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2017 CHUMPCAR / CHAMPCAR YEAR IN REVIEW – PART 2

The Corkscrew

Story by Doc Waldrop
Photos by Chelsey Vickery, Bill Strong, Dan Diggs, Andrea Chisek

When we last left you we had been on a mid-West tear and with the next race at National Corvette Museum’s Grand Full Course, we decided to stay there evidently for an 8+7-hour enduro. Three of the better-known teams in the East region came over and stole some thunder from the Central Division: Cone Crushers in their Porsche 944, Series Sponsor, RVA Graphics and Wraps’, and Chattanooga Tourenwagen Meisterschaft, both in BMW 325is model E30s. Speaking of thunder, Sunday’s race was red-flagged for an hour and 30 minutes when a huge front rolling through the area produced huge amounts of lightning which forced the corner workers to flee their vulnerable positions around the 3.2-mile course.

NCM Yellow

Yellow flag at the National Corvette Museum track as the lightning storm rolls off to the east and the cars enter the track after a prolonged red flag. /Bill Strong

When the racing resumed, Godzirra Racing’s 300ZX took the overall win backing up the 4th place finish on Saturday. The Hong Norrth Grumpy Butt Toyota Supra finished just 5.428 seconds back, trailed by the Buck Snort Racing BMW 325is some 2 minutes back in 3rd. Perhaps the most ominous finish was that of the RBank #90 Saab 9-3 in 4th, improving on their Saturday finish by five places. Consider that after a disappointing 22nd place finish at Road Atlanta, the Saab 9-3 had no less than three 1st place finishes, two 4ths, and a 9th in 6 full days of competition.

Laguna Seca Race Start

Laguna Seca Race start. /Bill Strong

It was the Western Division’s time to visit another course steeped in the legend of classic sports car racing courses when the Wilwood Grand Prix Double 7 event was held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Nestled in the rolling hillsides of the beautiful Monterey Peninsula in California, the track has hosted some of the most legendary passes in all of motorsports history in the famous Corkscrew. How famous you ask? So famous that around the world the word Corkscrew doesn’t even need quotation marks!!!

Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Corkscrew. /Bill Strong

Echoing RBanks and Premium Dudes earlier triumphs in the year, the Slugworks Mitsubishi Eclipse notched up back to back overall wins in their first race of the season with 2 lap and 3 lap MOV advantages. Laguna Seca is such a draw it gathered 3 BMW E30 teams from far across the country, E Racing and Bucket List (now THAT is an appropriately named team for Chump/Champ considering the yearly schedule) Racing out of SOUTH Florida and Basil Weenie Racing out of Texas had both made the long tow to Watkins Glen as well!!! Bucket List (now THAT is an appropriately named team for Chump/Champ considering the yearly schedule) Racing also made the long tow from their Miami, FL base. Only the most fervent of amateur racers would tow thousands of miles to log hundreds of miles on a distant track.

Slugworks DSM

Slugworks Mitsubishi Eclipse dominated the weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca /Bill Strong

Basil Weenie made the most of their long tow, finishing P2 on Saturday, but a disappointing 33rd on Sunday while E Racing kind of flopped their finishing positions from day to day with a 36th on day 1 and a respectable 8th place on Sunday. Veteran teams Miata P.I. and Bare Bones Racing took home the 3rd spots while 2016 Western Division Chumpionship winner, the UBoot Rennenwerks Porsche 931 salvaged a dismal 36th place on Sunday with the runner-up spot on day two.

Brainard pit action

Brainerd pit action. /Chelsey Vickery

Brainerd’s Double 8 weekend had a little twist applied the race as the competitors raced on the Comp Course on Saturday and the Donnybrooke layout on Sunday. The Chump Faces BMW won the day on Saturday while Dirty Side Down Racing took the top honors on Sunday, both in BMW 325is models. Nine Four Motorsports’ Lexus SC300 held down P2 on both days. The RBank #90 Saab (remember them?) recorded a 3rd place finish on the Comp course so all they needed to hit for the cycle in stick and ball sports lingo was a 2nd place finish somewhere. With as many races as they run we shouldn’t have to wait long, right? NNM Racing’s Dodge Neon finished P3 on Sunday at Donnybrooke, moving up 1 spot from Saturday’s finish. Transcendental Racing’s Miata team also had a great weekend with P5/P6 finishes and SoDak Petrolheads had double 7th place finishes in a Double 8 race in their RX7 Mazda.

Awesome VIR24 prizes

The prizes included engraved watches for the overall winner of the VIR24. /Bill Strong

The racing action swung back to the East coast with the longest race of the year, the Life Line 24 Hour Classic at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) on the Full Course layout that at 3.27 miles incorporates portions of the North and South circuits. Proof that racers will not shy away from a twice around the clock affair, no less than 96 teams rose to the challenge presented to them!!! As if keeping the decades-old cars running themselves was not enough of a daunting task, the sheer logistics of crewing pit stops, feeding team members, and coordinating the myriad of details that go into a successful 24-hour contest requires an enormous amount of planning. A Fair amount of nerve AND verve was needed as the skies opened with a torrential downpour for 3 ½ hours during the middle of the night, echoing the 2-hour practice session that preceded the actual race that also saw a driving rain pelting the course for the entire session.

