ChampCar Endurance Series 2018 VIR South Race Recap
Story by Doc Waldrop
Images by Rich Sainato and F&S Enterprises
Since the ChampCar Endurance Series insists upon racing virtually year-round, it should come as no surprise that the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) 12-hour race on the South course configuration on March 3rd was already the 3rd race of the season.
Several teams had chosen to make it their 2nd race of the young season and the 44 car field was studded with some heavy hitters such as the Huggins Racing team (Road Atlanta’s overall winner), Ballenger Motorsport’s “Not Banned Yet” 240SX, RVA Graphic’s #111 BMW 325is, one of the BMW’s from SRI Racing, and Danger Racing Group’s Lexus SC300 that had just raced at Road Atlanta a month prior. They were joined by other strong contenders such as Bimmerline’s E36, Crash Management’s Dodge Stratus, GodZilla Racing’s 300ZX, the Integra from Tau Racing, and yet 2 more BMW 325is models from SRI Racing.
Certainly, owing to the time of the year, 40-degree temperatures with a stiff breeze (but cloudless skies) greeted the assemble racers as the flag fell for the 9AM start. The leading BMWs of SRI had barely taken the green when the Sofa King Slow BMW E36 engine, unfortunately, let go on the main straight and brought out the first of several early full course yellow (FCY) flags and VIR’s familiar “Purple 35” flag to pace the field. The oil dry was brought out again mere minutes later when Schumacher Taxi’s BMW lost an oil cooler line and slid off the course in turn 5.
The early rash of FCYs continued all through the first hour as Danger Racing’s harmonic balancer came apart and tore up the front of the SC’s motor, and Winsome Racings BMW also came to grief, both in T5. A potentially disastrous situation was averted when the throttle hung wide open on the RVA Graphics’ #111 in T9: Only the quick-thinking decision by the driver to hit the master kill switch averted a more serious incident. Other occurring maladies included an overcharging alternator blowing up the Mercedes’ battery in the 7 G Motorsport’s entry and the driver made the long trip back to the paddock from turn 5. It had been an eventful first hour.
The frequent yellows had left a distinct mark on the field as by 10:15 there were only 7 cars on the lead lap; the attrition had been higher than anyone expected. As the second hour began, the field had settled down with Huggins’ BMW leading the EC class Gorman Speed Shop Acura Integra, the #67 & #69 SRI E30s, and Crash Management’s lone Dodge entry. DSR Foxy’s E46 held 6th over the Crazy Horse Mustang SVO, which in turn led the NLS 240SX, the Well Lubricated Ford Focus, and the CMP Racing Honda Prelude.
The ChampCar Endurance Series (CCES) maintains a strict 2-hour driver stint limit so as the 11AM hour approached the frontrunners could be expected in the pits for fuel and a driver change and a convenient FCY with 10 minutes to go brought them in. Ironically, the NLS Racing team, running with a newly transplanted 30Q engine, had run out of fuel. As the quarter distance of the race came and went, Huggins’ led over the SRI #67 which had overhauled the Gorman Integra for 2nd when the Honda pitted for a rather long stop by CCES standards. The sister SRI #69 returned to 4th place over Crash Management’s Stratus in 5th.
Sixth through 10th had Bimmerline’s E36 leading GodZilla’s Nissan 300ZX over Matt Connolly Motorsports’ BMW 300ci which had moved up impressively through the field, and the CMP Racing Prelude. The NLS 240SX had recovered from their fuel miscalculation to hold down 10th place.
While the top 10 positions might have settled down, the same could not be said for the next 5 positions during the next 4 hours as Crazy Horse Racing’s SVO Mustang #669, the 5 Tales Racing MX-5, Team Tightey Whitey’s BMW, Well Lubricated Racing’s Ford Focus, Plan C Racing’s Porsche 944, and All Rhodes 318ti all cycled through, coming and going from the top 15 by virtue of their pit stops. By halfway, Radioactive’s Ford Mustang and Rascal Racing’s EC class Miata had also joined the Merry-go-round. Missing from the top 10 was the Crash Management Dodge, which had tumbled down the standings, down to just one useful gear in the transmission of the Stratus.
Back in the paddock, Danger Racing had left for their shop for engine parts as had Winsome Racing for suspension components, the result of contact out on the tight, twisty track. The Ballenger 240SX had thrown a rod shortly after setting the fastest time of the day with a 1:19.575 and had been withdrawn from the race as had the RVA Graphics #111 BMW. As the halfway mark in the 12-hour contest approached the leading Huggins’ BMW could be seen furiously shaking their BMW on the VIR South course straightway, trying to shake yet a little bit more fuel into the thirsty 325is’ motor. They held a slim lead on the Gorman Speed Shop’s Acura.
