2018 ChampCar Endurance Series
Presented by RVA Graphics & Wraps:
Road Atlanta 14-Hour Race Report
Written by Doc Waldrop
Pictures by Bill Strong
The opening round of the ChampCar Endurance Series at Road Atlanta usually attracts a strong field of cars since the 2.54-mile track in the rolling hills Northeast of Atlanta is many a driver’s favorite track. This years 14-hour enduro, on February 3rd was no exception as 84 entries recorded times on the Saturday race. A Friday test day managed to eliminate more than a few cars that were not evidently ready for the start of the season.
With temperatures hovering in the low 30s for the 8AM start, some familiar entrants could be found moving up rapidly from the random starting position generated by pit stall number. Two of the favorites, The Team Jacky Ickx Mitsubishi 3000GTs would start all the way at the tail end of the field. About an hour into the race, the leading Lexus SC300 from Burningham Too relinquished the P1 spot when an alternator wire loosened to the #307 Not Banned Yet 240SX from the Ballenger Motorsports’ shop. The RBank Racing #194 1988 Civic was 3rd with the team’s 2nd entry #90 Saab 9-3 running in 6th, but not scoring laps due to a transponder issue.
The heavily aero’ed Huggins Racing, Guarino-Watson Racing (GWR), and RVA Graphics & Wraps BMW 325is E30s were running in the top 10 as were the familiar Porsche 944 models from the Cone Crushers and Visceral Racing Group. The Team Infiniti J30 with the familiar big shark fin mounted on the roof held down P10. Moving quickly through traffic, the #66 Jacky Ickx 3000GT in the legendary baby blue/orange Gulf livery had moved all the up to 9th having started 72nd!!! The Van Winden Racing BMW ran in 11th place, trailed by the Nine Four Motorsports $840 Lexus SC300, Team Punisher’s stout D class Firebird, SRI Racing’s BMW 325is, and the SC300 (a new build) of Danger Racing Group.
After the first round of pit stops were completed, the lead had switched hands and the #90 Saab 9-3 led over Cone Crushers’ #917 944, the Honda Civic from RBank Racing which had pitted at virtually the last minute, Visceral’s Porsche and the Nine Four Motorsport’s Lexus #840, both of which had moved up 7 and 9 positions respectively. The #307 Not Banned Yet 240SX was the biggest “loser”, having lost their power steering with the very fast Wyatt Foster behind the wheel. The #755 Burningham Too was also hampered for passing under yellow (PUY) which resulted in a 2-minute penalty at the black flag box at pit in.
For the next few hours not much changed near the front as the two RBank Racing cars paced the field, the Civic over the Saab, with the #307 240 SX, Huggins and Van Winden BMWs maintaining the pace. The next positions, 10-15 were constantly changing as the Hong Norrth Supra, the GWR and RVA Graphics BMWs would drop out momentarily to be replaced by the Team Infiniti J30, the Jacky Ickx 3000GT #935, and the Team Spencer Motorsports #686 and Momo Champ #230 Miatas. The Visceral Porsche 944 seemed to be the only car that could hang in there, hovering anywhere between 5th and 10th while the Cone Crushers’ 944 had made many trips to pit row, dropping from contention.
The first full course yellow (FCY) flew at 1:25PM when the #649 Go Racing Honda Civic, running in 7th place made heavy contact with the inside main straight wall and came to a rest with the driver unhurt. Several of the top contenders used the opportunity to dive into the pits including the two RBank entries, the Jacky Ickx #935, and the Not Banned Yet 240SX that in addition to taking fuel and changing drivers also replaced the left front wheel bearing. The #90 Saab 9-3 took the lead with the Civic falling to 2nd. The Visceral Porsche and the Ickx #66 had moved up briefly to run in the next 2 spots but each would pit soon after the field went back to green flag racing at 1:41PM and lose those positions to Not Banned Yet’s 240SX and the Huggins BMW.
At the halfway mark the Saab still led by several laps over the 240SX which in turn led by a few laps over the BMWs of Van Winden Racing Huggins, GWR, and RVA Graphics. Only the Ickx #935 running in 5th broke up the train of 325is models. The #194 Civic and the #66 Ickx 3000GT had dropped out of the top 15 with mechanical problems as had the Visceral Racing Group Porsche 944 with smoke filling the cockpit after a broken exhaust had melted the shifter bushing and the shifter boot itself. Disappointing for sure as they had been running in P3.