Huggins Racing e36 at the start of the long back straight at VIR. /Bill Strong

The Noon start saw Huggins Racing (Pinkies OUT) BMW out front with perennial favorites Simon Says, RBank’s “other” potent Saab, Blitzvining’s fast Firebird, RVA Graphics’ BMW, the Ford Probe of Boom Pow Surprise, and the Hong Norrth Supra. In all, 16 different manufacturers were represented in the field with over 40 different models. Diversity is alive and well in the ChumpCar World Series!!! Most manufacturers could only muster a handful of entries as the “Ultimate Driving Machines” of BMW accounted for 45 of the entries on 5 model platforms, while the other most popular ChumpCar, the Mazda Miata, could “only” field 12 entries. Speaking of popular, the car that gained the most notice was the entry from the popular //DRIVE on NBC Sports show that was filming an episode featuring their star’s participation in the race for an upcoming broadcast!

//Drive on NBC Sports

//Drive on NBC Sports was onsite filming their adventures in the 24-Hour at VIR. Matt Farah and Chris Harris discuss the water-based paint that was used to paint the //DRIVE on NBC Sports BMW e30. /Bill Strong

Clear skies greeted the tired drivers and crews as the sun rose, with still a quarter of the time remaining on the clock. Early strong contenders for the overall win had various problems with contact on track, either with fellow competitors, or off-track excursions into the unforgiving walls and barriers circling the track. Any slip off track usually ended badly as the slick wet grass afforded NO opportunity to avoid trouble. These favorites included Blitzvining (who had led the race for as long as 10 hours), the fast Huggins Racing BMW, and the heavily favored Simon Says Integra that had won this annual race no less than 4 times in the last 5 years. They too had had an unforced incident early in the race that dropped them 12 laps down in 78th place. Any chance of even a decent finish was surely gone…

grueling 24 hours

Troy Truglio reflects on the Crank Yankers Racing VIR 24 early Sunday morning. /Bill Strong

When the grueling contest final ended the overall win went to (drumroll please…) the same old #90 Saab 9-3 from RBank Racing by 4 laps over the Red Line Oil sponsored Bimmerline BMW E36. Back 13 laps to the Saab, in 3rd place overall was the Simon Says Integra. Without the 12 lap stop to repair their crippled steed they would have gone to victory an unprecedented 5 for 6 times!!! One lap down to the Acura was the Atlanta area based Hong Norrth Supra with the Foxy Bros E46 2 laps in arrears to them. Some East coast teams would only have 5 weeks to prepare for probably the other hardest race on the CCWS schedule, the 14-Hours of Sebring.

The RBank Racing SAAB rules over everyone at the end of the VIR24. /Bill Strong

While the ChumpCar World Series bills itself a Real, Cheap, Racing the next two races at Gingerman (a 2-day 8+7 enduro) and Thompson (a 12-hour single day race) were priced at downright bargain-basement rates of $600 apiece. The “Cookie Cutter Classic” led the way and Spartan Racing posted their second 1st place finish followed by the successful Canadian team, Mopar 4 Life Neon in P2 and the RBank Civic (to the field’s somewhat relief considering it wasn’t the #90 Saab) on the final podium step on Day 1.

GWR e30

Guarino-Watson Racing’s new BMW e30 takes first place on its second race outing. /Bill Strong

Sunday saw the new build from the Guarino-Watson shop since the previous BMW E30 325is had been written off at “the Glen” in an accident taking 1st, the GMS Racing Mazda RX-7 in 2nd, and the Dirty Side Down Racing BMW moving up one spot from Saturday’s results to claim P3. The Canadians could claim a very successful weekend backing up their 2nd place finish on Day 1 with a 4th place effort on Sunday.

#234 Shut up racing pit stop

#234 Shut Up Racing pit stop. They would eventually goon too win. /Dan Diggs

The “Thompson 12” sounded more like a conspiracy trial, but the race format is actually very popular in CCWs endurance contests. As the EC entries of the Boston Whiners team and the MCParland Motorsports entry took home 1st and 4th, but are not eligible for the overall win because of the Exception Class designation (for cars over the 500-point value that are not willing to take penalty laps), the BMW 325is models of Shut Up Racing and Ramp Sandwich Racing were bumped up in the official results. The Visceral Racing Group Porsche 944 was elevated to P3 also in the standings in their 3rd race of the 2017 season, only 11 seconds back from a possible 3rd P2 place finish. The finish had to be of solace to the veteran front-runners after a VERY disappointing 89th place result in the 24-hour race at VIR.

