2017 ChumpCar / ChampCar Year in Review – Part 3
Story by Doc Waldrop
Photos by Chelsey Vickey, Bill Strong, photoproonline.com, Ed Lawson
One sure sign the 2017 Chump/Champ season was winding down was the next race, a return visit to Road America, was billed as the Frozen Rotors Central Division Chumpionship. That’s a sure sign and while the actual event may be held over the 2-day weekend, the race is scored as one race. After nine hours of racing on Saturday, the leader is picked up by the pace car with 15 minutes to go and once gathered up are brought down pit lane and parked for the night. No work other than getting the driver out and removing GoPros/phones/cameras is allowed. This procedure, quite common, is known as Parc Ferme, literally meaning “closed park”. The penalty, if you feel you MUST work on your car, is to be moved into EC class so you are therefore not eligible for the overall win. Simple enough.
To be eligible for the Chumpionship, a team must have, entered two separate races (a 2-day event while scored as separate races is still one event), have had a finish in the top 10 at any race in that region, brought the same car with no substantial changes for the race, and have at least 2 original drivers of the team driving. Obviously, you must be present to win, so 13 eligible teams along with 68 other entries descended upon Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. for a Fall weekend of fun on the 4.048-mile circuit.
#368 PBR Light at speed on the Road America high speed front straight. /Bill Strong
Numerous FCYs dotted the first day as the field diced it up with each other and the course, with several of the contenders for the title dropping out, most notably JSK’s Maxima with heavy damage after contacting the rear bumper of the huge Pontiac Grand Prix of Momma Told Me Not to Come Racing. The Grand Prix shrugged it off with hardly any discernable damage at all while the Nissan suffered greatly. The most serious incident occurred when the #108 Tuttle Mitsubishi Eclipse had a tire failure and totaled the car after a tire went down and the car hit one of the many bridge abutments. The driver escaped with a broken wrist but otherwise was mostly unhurt.
Premium Dudes also dropped out of the running with engine problems as did the Ludicrous Speed Toyota MR2 V6 with battery problems. The Ecotec Mazda Miata was also towed back to the paddock from P3 with a transmission failure. The 1st portion of the race ended with Chump Faces in the lead, one lap ahead of the Honda CRX of 3rd Gear Pulls, and the S.H.O. Time Racing Chevy Camaro Z28 down one lap further. There were certainly a variety of cars to watch from the TWOth Honda Civic to the big bore Camaros and on to the James Bondo Triumph TR7 along with the multitude of BMWs, Miatas, Neons, Mustangs, and Integras. Turns out the CamaroZ28 team is campaigned by a bunch of Pratt & Miller engineers and mechanics and it was fun to listen to the big V8 rumble around the track.
You could say “when the dust settled” to recap the winners, but truth be told it rained all day, sometimes very heavily. After 16 hours of racing the Chump Faces Racing team and their C class BMW 325is had scored their 1st overall Central Division Chumpionship in 7 years of trying. Second place, 10 laps down went to 3rd Gear Pulls team in their Honda CRX and 3rd place went to TWOth Autosport in their Honda Civic. Lest you think the rain played a huge roll in their finishes, the CRX held down 2nd place at the end of day 2 and the TWOth Civic was in 6th.
Both Hondas were a blast to watch cornering in the rain, but it was also a LOT of fun to watch the big-bore machine’s power out of the wet corners with their tails wagging away as they tried to put down the power. The sound of those engines on a quintessentially American track was a real treat as well. The Dead Pedal 1987 Maserati BiTurbo team took home the Chandler School Sportsmanship Award, well deserved after many many years of friendly paddock camaraderie with their competitors. Most teams headed for home, but a few stalwarts headed to Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) for the Eastern Division Chumpionship the very next weekend.
