2018 ChampCar Endurance Series™ Race Report
The Linespace.com Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway
Story by Doc Waldrop
Images by Bill Strong
The ChampCar Endurance Series kicked off 2018 on the West Coast for their 2nd race of the young season on the 2.52-mile-long course at Sonoma with a Double 8 weekend on February 17th and 18th. Most major races are run on mostly barren hills, but ChampCar racers are greeted this time of year with lush green grasses surrounding the undulating road course.
Even without the two defending winners from last year present to defend their wins, a very strong field gathered for the challenge in 2018 and included a two-car entry of Mazda Miatas from Doorslammers, the always consistent Miata P.I. team now rebranded as Alchemy Autosport, defending 2017 Western Chumpionship winners Arsenic Racing, the potent Uncommon Friends’ 240Z piloted by an all-star lineup of drivers, The Flyin Hawaiians & Two White Guys 260Z (with a swapped 280Z powerplant), and the frequent West Coast visitors from Texas, the Basil Weenie Racing BMW E30 325is.
Several teams had made long tows to get to Sonoma including two other Texas-based teams, the Los Peligrosos team that had made the journey across the country from the Road Atlanta round just 2 weeks ago and the Houston based Miata of Don’t Tread on Me. Also present was the Maserati BiTurbo campaigned by Dead Pedal Racing, the Ergolab.com Miata out of Colorado, and the Canuckleheads (formerly Three Amigos) Honda CRX out of Canada. Mazda Miatas accounted for fully half the teams entered and had to be considered the favorites for the overall win if nothing else by sheer numbers.
Saturday Race 1
Promptly at 8:00 AM on a relatively cold morning, 35 entries headed up the steep hill out of Turn 1 to begin the Saturday race and the Miata’s of Orange Yeller Revival and Arsenic quickly moved to the front, chased by the Flyin’ Hawaiians #82 260Z, the Miata of Silver Fern Racing, and the Southworst #737 Mustang. Doorslammers’ #97 Miata, Alchemy Autosports #30 Miata, Motion Racing’s Camaro, the Sister #95 Miata from Doorslammers, and the Maserati #185 rounded out the top 10, thirty minutes into the day.
Ideally, with a track mandated “quiet hour” falling exactly at the midway point in the race at 12 Noon, most of the contenders for the overall win would have liked to stop at 10 AM to minimize their pitting to 3 stops because of the mandatory 2-hour stint limit for drivers and the 8-hour race length. The question would be could they go 2 hours on fuel and should they pit prior to pit lane being closed 15 minutes prior to the quiet hour. It was apparent that their decision on this matter could well indeed determine the outcome of the race…
The first entry to suffer a failure shortly before the one-hour mark was the Doorslammers’ #97 which had moved up 17 positions to take the lead of the race when they dropped out momentarily handing the lead to the Southworst Racing Mustang #737 that had also moved up through the pack, gaining 17 positions as well since the start. Most of the other frontrunners began their first stops at 9:45 including the Miatas of Silver Fern #169, Don’t Tread’s #120, the two entries from Doorslammers, the Mustang #737, and the Orange Yeller.
The Arsenic Autosport Miata was the last to pit promptly at the 2-hour mark. The lead was held by the Orange Yeller Revival #214 after the first cycle of pit stops played out, having pitted somewhat early at one hour and thirty-five minutes into the race. The Ergolab.com Miata had retired to the paddock earlier with spongy brake pedal the result of slightly holed brake line and the Uncommon Friends’ 240Z had not even started the race, dealing with mechanical gremlins plaguing their new build.
Gremlins soon struck the two Doorslammers’ entries when shortly before the 3-hour mark when the #95 Miata joined the #97 in the paddock, both suffering a lack of cylinder compression. As the more stricken of the two cars, the team worked cannibalizing parts off #97 hoping the #95 can return on Sunday to salvage an otherwise dismal weekend with only the #97’s FTD of a 1:48561 on lap 18 to console them. When the furled flag is displayed to the field signifying 20 minutes until the quiet hour the teams have 5 minutes to pit and refuel before the pits are closed and teams are waved through.