Miata pi

Miata Pi getting ready to race at Buttonwillow. A Sunday win had the team happy after the 89th place at the VIR24. /Andrea Chisek

California’s Buttonwillow Raceway hosted the next race, utilizing the combined East/West loop configurations for a 3.1-mile total length track. The Double 8+7 weekend saw Arsenic Racings’ Mazda Miata post a 2-day 1/3 finish with Pomona Speed Shop tallying back to back runner-up spots in their BMW. Team Zoom-Zoom…. BOOM also had a strong weekend showing with 3/5 finishes in the record books. Longtime West coast stalwarts, Miata P.I., could only manage a P17 finish on day 1, but on Sunday came home with the gold, their first overall win of the season.

Hurricane Irma had just passed through just a few days earlier, causing a lot of damage in South Florida. ChumpCar racers brought needed revenue into the Sebring area. /Bill Strong

Long considered one of the toughest races to win since the contest was created back in the early 1950s, the 12 Hours of Sebring is a classic endurance race. Partially held on bumpy concrete runways of an old military training base from World War II, the track is more or less stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster to form the 3.74-mile circuit. There was some concern about the race being held only a brief time after Hurricane Irma passed virtually overhead, but the race went on as planned with 67 of the teams showing up from the original 73 entries.

Sebring, turn 17. One of the scariest turns in racing. /Bill Strong

The similarities between the IMSA series schedule with the 12 Hours only mere weeks after the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is echoed by the CCWS schedule at the Sebring late Summer race is held only 5 weeks after the Classic 24 at VIR. Only ChumpCar makes it just a little harder, increasing the race distance at Sebring to 14 hours!!! Just as certain drivers and teams have certain tracks down pat, Team Jacky Ickx, named for the famous Belgian driver, virtually owns Sebring. I mean OWNS: The pair of Mitsubishi 3000GTs, painted in the legendary liveries of Gulf and Martini Racing from the past, have 5 overall wins and no less than six top 10 finishes. They are always a threat and this year would be no exception…

Kevin Smith Racing (KSR) /  Flat Out Racing takes first at Sebring. Combined with their Daytona 14-Hour win KSR owned Florida in 2017.

KSR/Flat Out Racing’s SC300 with Randy Pobst sharing driver duties, proved they would be a worthy rival as they notched their 2nd overall win in a row and set the FTD with a 2:33.427 2/3rds through the race, eclipsing the Gage Cage Camaro mark set as they led the race earlier in the day. When the race ended after dark, the Cone Crushers Porsche 944 finished in 2nd having run in that position for a vast majority of the day. Surprisingly, the Jacky Ickx #66 had never led the race but had run in the top 5 most of the day had to “settle” for 3rd. Nine Four Motorsports’ Supra followed in P4 and Team Infiniti in the popular shark finned Infinity J30 (J45 swap) had to settle for yet ANOTHER 5th place finish. Owner Ed Steinhoff was getting very tired of seeing the number 5 next to his cars’ name in the results.

A return to the Harris Hill Raceway in San Marcos, TX for another Double 8, Laminar Racing’s Miata taking home the gold on Saturday with a Miata entry for Basil Weenie, replacing their familiar BMW, for the silver medal. Texas Motorcycle Academy (with double the tires from their usual mode of transportation) took bronze. Miatas took 9 of the top 10 spots with the Nine Four SC300 in 5th as the only car that broke up the Mazda parade. The Lexus faired better on Sunday claiming the win, but the Miatas proved once again to be strong contenders on the 1.8-mile track, with the Texas Motorcycle Academy moving up one spot from Saturday’s P3 finish. Maximum Effort’s Miata finished in 3rd. Again, Miatas finished in in 8 of the top 10 spots, with the Unintended Acceleration Audi 90 finishing in 7th to add at least some measure of equality with the Mazdas.

McKibbins Biohazard Toyota MR2 came out to prove they could last without breaking. /Bill Strong

A double 8+7 format was in store for the Pittsburgh round of the CCWS and the track had been largely redone and repaved prior to the contest. FCYs flew early and often as the teams struggled on the 2.8-mile combined layout but in the end, the McKibbins Biohazard Toyota MR2, in fuel conservation mode, had held off the hard-charging Visceral Racing Group Porsche 944 for a 2.845 MOV after 8 hours off racing. Team Troxell placed one of their BMWs in 3rd while the Sister car came in 8h. Prerace favorites such as the RBank Civic and Saab 9-3 as well as the new build from Guarino-Watson Racing (GWR), another E30, were non-factors in the outcome on either day.

Sahlen’s pit crew applies the required Maxxis tire decal to the Charcoal Mazda RX7 /Bill Strong

On Sunday the Honda Fit, making their 2nd start in CCWS competition, lead early but when the checkered flag fell it was the Sahlen’s “Ketchup” Mazda RX7 in victory lane followed home by Team Troxell cars in 2nd and 5th. Visceral’s Porsche came home in P3 with Bio’s MR2 in 4th and the Honda Fit in 5th. The RVA Graphic’s BMW, now sporting an extensive aero splitter and large rear wing like GWR, Huggins, and Chattanooga Tourenwagen Meisterschaft had finished 7th again like Saturday. The E30 camp had seemingly “discovered” that they needed to add aero to counter the higher spends and sleeker designs of more modern platforms.

Part 3 coming soon…

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