When they returned to the track they had dropped 20 positions; Their chances were finished with the CRX, but the #90 Saab was now in 2nd place so there was still hope for the team after the first real round of pit stops. Nine Four’s #83 was in 3rd, with the Biohazard #1 MR2 in 4th, on the same lap having displaced the EC class #935 3000GT. The next 5 positions all held a lap over their next closest pursuer, Premium Dudes #32 (P6), Ludicrous Speed’s MR2 (P7) having passed the Level 1 Racing #412 Miata (P8), the #840 Lexus dropping 2 spots (P9), and the Momo Champ #230 gaining 2 spots to run in 10th.
The Momo Miata was not alone though as the Jacky Ickx #66 and GWR’s #991 BMW were also on lap 219 to the leader’s lap 228.
The Burningham Lexus had recovered from their first lap mechanical to run in 13th place, ELR’s #408 BMW had a similar recovery story to run in 14th, and the 901 Motorsport p/b Klean Strip Automotive BMW had gained 15th after running much of Saturday’s segment in the low 20s and high teens. Try as hard and look as close as you might, but it seemed like every car was battling some kind of issue besides the competition itself. If it wasn’t a mechanical issue: a tire, an axle, a wheel, a hub, it was weather related: a broken cool box, overheating issues, or vapor lock. What was left: A costly mistake: passing under yellow, contact on track, or a spin. Every car had some issue. Every car but one, the RVA Graphic and Wraps #111 BMW 325is.
Halfway on Sunday, or 12 hours in, the Nine Four #83 Supra had steadily reined in the BMW and joined the #111 on the lead lap, but the 3rd stint driver put his head down and slowly drew away from them, painfully slowly, at best a second or two a lap. For the past 2 hours, not much had changed with the cars mostly separated from themselves by a lap. Progress was hard to make with a greasy track to deal with and the oppressive heat. The chance for an afternoon thundershower passed by, with a storm never getting any closer than 15 miles South of the track.
In the top 15, Pomona Speed Shop’s #236, Cone Crushers’ #917, and Running Bulls Racing #160 BMW had advanced into the rankings while Burningham Too (fuel pump), 901 Motorsports, and ELR’s #408 (rod knock) had dropped out. Not much changed for the next 2 hours until the final fuel and driver change was expected at 2:30PM with just 2 hours to go. The BMW 325is’ of 901 Motorsports and Brew Krewe Racing #860 had replaced the Pomona Speed Shop BMW and the Burningham Lexus in the 14th and 15th positions, not by speed, but by dogged persistence. They just did the best they could under the conditions.
With an hour to go, the field shook out like this: The leading RVA BMW had about a minute in hand over the Nine Four Supra, but the #83 was charging, slowly making up ground. The Premium Dudes BMW was being threatened by the Ludicrous Speed MR2, while the Jacky Ickx held down 5th place with a slight edge over the #412 Level One Racing Miata. The EC class Lexus if Nine Four had moved up to 7th and the #991 GWR BMW had moved up steadily to run in 8th, setting some nice lap times in the process with a 2:24.141 as fastest time of the day from the 1st stint still holding court.
The RBank Saab was running in 9th with a car clearly sounding rough, having dropped an exhaust valve, with the Momo Champ #230 Miata rounding out the top 10. Cone Crushers 944 ran in P11 with the #935 Jacky Ickx 3000GT dropping steadily having retired with a non-existent clutch in 12th. Running Bulls Racing’s BMW was shown in 13th and sure to move up as the Mitsubishi continued to fall as were the BMWs of 901 Motorsports and Brew Krewe Racing.
Up front, the race was getting interesting: The RVA 325is was cutting decent times, but the Nine Four Supra’s driver had his head down and was gaining on the leader. Nothing fancy or earth-shattering, but to the BMW driver, surely worrying. One second a lap didn’t matter; there was not enough time left, but 2-3 seconds was another matter entirely. What if a spin, a backmarker, or the car stuttered for half a lap…then there was trouble. As the lap count increased, the gap decreased. Lap 335 it was 1:01.6, lap 340 down to 52.9 seconds, lap 345 46.3, lap 350 39.2, lap 355 20.6…could the #83 pull this off???
Calculators were flying in race control, the ChampCar Live broadcast booth, and no doubt in the two pits. RVA had started the race with 3 points, but the Nine Four had started with 4 points. If the #83 could get 1st that would give them 5 points and if RVA came in 2nd they would have 5 points as well. The tiebreaker was the finish of this race. They HAD to get past them to win!!!
Alas, it was not to be. Closing to within 17.8 seconds on the penultimate lap, the Nine Four Supra slowed in turn 10 and other cars streamed past them as the driver furiously shook the car to get whatever was left in the tank while the RVA camp breathed a sigh of relief, cruising to a final margin of victory of 1:13.220. Heading to the checkers with those last 30 minutes left in the race there was some drama back in the field as well. The Ludicrous Speed MR2 had moved past Premium Dudes’ BMW to claim 3rd place overall, while Brew Krewe passed the idle Jacky Ickx #935 for 14th spot. Positions also changed behind the #66 in 5th, hounded by the Level 1 Miata on the same lap in P6 in the last 15 minutes of the race. The GWR #991 overhauled the #840 Lexus for 7th while Momo Champ’s Miata overtook the ailing #90 Saab from RBankracing’s for 9th.
Cone Crushers, who had looked so good for the majority of Saturday’s half of the race, followed a close pack home in 11th. The first 3 pairs of finishers were on the same lap as each other while 7th through 11th were all separated by just one lap from each other making a pass for position possible, while 12th – 15th had no real chance to play with each other, all at least separated by 3 laps if not more. Regarding those last 4 cars: Running Bulls Racing, 901 Motorsports, Brew Krewe Racing, and Schumacher Taxi, were the top finishing non-championship teams competing in the race and all were in BMW’s venerable chassis, the E30.
Perhaps proving the BMW chassis is still a viable contender, 7 of the top 15 cars were all E30 models, with not an E36 or E46 in sight, but there was clearly diversity in the field, with Toyota, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Lexus, Saab, and Porsche all represented. It had been a hard-fought Championship, not only between the teams and cars, but also against the weather, but in the end, only the RVA Graphics & Wraps #111 BMW could claim to be the first ChampCar Endurance Series National Champion.
Results and laptimes
Official Photo Albums – https://champcar.org/mainweb/champcar-official-photo-albums/
2018 ChampCar Board of Directors meeting
Upcoming race –
Nelson Ledges 24h – June 30-July 1, 2018
Download Supplemental Rules and Event Info