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It’s been over a decade since the ARCA Menards Series championship title chase between two contenders delivered as much excitement and anticipation this late in the season as the one that’s now brewing between Venturini Motorsports’ teammates Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) and Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota).
In 2008 Scott Speed took a 20-point advantage over Justin Allgaier headed into the final races of the year but would lose the championship in dramatic fashion after getting wreck midway through the race by an overly aggressive Ricky Stenhouse Jr. handing Allgaier the driver championship. 10-Time Series Champion Frank Kimmel would finish runner-up that season.
So after 18 races, the chase for the 2019 ARCA Menards Series championship comes down to the final two races at Lucas Oil Raceway (October 5) and Kansas Speedway (October 18) between Self and Eckes to determine who will be crowned champion. Self enters the second to last race of the season Saturday night at Lucas Oil Raceway with a slim five-point advantage over Eckes in the standings.
The tale of the tape seems to be a toss-up as both drivers face their strengths going into the final two races. Eckes who’s trailing by the smallest of margins returns to Indianapolis’ half-mile track as the defending 2018 race winner at Lucas Oil Raceway. Of his six career wins, five have come on short tracks. Competing in his first full season, the 18-year old picked up his first intermediate win earlier this season at Pocono Raceway.
Eckes on a hot streak has finished in the top-two positions in five consecutive races. In 18-season starts the Middletown, NY native has three wins, 11 top-five and 15 top-ten finishes. He’s scored two General Tire Pole Awards and has led 347 of 2,246 laps on the season.
Meanwhile, Michael Self won at Kansas Speedway in 2017 and has seven career victories of which five have come on intermediate tracks. Self, a four-time winner in ’19 went back-to-back early in the season winning at Pensacola and Salem Speedway which are both short tracks. In 18-season starts the 28-year old Utah native has four wins, 13 top-five and 13 top-ten finishes. He’s scored four General Tire Pole Awards and has led 480 of 2,115 laps on the season.
Asked about what an ARCA Championship would mean both drivers provided candid thoughts.
“It’s really hard to put in words when I think about my journey to get to the point of racing for a championship,” said Michael Self. “I had the opportunity back in ‘12 and ‘13 when I was running the NASCAR K&N Series but I wasn’t quite able to completely put it together. From that day on with my last race I just tried and worked so hard to get sponsorship together and get the funding to come back and race. Fortunately, Sinclair Oil gave me the opportunity in ‘16 to do a race and I felt we were able to capitalize on it and build a good program for them throughout ‘17 and ‘18 with the limited races we did. They had the confidence in me and this program to come on this year fulltime with Venturini Motorsports to allow me to run for a championship.
“The journey of it I think is what will make a championship such a big deal for me. I feel like myself and my family, we’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I’ve put a lot of hard work in over the years getting a sponsor. It’s just make it so much more meaningful – I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I love having Sinclair onboard. I think the biggest accomplishment is bringing them in and being able to win for them because of how they believed and gave me the opportunity to do what I do.”
Asked about his strengths and weaknesses headed into the final two races Self commented,
“Lucas Oil has been a bit difficult for me. I’ve raced there twice and it’s been a little hit or miss. In ‘17 I about had the race won but got beat late in the race by someone who came in and took tires. Last year we had a ton of issues that unfortunately ended our night early so I guess there’s a little bit of limited base knowledge when It comes to this track. On the otherahand Kansas has always been one of my favorite tracks. I’ve won at Kansas. I love going to any intermediate track in general. My confidence is high because I’ve had success there in the past,” added Self.
Christian Eckes who made up ground two weeks ago at Salem Speedway after Self experience a setback offered his own views.
“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Michael and all the guys on that team,” said Eckes. It’s going to be a lot of fun racing against each other the final two races. I feel like I’ve been in ARCA so long and this is the first time I’ve been able to compete for a championship. It would be very cool to win a championship in my first full-time season for everyone at Toyota Racing, JBL Audio and Venturini Motorsports. Venturini Motorsports has had such a storied history; I would love to add my name alongside past series champions racing for this team.”
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far but we still have a lot of work to do. Lucas Oil falls into one of our strengths for sure. We dominated the race last year and led a bunch a laps to get the win. Looking forward to going back. Kansas might be a little bit of a weakness but at the same time our mile and half program really step up at Pocono and we were able to win – we’ll have to see – I’m feeling good about our chances.”
There won’t be much more waiting as the calendar flipped to October today. The final two races are within the next three weeks starting with Saturday nights Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway. The 200-lap main event will be aired live on MAVTV at 8pm ET.
It all comes down to this: four double-points paying races, a total of 66 laps around the 4,011-Km road course in the Belgian forest of Zolder will decide who will wear the Euro NASCAR crown and who will win Titles and Trophies at the end of the 2019 season.
Opened in 1963, the fast and ondulated Circuit Zolder will host the final event of the NWES season for the fifth consecutive time. 30 cars and 60 driver are entered in the NASCAR GP Belgium.
