Rocky Mountain 24 at Utah Motorsports Campus
July 28-29, 2018
Story by Doc Waldrop
Pictures by Bill Strong and Michael Chandler CAMAutoMag.com
For the 2nd round of the unprecedented “Summer of 24s” held by the ChampCar Endurance Series, 23 teams headed west to the Utah Motorsports Campus (UMC) in Grantsville, Utah. Bordered by mountains East and West the luxurious facility sits just South of the Great Salt Lake in the Tooele Valley.
Most teams upon arriving agreed the circuit exceeded even the Circuit of the Americas as far as amenities go as each garage had their own restroom facilities, a far cry from the conditions at Nelson Ledges when ChampCar returned to usher in a new era at the famed Ohio track. As opposed to the frenetic pace of the 13-turn 2.00-mile course at Nelson Ledges, where lap times hovered in the low 1:20 range, the UMC circuit featured 23 turns in it’s 4.486-mile full course configuration. A team could pit at UMC and just lose about 1 ½ laps to their competitors whereas at Nelson it was more like 5 laps!
Visceral Racing (Connecticut) and RBankRacing (Pennsylvania), made the arduous journey across the United States to continue their quest to compete in all 3 of the 24-hour races ChampCar has on the 2018 schedule and were joined by Racing Strong Motorsports (Virginia) who were contesting their first race of the 2018 season. As impressive as these team’s long tows go, they were all beaten for distance traveled by the Gussak Racing Miata team whose car is based in Anchorage, Alaska!!!
With no notes and no practice and with most drivers having never been to UMC you would expect somewhat of a tentative start to the race as drivers stuck to trying to learn the course’s subtle nuances and with that many corners to learn it would be a daunting task. The 10AM start at least allowed most of the team’s drivers to learn the course before they headed out for the all-important nighttime stints. Belaying the track’s size, most teams would end up averaging some low 70 mph times while at the much shorter Nelson course they could manage times in the high 80s range.
With new teams comprising a full half of the grid, the veteran teams surged to the front of the field from the random start with RBank Racing #9 Saab 9-3moving up to 4th overall while the Son of Andre #160 Ford Mustang moved up from their 3rd starting position to take the lead by lap 2. Gussak’s #901 Mazda Miata ran in P2 followed by the #7 Pontiac TransAm of the Bandit Racing Team. The familiar West Coast #30 Alchemy Autosport Miata rounded out the top 5. The teams of Tachaphobic Racing and Racing Strong Motorsports were not so fortunate as their veteran counterparts, both pitting on lap one with distributor problems on the Mustang of Tachaphobic and a clogged fuel pump on the Racing Strong #79 Toyota MR2.
The MPACT #131 BMW 325i and the Rusty Rotors #27 VW Rabbit had made the most impressive starts in the field rocketing up 11 and 16 positions respectfully to hold down 6th and 7th, while the “Answer is Always Miata” racing team #701 held off the position-plunging #273 Ford Crown Victoria fell to 9th, chased by the Volatile RAM #801 Supercharged 4AGZE MR2 in 10th. Again, with no reference from prior races, the field started to filter in for fuel and driver changes at about the 1 hour 45-minute mark, no one willing to risk running out of fuel on the long track.
After the first round of stops, Son of Andre still held the lead followed by the RBank Saab, the Miatas of Gussak and Alchemy, and the surprising VW Rabbit from the Rusty Rotor team. Some initial timing and scoring glitches had been fixed by a reset and the Utah Valley University #12 Miata was shown having risen to as high as 5th before settling down in 10th place. They were chasing Visceral Racing’s #918 Porsche 944 scored in 6th, leading the BMWs of MPACT Racing and the #700 Bucket List Brigade team, and the #801 MR2 of Volatile RAM. The #12 Miata’s alternator had failed early in the race, but by recharging and swapping batteries at each pit stop they were able to continue racing.
For the next few hours, until a ¼ way distance into the race, position changes were generally limited to passes during the pit stops cycles. The Racing Strong MR2 had worked their way up to 7th after their early problems, but soon the car was brought back to the garage with a right rear axle failure. The VW Golf was also seen being pushed down pit row. Son of Andre still led at this point having yielded 1st place only to the RBank Saab for a brief period of some 13 laps while the Alchemy Autosport Miata held down 3rd place rather convincingly. The Gussak #901 Miata had inherited 4th place with Visceral’s Porsche, not having quite the pace of the leaders, dropping to 5th. Sixth through tenth position was being hotly contested between the Bucket List BMW, Bandits #7 Trans Am, The Steel is Cheaper Than Engineering Toyota Dual Engine FX16 (down to one engine), The Renegades #76 Miata, and the MPACT Motorsports BMW 325i.