Perhaps foretelling the finish, Arsenic’s #1 Miata stays out and moves into the lead and the Orange Yeller Revival team #214, having already pitted twice and running in P2, stays out as well. The #82 Flyin’ Hawaiian 260Z in P3, the Alchemy #30 Miata in P4, Dead Pedal’s BiTurbo in P9 all dive into the pits for fuel. The #737 Southworst team Mustang #169 Silver Fern Miata, also having stopped twice already stay out as well.
After the field takes the green flag at 1 PM, halfway through the race, the #30 dives into the pits as does the #71 Supleen Miata. The Basil Weenie #799 BMW 325is pits shortly thereafter. Hampering their efforts for a good finish the #30 Alchemy Autosports Miata, the BiTurbo, and the #71 Supleen teams are all hit with passing under yellow flags (PUY) in the T4/T5 area and all serve brief black flag penalties with the Maserati electing to top off with fuel while on pit row.
With 2 hours to go Arsenic had once again taken P1 and led the #214 Orange Yeller Miata and the Southworst Mustang by 2 laps as those car cars traded off the runner-up position. The Mustang had been stuck in 4th gear virtually all day and was visibly sideways in most corners trying to keep their momentum. Tachaphobic Racing’s Mustang shared a similar problem, stuck in 4th gear dropping as low as P17 from the top 10 while Don’t Tread on Me’s Miata battled the Flyin Hawaiians’ 260Z for 4th position. Basil Weenies’ BMW had a similar battle going for 6th place with the Silver Fern #169 (which had led the race shortly before halfway when a hub bearing failed them) and Alchemy Autosport’s Miata was struggling trying to make up positions from their PUY penalty. An off-track excursion in T6 was not helping their chances in this endeavor.
Supleen’s PUY had relegated them down to P9 where they ran for the entire last half of the race except for a brief time in P10 recovering from their PUY penalty. They were an island unto themselves at the checkered flag, down 3 laps from P8, but up 4 laps from Tachaphobic’s #53 Mustang. With one hour to go 12 positions changed hands, with only Arsenic’s lead holding court and Turdmeister’s BMW P15 position remaining safe.
Despite having 4th as their only gear, Southworst overhauls Orange Yeller’s Miata for 2nd with an hour to go and with mere minutes to go the Flyin’ Hawaiians relinquish 4th to the Basil Weenie BMW when they run out of fuel in the 260Z on the last lap. The Alchemy Autosport recovers to finish 6th while the Miata’s of Silver Fern and Don’t Tread on Me settle for the 7th and 8th positions. The BiTurbo finishes in 11th followed by USA Racing’s 300ZX, Turdmeister’s BMW #909, the Miata of Mr. Angry Inc Motorsport’s #17 Miata and Blown My Wad’s BMW 325is.
The Arsenic team had played the fuel game perfectly with only a failing left front wheel bearing putting their overall win in jeopardy while the Southworst Mustang ran out of fuel but still held onto 2nd. The Orange Yeller Revival team admitted the one extra stop for fuel had killed their chances for a better finish. In impound, a team protested the fuel capacity of the 737 Mustang. When approached with the protest form, Southworst Racing forfeited and agreed to be placed in Exception Class.
Prior to the finish, the Doorslammers #95 had ventured out for an exploratory lap to see if they were up for Sunday’s race as the Uncommon Friends Datsun team worked out their issues and the Ergolab.com Miata team looked at an overnight engine change. Perhaps Sunday’s race would have a different result…
Saturday Race Results – https://speedhive.mylaps.com/Sessions/4735686
Sunday Race 2
With the grid inverted from Saturday’s start, the #95 rockets to the lead in 7 laps and as the 30-minute mark comes and goes most of the top 10 cars look a lot like Saturday’s finish!!! Don’t Tread on Me is in 2nd followed by the Flyin’ Hawaiians’ 260Z, the Miatas of Silver Fern’s #169, Mr. Angry #17, Orange Yeller’s #214, Alchemy’s #30, and Los Peligrosos’ #668. Only the 260Z, Canuckleheads’ CRX and Basil Weenie’s BMW #799 running in 9th and 10th keep it from looking like a Spec Miata race!!! Southworst’s Mustang, Turdmeister’s BMW, Tachophobic’s Mustang, Supleen’s Miata, and the No Stinking Pistons’ RX7 round out the top 15.
