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2017 ChumpCar / ChampCar Year in Review – Part 1

Story by Doc Waldrop
Photos by Chelsey Vickery, Bill Strong

No rest for the weary could well be the subtitle for the 2017 season in the ChumpCar World Series (CCWS). Due to the popularity and growth of the Members owned Club, the series transitioned to the ChampCar Endurance Series (CCES) name later in the year. No less than 28 races were held coast-to-coast at America’s premiere bucket-list tracks and featured some great racing and close finishes.

The New Year’s Eve celebration ushering in 2017 had hardly died down at Sebring before the series held their opening 2017 race at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, CA. on the January 14/15 weekend with an 8+7 Enduro. To keep it interesting for the racers the track was run in different directions each day, But the Mazda Miatas were the cars to beat on the twisty 2.68-mile track.
The intense competition for overall wins on 2017 was evident right from the start of the season as there were 3 lead changes during the race’s last 5 laps. Arsenic Racing Miata held on for 1st by a mere 1.889 SECONDS over the Eyesore Racing Mazda with Bucket List Brigade settling for 3rd place at the end in their BMW 325i. Sunday’s 7-hour race saw Eyesore Racing claiming the top position followed by the ZPT Racing Miata in the runner-up spot. The Bucket List Brigade BMW once again came in 3rd.

2017 Chuckwalla winners

Chuckwalla winners.

The traditional 14-hour “Peaches and Cream” race in early February at many of the CCWS driver’s favorite track was up next: Road Atlanta. This annual event is so popular that for the first time the field was capped at 90 cars. The RBank Honda Civic put a spanking on the field winning by 4 laps over the Huggins Racing BMW 325is. The A class cars were showing their mettle as Spartan Racing in their 318i finished in the last podium spot.

Road Atlanta action through the uphill esses /Bill Strong

Two weeks later it was back California for an 8+7 two-day enduro with CCES’s first return visit to Sonoma (the former Sears Point/Infineon track) since late 2012. UBoot Rennenwerks and their Porsche 931 backed up their 2016 West Coast Chumpionship #1 number plate with the win on Saturday and a solid 5th place on Sunday. Dimsun Racing could probably lay claim to the best weekend with a 3rd on the first day and the overall win on Sunday.
Uncommon Friends and their immaculate Datsun 240Z with a 2nd place on Sunday gave notice they would be a threat to win at any race with the legendary IMSA driver John Morton and Datsun 510 guru Troy Ermish behind the wheel. The talent doesn’t stop there as the late 1980s Formula 1 McLaren designer/engineer Steve Nichols is also onboard. The Nichols co-penned MP4/4 design completely dominated the 1988 F1 season carrying Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to 15 wins in a 16-race season. Nichols is no slouch behind the wheel either.

The first of three visits to Virginia International Raceway, this one a 12-hour event on the South Course, was up next and the CCWS drivers put on quite a show. Wyatt Foster was blazingly fast in the last stint in the Huggins Racing BMW, making up over a lap, but eventually settled for their second runner-up spot in a row just 2.7 seconds in arrears to the winning Skidmark Racing 325is machine.
The only challengers to the BMWs were the Acura Integras campaigned by the Where’s John entry and Beast Mode Racing teams as the two marquees captured 8 of the top 10 spots. Only the Mustang from Hillbilly Racing and the Godzirra Racing 300ZX in 8th and 9th place respectively broke up the BMW/Acura party up at the pointy end of the stick. C class cars captured no less than 15 of the top 20 positions on the 1.65-mile layout.

The first race in the Central region was up next at Harris Hill Raceway in San Marcos, TX for a Double 8 events on the 1.9-mile track. Proving they know how to get around the tight and twisty track the top 4 finishers on each day finished in the top 5 positions. It was time for an A class love affair as Mazda Miata’s swept the top two spots on each day, 11 Tenths Racing winning on Saturday with a P5 finish on Sunday and the Loanstar Racers notching a 2/1 finish for the two days. Basil Weenie Racing had back to back 3rd place finishes and the EC Class City Garage M3 scored 4/2 results for the weekend.

The most coveted win at the biggest track on the schedule with the largest field of entrants was up next. That could only be at one place: The World Center of Racing…. DAYTONA International Speedway!!!! The huge field of 120 Chump cars takes to the track in the same configuration as the famous 24 Hours of Daytona, known the world over as simply “the Roval” but just once a year for 14 hours of high banking hijinks. While this year’s race was run on April Fools Day, the action on the circuit is no joking matter!!!
With considerable differences in speed the higher horsepower cars in D and EC class go whizzing by the lower displacement A & B class car on the high banks, but in turn, are gobbled back up in the tricky infield. The mid-power C Class cars mess with them both at both locations when they can which is often. Consider the fastest time of the day (FTD) overall was the D class Team Punisher Pontiac Firebird with a lap average at 105.067 MPH while the winning C Class Lexus SC300 from the KSR/Flat Out stables turned a 100.700 MPH lap. The 2nd place SC300 ran a similar average speed of 99.015 MPH to KSR. The detail to note is that these are AVERAGE speeds, so you can imagine how the 3rd place car, the A class Miata of Level 1 Racing that could only manage a 95.879 MPH average, simply HAD to have their doors blown off on the banking.