Before we get to AMP though, on the same weekend that the Central teams were contesting Road America in the Central Chumpionship, the Western Division was racing at Las Vegas for THEIR season bragging rights in a combined 16-hour race with equally divided days. Hence the “Vegas Double Down”!! At least in this race, the dust actually did settle… Marvin the Martian’s BMW 318is might have won the battle with their overall 1st place finish, but with a 2nd place finish, the Arsenic Racing team claimed the Western Division Chumpionship after a somewhat dominating season with an overall win at Chuckwalla and Buttonwillow to set them on course.
Pomona Speed Shop claimed 3rd place in their BMW 325is and the Car-Dashian BMW picked up 4th followed by the D class Tron Racing team in 5th. Several prominent teams had their fair share of problems including Roto-Plooker Racing, the Flyin’ Hawaiians, Bucket List Brigade, and Miata P.I. who had placed 3rd at Laguna Seca and 1st on Day 2 at Buttonwillow. The most notable team missing from the Vegas Double Down Chumpionship was that of Uncommon Friends Racing who had simply missed the opening bell, recording a DNS.
Atlanta Motorsports Park would be the setting for a highly competitive Eastern Chumpionship race with a combined 8+8 format. In a normally bucolic county club set in the rolling hills of North Georgia. Very close to the home of Awesome Bill from Dawsonville (NASCAR Legend Bill Elliott) the course measures 1.89 miles and was penned by noted Formula track designer Herman Tilke. You would like to think it would be the perfect weekend for a race and it normally is, but not so much this year. Bluntly stated, it was miserable weather: The worst weather many could EVER remember at a racetrack. Wet, very cold, and extremely windy. MISERABLE!
Still, as everyone talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it, 20 contenders for the title lined up ahead of the other 35 teams in attendance and had a go at it. The Chumpionship contending teams in attendance read like the who’s who of the East Coast: Cone Crushers, both Jacky Ickx Mitsubishi 3000GTs, Huggins (Pinkies Out), Visceral Racing Group, McKibbins Biohazard, GodZilla, Simon Says, GWR, Hong Norrth Grumpy Butt, John Allen Special, and Running Bulls Racing among others. Some teams did not get the finishes they needed or failed to make 2 separate races and they included E Racing, Burningham Too, Sara Sloan, Double D Racing, and Ballenger Motorsports/Not Banned Yet Racing. The stage was certainly set for an exciting race despite the deplorable conditions. (Editor’s note: The conditions were so bad, cameras were left in the dry confines of trailers, hence the lack of racing images.)
Derek Williams, Ben Dasher, and Mike Helm look over the Racing For Heroes (http://www.racingforheroes.org/) sponsored Toyota Celica during Friday’s practice. /Bill Strong
Saturday’s race was plagued with heavy rain off and on (mostly on) all day and visibility were often treacherous with front windshields fogging up so bad that several teams simply retired. The Jacky Ickx #935, Visceral’s Porsche 944, Biohazard Toyota MR2 v6, and Cone Crushers all spent time at the top during the day, but as the rain REALLY poured down Burningham Too’s Lexus SC300 was at the head of the lone as the cars were brought down pit row for the night and Park Ferme conditions. Having problems, Simon Says, Godzilla, Huggins, GWR, and the Ickx #66 were clearly out of the running.
The #55 Burningham Too Lexus SC300 during Friday’s test and tune. /Bill Strong
Sunday’s start was greeted by clear conditions, but it was very cold and VERY windy, still, the teams pressed on. At the checker, the big Lexus had the overall win, but the Biohazard Toyota MR2 v6 had clinched the last Chumpionship ever, besting the Jacky Ickx Mitsubishi 3000GT #935, and the Porsche 944’s of Cone Crushers and Visceral Racing Group.