NASCAR GP BELGIUM LINKS
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In the ELITE 1 Division, the Euro NASCAR title looks to be a matter between Loris Hezemans and Nicolo Rocca, with the Dutchman leading the Italian by 21 points with two races left. Hezemans comes from an unprecedented four wins in a row, while Rocca has been the only opponent to keep up the pace with the #50 Mustang.
The battle between the two will be one to remember, but the grid will also feature a stronger than ever field and no less than 8 drivers who previously won at Zolder. Three of them – Alon Day, Frederic Gabillon and Marc Goossens – won in the top division, while Gianmarco Ercoli, Stienes Longin, Thomas Ferrando, Guillaume Deflandre and Ulysse Delsaux won in the ELITE 2 Division. Day leads the way with five wins and an astonishing four pole positions out of four attempts.
Once again the ELITE 2 Division will have a new winner. The championship seems to be hanging between two rookies: points leader Giorgio Maggi and Lasse Soerensen. The two are separated by 11 points and with 10 points being the gap between first and second place in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series playoffs, there will be no other options than to attack for both of them.
Third-placed Vittorio Ghirelli will want to bounce back after a disappointing Hockenheim weekend, as will Advait Deodhar, while Myatt Snider will go for his maiden NWES win at yet another track that’s totally new to him. Will they, or perhaps Nicholas Risitano or Jesse Vartiainen, who just got his best Euro NASCAR result in Germany, be able to challenge the top two drivers?
The ELITE Club Division will award the third title of its young history with four drivers separated by 38 points entering the last event of the season. Giovanni Trione is leading 2017 champion Andreas Kuchelbacher and Alain Mosqueron by 8 markers. Alessio Bacci, Alina Loibnegger and Callum Cripps closely follow.
Qualifying and all the races from the NASCAR GP Belgium will be streamed live on Fanschoice.tv, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Youtube channel and Facebook page, on Motorsport.tv and on a vast network of websites and social media profiles.
ELITE 1 Division
Six different polemen in 2019 - Starting from the pole at Zolder may prove the key to the Euro NASCAR title and six different drivers won pole positions in the ELITE 1 Division so far this season. Will there be a seventh one in Belgium?
Tuomaala closing in on Challenger Trophy title - Hockenheim wasn’t the best weekend for Challenger Trophy leader Henri Tuomaala, but the Finn contained the damage and will enter the NASCAR GP Belgium with 44 points on Kenko Miura and 48 on Dario Caso.
Goossens and Sedgwick return - Both Marc Goossens and Alex Sedgwick will make their return in the Euro NASCAR Finals with Braxx Racing. The Belgian won his and Braxx Racing’s first NWES race at Zolder, his home track, on October 15th, 2017.
ELITE 2 Division
Bleekemolen vs. Waden for the Legend Trophy - A single point separates Michael Bleekemolen and Ian Eric Waden at the top of the Legend Trophy classification. Whoever will finish ahead of the other in Belgium will succeed to Jerry De Weerdt in the history books.
Sven Van Laere debuts - 2017 Renault Clio Cup Benelux Champion Sven Van Laere will make his NASCAR debut in his home NASCAR GP at Zolder. The 46-year-old Gent-native will drive the #78 Braxx Racing Ford Mustang alongside longtime friend Marc Goossens.
Justin Kunz the most experienced driver - The driver with the most starts at Zolder in the ELITE 2 Division will be Justin Kunz with six. The German amassed one top-5 and five top-10s and his best result at the Belgian track is a fourth place in 2017.
Everyone loves a home game.
The ARCA Menards Series doesn't race in Wheeling, West Virginia, hometown of Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford), but it does have a race in suburban Indianapolis, not that far from the RFMS Racing shop.
So Saturday's Herr's Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway is the best version of a home game Braden will get in 2019.
"Having a home track race is really a foreign concept to me, and I have had a lot of fun being able to call Lucas Oil Raceway my home track for the past few years," Braden said. "RFMS Racing's shop is just a few minutes from the track. Growing up in West Virginia, I was used to at least a two-hour drive to even the nearest track. Typically much further yet. While the short drive is extremely convenient, probably my favorite part about this home track race is that I get to race in front of a lot of my peers from my daily life here in Indiana. That's something I've never experienced before, and it's adrenaline-filling. I now know why they call it the home field advantage."
Racing at Lucas Oil Raceway doesn't just mean racing close to home for Braden, it means returning to the site of his first career ARCA Menards Series win, which came in his series debut in 2015.
Driving for his own family-owned team, and with a budget that only guaranteed them just that race, Braden used well-timed pit strategy to have fresher tires at the end of the race and he passed William Byron, at the time an ARCA rookie driving for Venturini Motorsports but now an established Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver for Hendrick Motorsports, with 21 laps to go.
It was perhaps one of the most surprising wins in recent ARCA Menards Series memory, and no one was more surprised at the time than Braden.