For the most part, incidents were pretty much limited to one offs with quick recoveries either by the driver or the safety crews and on Saturday there had been just one quick full course yellow. Sunday looked to be more of the same. Even local yellows are brief, as the Turdmeister #909 BMW contacts the wall in T8 as a slower car brakes unexpectedly early and the 325is noses into the barrier but continues. Shortly before the first round of pit stops begin the #95 Doorslammers’ Miata is black flagged for “aggressive driving” dropping them 4 positions.
Arsenic’s #1 strategy of just making 3 stops had shown the rest of the field how to get the overall win (they carry the #1 plate for a reason after all), but it simply did not work for most of the teams: Only the Alchemy Autosports #30, the Basil Weenie BMW, the USA Racing #891, and the No Stinking Piston’s RX7 had made it to the halfway quiet hour with only 1 stop for fuel. The Noon hour showed them running in P1, P4, P6, P11, and P12 as the field was brought to pit row for an hour. Predictably, as soon as the pace car came in to begin the 2nd half of the race they all dutifully pitted except for the Alchemy Miata which stayed out an additional 8 laps. By stretching their stop, they too could go the distance with one more stop.
One half hour back to green showed the #169 Silver Fern Miata up a lap on the Orange Yeller Revival Miata #214 in 2nd and the #82 260Z from the Flyin’ Hawaiians fighting with the Doorslammers #95 for 3rd. The Arsenic Racing Miata was running in P5 followed closely by the Miatas of Don’t Tread on Me and Alchemy Autosports with the Basil Weenie BMW and the Maserati from Dead Pedal Racing while the #17 Mr. Angry Miata held down the last top 10 position.
Little changed during the next several hours with the top 15 just changing position based on when they pitted, but the #30 Alchemy Miata came to grief when another car pushed them off the track damaging the right front damper with just an hour to go. They retired to the garage while running in 5th; Their chances for an overall win blown just as much as the shock. The #95 Doorslammers Miata had also disappeared off the leaderboard and the Gunslinger Race Team #69 Miata had taken their place running in P15.
As the race was winding down, the #1 Arsenic Miata assumed the lead as both the Miatas of Silver Fern pitted on lap 190 and Orange Yeller Revival came in with 30 minutes to go. The #82 was running in 4th but could not make up any ground for the last podium spot while Basil Weenie’s BMW held down 5th in convincing fashion with Don’t Tread on Me’s Miata in 6th. The BiTurbo Maserati was visibly slower on track trying desperately to conserve fuel and running in 7th while Mr. Angry, USA Racing, and Los Peligrosos rounded out the top 10 contenders.
The last half hour to the finish proved to be a bit exciting when with 20 minutes to go the #82 Hawaiians came into the pits unannounced with no crew visible! Declaring “No More Fixes”, the car was retired dropping 3 positions down to 7th. Don’t Tread on Me was brought in for a PUY in T4 but had 5th place securely in hand with the #82’s retirement. The BiTurbo moved up to P6 as a result as well. With 15 minutes to go P8 to P12 was really shuffled up when USA Racing’s 300ZX suffered a flat in T3A and started limping around the track, a long way from pit in. Mr. Angry had also be wounded with the front end “gone”. The both dropped 3 positions elevating Los Peligrosos, No Stinking Pistons, and Wilwood’s Miata up 2 positions each to 8th, 9th, and 10th.