The 2017 East Chumpship Winner, #381 McKibbin’s Biohazard Toyota MR2 during the wet Saturday pitstop. Drivers were Randy Pobst, Jerry Enger, and Troy Truglio. /Bill Strong
Once again for the 3rd time, it was back to Virginia International Raceway, billed as the world’s first Motorsport Resort, for a weekend Double-8 on the North Course. Comprised of the long main straight, the first set of Esses and a tricky technical (but still quite fast) section before heading through “Roller Coaster” and HogPen” that also comprise the South Course, the course has advantages for all the cars that typically run in ChampCar: The momentum and handling cars, the brute horsepower cars, and the cars that seek a compromise between the two types.
Centrally located, the North race attracts a large field, this time 59 entrants showed up to test their mettle against each other. Several strong teams that can usually be found near the front showed up including RVA Graphics, Where’s John, SRI Racing, Godzilla, and Huggins (Pinkies Out), perhaps looking to bolster their standings when the ChampCar Endurance Series moves to a single National Championship in 2018. One of the most popular cars with spectators and competitors alike was also in attendance, the massive Ford LTD #65, known as The USS Enterprise in honor of the first nuclear carrier, the Navy’s most decorated ship.
On Saturday several favorites dropped out: The Double D Racing Toyota early with a first lap incident involving several cars, the Huggins BMW with an exploding clutch, and the Godzilla Nissan 300ZX with a transmission that had no gears. The battle for the win came down to the RVA Graphics & Wraps BMW 325is and Where’s John Acura Integra and when the BMW crossed the line a lap ahead not only did the team become first time winners after YEARS of competition, but they became the only team that could claim to be the first CHAMPCAR Endurance Series winner and in the series they sponsor. Want insight that on VIR North any platform can have an advantage if driven well? Team Junction/Neo Motorsport in a Honda Civic set FTD with a 1:42.879 in route to a 3rd place finish overall.
Huggins Racing BMW dominated the Sunday race while taking their first win in CCWS / CCES competition. /Bill Strong
On Sunday, proof that you can’t keep a good team down for long was evident as Huggins Racing finally shed the bridesmaid tag and came home with the overall win, also their 1st win in CCES competition. Where’s John took their bridesmaid tag away with another 2nd place finish. MT Pockets finished in P3 followed by the Red Rooster Racing BMW in 4th with Team Junction/Neo Motorsport proving Saturday’s finish was no fluke. Wyatt Foster set the FTD in the Huggins machine with a 1:40.050 on lap 28 of 249.
If the weather at AMP was miserable (yes…yes it was) the weather for the next round at Barber Motorsport Park was just bizarre. A freak snowstorm blew into the South on Friday before the Double 8+7 race, blanketing many states from Louisiana to North Carolina. Barber itself received anywhere from 3-4 INCHES of heavy wet snow as the teams arrived. The question of if the race would be run at all was answered on Saturday morning when the track was revealed to be in great shape for the field of 55 teams that had arrived from all points on treacherous interstates. Only 9 teams had failed to make it to the track, but several straggled in throughout the day, all with stories to tell if their epic tows through a wintery landscape.
While cleaning his camera and sorting through images of snowmen in racing suits, the camera caught this, no explanation could be found as to what it means. The internet had a lot of very funny explanations, none of which could be reported for this story. It is included because of the pretty yellow color. /Bill Strong
Having been renamed “The SNOW (from Stars) Fell on Alabama Grand Prix”, the weather might have been cold, but the action on the track was as hot as ever. Perhaps because of their point of origin in Connecticut, the Porsche from Cone Crushers took the Saturday win followed by the Canadian team, Mopar 4 Life, in their Dodge Neon in second. They both are used to driving around snow!!! Nine Four Motorsports finished 3rd and the Miata’s of MOMO Champ (the former MOMO Chump team had embraced the series name change wholeheartedly) and MiElan (also from up North…hmmmm) took home 4th and 5th respectively. Several favorites had been sidelined including the Lexus from Burningham Too, the McKibbins Biohazard Toyota MR2, and Visceral Racing Group’s Porsche 944. All would return to action on Sunday on the beautifully landscaped 2.38-mile track with the snow almost gone you could tell it was beautifully landscaped.