The Connolly BMW 330 had continued their climb after this round of stops and found themselves in 3rd while the Bimmerline #336 had survived a VERY audible mis-shift on the front straight to hold down 4th place over the SRI #67 E30 that had fallen to 5th. The Sister SRI #69 had fallen to 8th place after a mistake was found in their tech sheets and the two cars were assessed penalty laps. Sheriff Racing’s #911, the Godzilla 300ZX, the NLS 240SX, and the Sheriff Racing #2 BMW were constantly arguing over the rest of the top 10 spots, none of them naturally content to let the matter be settled for the time being.
As the race ground away and the hours whittled away, by late afternoon very few positions were under direct attack, the exception being the leading Huggins’ BMW and the Gorman Speed Shop’s Acura which had been alternating the lead, both maintaining a wary eye on the other. The Gorman Integra had sacrificed the lead for a 4-tire change and some work on the right rear corner shortly after the 5:00PM hour with one more stop for fuel and driver change anticipated in the next 4 hours to the checkered flag. The two SRI BMWs had recovered to run in P4 & P5 separated from the leaders by the Connolly #900 BMW which maintained 3rd.
This status quo was maintained until the SRI #69 inexplicably slowed on the back straight, the BMW having just shut down. Pushed by crewmembers to their pits, the 325is was fueled but once filled a huge plume of smoke emitted from the exhaust when the engine was fired up, the car signaling it had had enough for the day. The Ratchet Racing soon joined its brethren 325is coming in on the hook a short time later. So stretched out was the field that it took the SRI BMW around an hour to tumble out of the top 15 to be replaced by the Plan C #851 Porsche 944.
The other movement in the top 15 involved the #900 BMW which dropped 3 positions to 6th place with 2 non-working tail lights and only 1 operational brake light. With just over an hour to go the next top 15 cars to drop out was the #238 Radioactive Racing Ford when they too slowed out on course at the final corner and coasted into the pits, briefly catching fire before being quickly contained by the alert officials and volunteers working pit-in. The official emergency crews were mere seconds away and the stricken Mustang was retired to the paddock unceremoniously on the back of a wrecker.
One last bit of drama would end the race: While the minutes and laps continued to click away, as is customary, the top 5 car’s race is reviewed on the scoring charts and it was revealed that the leading EC class Gorman entry had gone over the allotted driver stint limit of 2 hours in their first stint of the day by a considerable margin. A subsequent black flag was displayed to the #165 for a 5-minute penalty and the Acura was reluctantly brought to pit row to serve their time.
While this played out in the pits, SRI’s #67 maintained 3rd, followed by the Bimmerline E36 and Godzilla’s 300ZX. NLS Racing’s 240SX had come home in 6th with their new 30Q power and the Connolly BMW had fixed their lighting woes to settle in 7th. The EC Miata from Rascal Racing, the Sheriff #2 BMW, and the SRI Chump Change rounded out the top 10. All Rhodes Racing’s 318ti and CMP’s Prelude, Plan C’s Porsche 944, and Team Tightey Whitey’s 325is all came home in the top 15 as the heartbroken #133 MX-5 of Five Tails Racing sat in the pits watching their top 10 finish slowly evaporate away to eventually finish 15th.
Incredibly, the Huggins Racing team had notched their 3rd straight overall win to take the ChampCar Endurance Racing’s first ever hat trick!!! Owner Chris Huggins had been nervously watching the water temperature gauge fluctuate during the last hour as a small rock had slightly holed their radiator. Any attempt to catch the then leading Gorman Acura would result in rising temperatures so he had dialed it back since the EC Acura was not eligible for the overall win anyway. He was racing the clock and the track essentially more than the Integra.
SRI Racing had to console themselves with putting two of their three entries in the top 10, while the Bimmerline E36 survived more than one money shift and the Godzilla Racing team nursed a dropped valve over the last 2 hours to bring home a fine 4th place finish. NLS was clearly happy as well with their 5th place finish since they had only begun racing in ChampCar two years prior.
In two weeks’ time, the season begins for the Midwest as CCES visits Harris Hill for the first of two races in 2018 with a Double 8 weekend and just over a month away, the East Coast braces for their biggest race of the year at Daytona International Speedway with no less than 130 CONFIRMED entries for their traditional 14-hour race.
Just like the weather, it’s about to heat up in the rolling hills of Texas and on the high banks at the World Center of Racing!!!