Mr. Angry carried their Miata home with an 11th place finish with USA Racing struggling home in 12th followed by Docspeed’s CRX, and the Miatas of the Silver Fern Angels and Gunslingers rounding out the top 15 positions. Disappointingly, the Uncommon Friends Datsun had only turned 2 laps on the day and the ErgoLab.com Miata had only managed 12 laps, their heroic fixes, and hard work having been in vain. Southworst Racing had only managed 52 laps, joining the Supleen, Tachaphobic, Turdmeister, and Blown My Wad teams finishing well down in the standings, unable to match their Saturday results.
Lest you think the drama was occurring in the top 15 places, the leading Arsenic Racing team had only some 10 seconds in hand over the Silver Fern Miata. They were visibly conserving fuel and must have been sighing in relief as they were given the 1 to go signal from the start/finish flag stand. The #891 had pulled off the course just past T10, the flat tire now shredded and flapping wildly making further laps even limping around impossible.
Ahhhh. The drama was not over yet though: One of the things that make the Sonoma course unique is the configuration of the track. In a NASCAR or IndyCar race the field is usually still bunched up as they approach the finish and it’s easy to spot the leader as they round T12 and head a short distance to the S/F line. Not so much in an endurance race as the field is quite jumbled; the flagger relying on the corner workers in each corner to radio in the leader’s position as they complete the last lap to the checkered flag. All did so. Except T10 and T11, perhaps distracted by the #891, but who knows…
The Arsenic Miata streaked by the finish line, unannounced and hidden by the wall at the apex of T12. Their crew howled, gathered by the wall near the flag stand to celebrate their back to back overall win, but the checkered flag refused to wave in the starter’s hand. With questionable fuel left in the tank and the Silver Fern Miata breathing down their neck only seconds back they would have to do yet another lap!!!
Somewhat thankfully, considering the controversy that would surely ensue from a disputed finish, the corner workers in T10 and T11 dutifully called their progression around the final turns and they managed to bring the car around still in the lead with 14.782 seconds in hand for the overall win and received the now waving (perhaps with some extra flourishes) checkered flag.
As it is somewhat traditional for the finishers to crowd the wall where their admiring fellow drivers and crew can acknowledge their accomplishments on the track, the #217 Turdlingua Mustang rounded T12 at speed to take their checkered finish in P18 and the rear end started to come around. And continued to come around to the point that the car crossed the finish line completely backward having clouted the outside wall in convincing fashion. The driver was fine, and the only injury suffered by him was that of ego and pride. The Mustang’s left side had already been severely abused, so it was hard to tell what was former damage and what was more currently inflicted.
At the post race impound the Arsenic team driver conceded the car was sputtering during the last few laps and the extra lap had him really stressed out and the Silver Fern team admitted that the extra fuel stop was their undoing for the win. The Orange Yeller Revival team had contact on the last lap with T8 wall, perhaps as a result of “the tires were junk halfway into the race”, damaging the left rear corner just as the Docspeed team had done mere laps from the finish and the wall, perhaps weakened already and when lifted after the race, cracked in half.
The first round of West Coast races was over leaving teams 2½ months to either bask in their glory, figure out where they went wrong, or fix their wounded cars before the Thunderhill Grand Prix 8+7 the May 5th-6th weekend. Several of the stronger West Coast teams would be starting their 2018 season there making the field even more competitive…
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Sunday Results – https://speedhive.mylaps.com/Sessions/4737697
Practice, Saturday and Sunday Results – https://speedhive.mylaps.com/Events/1494147
Images by: ©2018 Bill Strong / ChampCar Endurance Series™
Saturday race 1 part 1 – https://photos.app.goo.gl/qEGoxsVvGjDJnzfQ2
Saturday race 1 part 2 – https://photos.app.goo.gl/lgMQ4fHKdfP4rqdF3
Saturday race 1 part 3 – https://photos.app.goo.gl/xGw3NdJk0agJxTFl2
Trophy Presentation – https://photos.app.goo.gl/A8myuQv1yoFBKizn2