Drivers spend lap after lap trying to gain just one place at a time so their position on track seesaws back and forth at an alarming rate. Watching turn 1 as cars come barreling down from their highest speed on the track in the tri-oval area into the widest point on the course that chokes down to the narrowest turn is especially interesting as the cars jockey for a position using multiple lines into the corner. The BusStop is another wonderful place to watch as every driver tries to maintain their momentum to maximize their speed as they reenter the banking at NASCAR T3 all the way past the long pit row. The slowest cars are advised to stay low in the banking and let the faster cars pass them on the right and with so many cars on the track, 4 wide passes in NASCAR turn 4 are not uncommon at all, more than even the big boys can manage safely.

Another traditional sports car playground was next up, this one the centrally located Road America circuit located in Wisconsin, and the Double 8-hour race affectionately known as the Landjaeger Cup. At 4.0480 miles in length, the course is the longest track CCWS visits each year. With long straights and sweeping curves they track is a fast one. JSK Racing in their Nissan Maxima took home the overall win followed by the Visceral Racing Group Porsche 944 and the Ludicrous Speed Toyota MR2 in 3rd. Proving that diversity among manufacturers in CCES was alive and well, three Mazdas, a single BMW, a Pontiac, and a pair of Hondas comprised the top 10 on day 1. Day 2 results showed 7 different manufacturers and 8 different model platforms making up the top 10.

The Central Region raced at yet another classic track (with a harder to come by date than most tracks), necessitating a Monday date at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Billed as the “Mid Ohio Monday Sick Day”. Other than it was SUPPOSED to be a sick day a healthy (???) 40 competitors took the green flag (cough…cough) for a 10-hour romp over and through the twisty course’s hills, dales, and “Thunder Valley”. became the first team to repeat as winners in 2017, but this time they did it in one of their Saab 9-3 cars that have terrorized Chump for years (sniffle, sniffle). The Guarino-Watson Racing entry, one of the more heavily aero’d BMW E30 out there could only manage P2 followed by the Over-Under Racing Miata in 3rd. The race also saw one of the newest year models (shiver, shiver) to enter CCES races, the 2010 Honda Fit, from the Interplanetary Ninja Assassins debut and finish 7th overall.

The hat trick was complete when the Central division scheduled a Double 8 weekend on May 13/14 at the Circuit of the Americas, the United States home of the F1 date on the International calendar. Nine Four Motorsports’ Toyota Supra (essentially the same car as the Lexus SC300) had a 1/5 finish for the two-day event while the Tuttle Motorsports Mitsubishi Eclipse took 2nd on Saturday but could only muster a 41st finish out of 52 starters on Sunday. The TLM EC class E36 out of the Miami shop of David Tutay had a strong weekend with a 3/1 showing as did the OB Prestige Auto A class Honda Civic with a somewhat surprising 4/2 finish on what most would consider a circuit favoring higher horsepower cars.

Nine-Four Toyota Supra at the Circuit of the Americas /Bill Strong

Not to be outdone by Central’s bucket list tracks, the Eastern Chumps licked their chops at the prospect of a Double 7 race weekend at the original home of Formula 1 racing: Watkins Glen! After the 2-day affair was over they might have been licking their wounds instead when the same Saab 9-3 that had won at Mid-Ohio a mere month ago posted back to back wins, besting Beast Mode’s Integra on Saturday and M Bros Racing’s BMW on Sunday. At least M Bros had a 4th place finish on Saturday to show for itself as well as the 2nd spot.
At least there was some measure of relief as the Saab’s margin of victory was a scant 6.7224 the first day and a 21.352 the next. Watkins Glen was such a draw that both E Racing and Team Jacky Ickx made the long haul up to the Finger Lake region of upstate New York from South Florida. Billed as the “Chumpyard Dog at the Glen”, in honor of race sponsor Sahlen who produces a wide variety of hot dogs, they made a pretty good showing (finishing position on each day in parenthesis) for themselves by entering a trio of Mazda RX7s affectionately named Ketchup (11/13), Mustard (9/27), and Charcoal (76/15).

Not to be outdone by RBank, the Premium Dudes BMW (running a limited schedule of only 2 races in 2017) went back to back for the overall wins, when Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL. outside Chicago hosted a 12-hour race on Saturday and a 6-hour race on Sunday in early June. They proved not only to be Premium Dudes but the Premier Dudes of the upper Midwest as well with a MOVs of 7 laps and 4 laps over consecutive days.

Premium Dudes dominate the Autobahn Country Club race weekend by winning both races. /Chelsea Vickery

Blue Shells Racing in their Ford Focus finished P2 holding off the British American Hawk Racing 325is by 18 seconds for a much closer finish than they would have liked. On Sunday, Clueless Racing and their Acura Integra had a much easier time, besting the Spartan Racing BMW 318is by 3 laps for the 2nd spot on the podium. Neither the Focus of Blue Shells could contend at all on Sunday only managing 18 laps and 35 laps respectfully. Further proof that racing can be a cruel mistress, the Miata of Cooper Chump only completed 8 laps on Saturday before withdrawing from the contest, forsaking the Sunday start entirely. “Did Not Start” (DNS) and “Did Not Finish” (DNF) are tough to see on the results’ sheets.

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