As the halfway point of the race approached, Visceral’s 944 had picked up the pace, overtaking first the Miata of #901 Gussak Racing and then the Miata #30 of Alchemy Autosport. Son of Andre’s Fox-bodied Mustang and the RBank Saab #9 still had a lock on the first two positions, each with a comfortable margin over their closest competitors. The same could be said for 4th through 10th positions, the two Miatas of Gussak and Alchemy leading the Bucket List BMW, the Roto Plooker #37 Mazda RX7, The Renegades #76 Miata, MPACT’s 325i, and the now one-engine Volatile RAM MR2 #801.
Eleventh through fifteenth place had not shown very much change either with the Utah Valley University Miata holding court despite their alternator failure over the Rusty Rotors’ Golf, the #7 Bandits’ TransAm (having fixed some power steering issues), the #94 Maximum Effort Racing Infiniti J30, and the 3 Under Par Racing #212 BMW 325. Other than the TransAm power steering issues, the only other car to suffer some issues was the Visceral Porsche that had made several stops to deal with a persistent misfire, the result of some contaminated fuel.
As night descended upon the track, the race bore on with many drivers commenting that it was hard to see the corner entries with a lot of dust and rocks being kicked up by tires missing those apexes. More than one driver also made the point that with so many corners it was easy to get “lost” out there and hard to remember just which part of the course you were negotiating. Correspondingly, lap times had dropped as had the blistering temperatures experienced earlier with clear skies overhead. Very little changed over the nighttime hours and as the sky lightened with the sunrise at 6:22, the only real change in the top 15 had been the #94 Maximum Effort Racing J30, sidelined with an exploding brake/hub, to be replaced with the big #273 Crown Vic of the Grandpa Bill team.
The top 7 had securely held their positions, again with multiple laps separating them, while 8th place through 12th place changing hands several times. The MPACT BMW was in a battle for 8th place, first with the Renegades #76 Miata and then the Rusty Rotors #27 VW Golf. The Utah Valley University #12 Miata and the Bandits #7 Trans AM were also mixing it up with this group as the hours wound down. The #79 MR2 of Racing Strong Motorsports had retired from the fray in the overnight hours.
When the checkered flag fell at 10AM, Son of Andre had claimed their 3rd consecutive overall win in the D-class ’89 Mustang while RBankRacing settled for a 2nd place bridesmaid finish after a disastrous finish at Nelson Ledges. Their rivals from the East Coast, Visceral Racing had come home in the final podium position of 3rd in their Porsche 944 with the Miatas of Gussak Racing in 4th and Alchemy Autosport Mazda in 5th. Bucket List Brigade’s BMW finished in 6th place while Roto Plooker’s #37 RX7 came across the finish line in 7th place.
MPACT had finally come out on top for the battle for 8th while Renegades had “settled” for 9th place. The Rusty Rotors VW Golf had steadily dropped in the preceding hours to run in 12th position but surged ahead to claim 10th position in the last 15 minutes of the race. The Miata from the Utah Valley University came in 11th, the Bandit’s Trans Am in 12th (which had brought out a brief red flag for a minor fire out on the course with an hour to go), while Volatile’s MR2, Grandpa Bill’s Crown Vic, and 3 Under Par’s BMW rounded out the top 15.
As noted during the trophy presentation to the overall and class winners, 19 of the original 23 starters had finished the grueling 24-hour race and ChampCar was pleased to announce that they were already in negotiations for a 2019 race at the luxurious facility to add to the rapidly growing races already confirmed for the next season of endurance races. There might have been a few boos among the racers gathered for the awards when CEO Mike Chisek announced that the format had not been decided on. It would seem like a lot of the racers like the 24-hour format no matter how rough it had been on everyone involved. Stay tuned…
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Next Race: Race 3 – Summer of 24s Lifeline 24-Hour Classic VIR
Supps – https://champcar.org/register/supplementalrules/353.pdf
Entrants – https://champcar.org/register/entrantlist.php?eventid=353