The highlight of the Sunday race was an intense battle between the Burningham Lexus and the McKibbin’s Biohazard Toyota MR2 for the overall win as each platform had a distinct advantage over the other on certain portions of the track. The light MR2 could out accelerate the Lexus exiting the corners, but the advantage swung to Burningham’s car under braking and cornering.
The Internet watched with excitement as the two cars battled for position, until the last corner when the Lexus SC300 climbed under the Toyota MR2. /ChampCar.live
The race was decided in the penultimate turn when the hotly contested lead reached a boiling point: The MR2 cut across the closing Lexus’ bow and the two made contact, the Biohazard car spinning into the outside gravel track and the Lexus blacked flagged for contact. Lo and behold, lurking in 3rd place, the Cone Crushers 944 inherited the lead and the win for the second day in a row. Burningham Too rejoined the race finishing 2nd and RPM Racing’s Miata claimed the final podium step.
From the snow at Barber that was an inconvenience at best for most, when ChampCar returned to Laguna Seca for a Double-7, conditions in California were not a joking matter at all concerning Mother Nature. Wildfires had devastated many of the CCES family, some losing everything to the savage fires that burned throughout the state, and as it were only 28 teams made the trip to Monterey. While the last race had been a disaster with P34/39 finishes, Uncommon Friends cruised to a 7-lap victory over the Doorslammers Miata. Neomaxizoomdweebies (seriously, if I must write that team name many times we are gonna have words) BMW 325is (I don’t care IF it is the same platform I run) came home in 3rd place (dang overachievers) in their first race of 2018 (don’t even THINK about coming East until you change the name) at the iconic track! (Come east! ed.)
On Sunday, Doorslammers “recovered” enough to come home with the win over Basil Weenie’s BMW by 1 lap while Uncommon Friends Datsun 240Z had an impressive showing, finishing 3rd, after overcoming the vast majority of the field with their 8-lap margin of victory penalty. For their part, Uncommon Friends vowed to be back in 2018 with a new build as did Arsenic Racing who had captured the Western Chumpionship earlier at Las Vegas. In the spirit of ChampCar, the Crash Test Mummies entry (at their first race) struggled all weekend to get their car running and through tech successfully and finally took to the track in the last hour of the race. Without a transponder mounted, they were not credited with any laps. Well, WE knew you were out there and here’s to a brighter future!!! You are gonna fit right in…
Ahhhh…the season winding down…just one more race in the year…time to relax…kick back, take it easy…NOPE!!!
On to Central Florida for the “Sebring New Year’s EVE-ish” 10-hour endurance race on America’s toughest track. The usual suspects could be counted on for a strong finish and sure enough, they delivered with the Jacky Ickx bringing home another win in their Mitsubishi 3000GT although behind the EC Class (therefore ineligible for the overall win) of Busy Guy Racing and their fast but thirsty 2015 Nissan 370ZX. Randy Pobst was on hand to give several teams an idea of what their cars could do in the right hands and Johnny O’Connell was also there to give his son some advice on getting around a circuit that he knows so well having scored 7 class wins in the fabled 12-Hours of Sebring. Both enthusiastically agreed that ChampCar racing is great for any driver, not just amateurs fulfilling their dreams of racing on the same bucket list tracks they watched their heroes race at.
Team Infiniti broke their jinx of 5th place finishes with a well-deserved runner-up spot followed by the TWOth Autosport Civic. Some other teams had their own reason to celebrate including the relative newcomers, InActiv Racing with a 6th place finish and the veteran John Allen Special team with a well earned 9th place finish. Also notable was the debut of the first Mini Cooper in CCES competition, the Turn Seven Motorsports which finished in 14th place, and the newly formed SLS Racing team which was awarded the coveted Chandler School Sportsmanship Award.
The racing season was over, but back behind the scenes away from the track the ChampCar Endurance Series officials and Board of Directors had been busy all year.
To be continued…