Team Infiniti ran in 8th, followed by Nine Four Motorsports’ SC300, Team Punishers’ Firebird, SRI’s 325is, and the Momo Champ #230 Miata running in 12th place. The Burningham Too Lexus had recovered from a 2-minute penalty for a PUY and a 5-minute black flag for contact to run in 13th place, perhaps tempting the fates of the unlucky #13, as it was spotted on a rollback mere minutes after the halfway mark, the result of a failed transmission. Running Bulls Racing, out of nearby Commerce, Ga. had their BMW 325is running in 14th, one lap ahead of the Team Junction/Neo Motorsport Honda Civic.
Attrition had taken its toll among the leaders and the rest of the field as only 56 cars were shown on course out of the 84 starters; The paddock was a flurry of activity even if there was not a lot of major action out on the track. The Hong Norrth Supra had regained a top 15 spot at the expense of the No Cents Racing Miata and the #81 Neo Motorsport Civic had replaced the Miata of Team Spencer Motorsports. For the next few hours, as darkness descended upon Road Atlanta, the “locals” from Running Bulls Racing BMW and the Hong Norrth Grumpy Butt Toyota Supra would battle to stay in the top 15.
Missing from this entire conversation was some very formidable teams that just were not having the strong runs they had anticipated: The 2 car entry from E Racing, the familiar “Ella” #890 and Ethan Low’s striking 325is #408 in a brilliant crimson and white circle livery with gold wheels. Both were suffering wheel issues, Ella having lost her front left wheel and the #408 having sawed through no less than 2 of the gold wheels with errant brake caliper bolts. Both TWOth Autosport Honda Civic entries were also battling a variety of issues with their machines based out of Canada. The 4 car entry from the JAS Juggernaut was only having a modicum of success with the two E30s while the #26 BMW powered Datsun Z was blazingly fast but was again suffering teething problems as was the #14 184 BMW 733i.
At around 7:25 any semblance of quiet was lost as the #90 pitted from the lead with left front driveshaft problems and the #307 Not Banned Yet 240SX swept into the lead, the several lap lead clicking off as repairs were frantically being made to the stricken Saab. Not 10 minutes later it was the Not Banned Yet 240SX’s turn to hit pit row from the lead with a rear wheel bearing problem!!! Huggins Racing’s (Pinkies Out) inherited the lead as the 240SX came back in having to replace the right rear bearing entirely.
With 2 hours remaining, Huggins’ BMW led the Van Winden 325is by 3 laps who also had a substantial lead over the 3rd place #935 Ickx and Team Infiniti’s J30. Team Punisher’s Firebird held down P5. The RVA Graphics had steadily moved up to run in 6th following close on the heels of the Infiniti. SRI’s 325is had a comfortable lead over the Momo Champ Miata and the Team Junction/Neo Motorsport Civic. Not Yet Banned’s 240SX continued to drop positions as they affected repairs. Hong Norrth’s Supra ran in 11th as the Saab 9-3 from RBank continued to drop positions as well. The #991 GWR BMW 325is was also dropping positions sitting in the pits dealing with a persistent oil leak. The car was eventually retired to the paddock with an hour to go but did return to the track finishing a disappointing 33rd.
With 40 minutes to go the final changes in position had Team Punisher moving up 3 places to P4 and the J30 moving up one spot to 5th and the BMWs of RVA Graphics and SRI Racing dropping 2 places each to run in 6th and 7th respectively. The Not Banned Yet Racing 240SX had finished replacing the wheel bearing and was running in 10th place. The Hong Norrth Supra and the Running Bulls Racing BMW had finally managed to stay in the top 15 and ran in 11th and 12th. Atomic 6’s Boxter had appeared in the top 15 with 2 ½ hours and finished in 13th followed by 901 Motorsport’s BMW 325is and the Chattahoochie Motorsports Miata.
While the Canadian Van Winden BMW E36 was running slightly faster times than the Huggins Racing (Pinkies Out) Racing BMW E30 they could not make up the laps and when they pitted with 1 ½ hours to go their fate was sealed for a P2 finish. The Jacky Ickx 3000GT claimed the final podium position in 3rd. Huggins Racing had claimed their 2nd overall win in as many races. The 2018 ChampCar Endurance Series was off to an exciting start!!!