"To be honest, even now, years later, at times people will randomly bring up that race and I kind of forget that it was an actual thing that really happened," Braden said. "It didn't seem real then, and it doesn't seem real today. First-time winners are not extremely uncommon in the ARCA Menards Series, but it was nearly unheard-of that a first time winner wasn't driving for one of the big powerhouse teams, let alone a family-owned-and-operated team that had zero experience.
"When I tell you that we had no idea what we were doing, we had no idea what we were doing. HI had to buy a new HANS device at the track because I didn't know that they went out-of-date. The whole process of preparing for the race, and the entire raceday, were just a total cluster. Oh, and not to mention, we put basically our entire budget for the entire season into running just this one race. I think it was really these realities of the backstory that made it so surprising for everyone. It just wasn't supposed to happen. I'm so thankful for the steps ARCA had just recently taken to bring the spec Ilmor engine into competition, which really was the puzzle piece that made it feasible for us. And I can never forget to mention Matt Weber, who was our crew chief and made the perfect call at the perfect time and truly made the magic happen."
Braden, a graduate of West Virginia University with dual degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, now drives for long-time ARCA team owner Don Fike. The team, located in Brownsburg just outside of Indianapolis, has just two full-time employees: Braden and Casey Swift. Crew chief Jim Long is in regular communication with Braden throughout the week and joins the team at the track.
Despite the long odds, the small RFMS Racing team has stood toe-to-toe with the series powerhouse teams and has acquitted themselves very well. Braden currently sits fourth in the ARCA Menards Series championship standings, just 110 points out of third.
As a two-time ARCA/CRA Super Series late model champion, Braden knows how to get around short tracks. He's finished second five times in ARCA/CRA competition this season, and is a former winner in late model competition at Lucas Oil Raceway as well. That gives him a lot of added confidence heading back to one of his favorite tracks.
"I have a lot of confidence at LOR," he said. "It's been a great track for me. There seems to be a very select few guys that ever find success here, and I feel blessed to have been one of those few over the past five years. It's probably the single most tactically challenging tracks on the schedule, and that gives really anyone a great chance to make things happen. Back in the 2015 race, we actually went a lap down briefly during that race before making the comeback and winning."
The Herr's Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway is set for Saturday October 5. Practice starts the day's activities at 2 pm ET, with General Tire Pole Qualifying at 5 pm ET. The 200-lap main event, scheduled for live broadcast MAVTV, will go green shortly after 8 pm ET. ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For more information, please visit TrackEnterprises.com.
ARCA Racing PR
Derek Kraus came out on top in a tough short-track battle at Meridian Speedway on Saturday, taking the victory in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West NAPA AUTO PARTS Idaho 208.
It marked the ninth career series win, and fourth victory this season for the 18-year-old NASCAR Next driver from Stratford, Wisconsin. The driver of the Bill McAnally Racing No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry also has two wins this year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition.
“We’ve been here three years in a row,” he said of the quarter-mile Idaho track, known as the Concrete Jungle. “We’ve led a lot of the laps, but something happened to let the win slip away. We finally got it done tonight. I’m really excited for my NAPA Toyota team. They worked their tails off on this race car.”
Kraus also expressed his appreciation to the fans who packed the venue.
“Thanks to all the fans that turned out tonight,” he said. “This track has never failed to pack the place. It’s really cool as a race car driver to come to a track like this. And thanks to everyone at BMR, NAPA, and Toyota.”
His BMR teammates, Hailie Deegan in the No. 19 Monster Energy/NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota Camry and Brittney Zamora in the No. 99 ENEOS / NAPA Filters Toyota Camry, ran in the top five for much of Saturday’s race. Deegan made history in winning the race a year ago and becoming the first female to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race. She started second this year and was in contention for the lead until contact from another car turned her Toyota into the wall on Lap 132. She salvaged a 13th-place finish.
Zamora started third and raced in the top five until getting shuffled back in a couple of late-race restarts. She finished eighth.
Kraus, who started seventh, steadily worked his way to the front and took over the lead with a pass on the outside following a restart just past the midway point of the event. He then had to hold off challenges for the lead over and over, again; with multiple cautions and restarts in the late stages of the race.
With his victory, Kraus extended his lead in the championship standings to 40 points, with three races remaining. Along with four wins, he has eight top-five, and 10 top-10 finishes in 11 series starts this season.
Deegan – an 18-year-old NASCAR Next driver from Temecula, California – is third in the standings, 45 points out of first. She has two wins, five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in her 11 K&N West starts this year.
Zamora – a 20-year-old from Kennewick, Washington – is fifth in the overall championship standings and second in rookie points for the series. She has five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 11 series starts.
In advance of the race, the BMR team made a special appearance on Friday for the Dyson Group at a big customer appreciation sales event at the NAPA AUTO PARTS Store in Meridian. BMR’s three drivers participated in a special meet-and-greet with customers.
An ENEOS Hospitality area was featured at the track on Saturday. Guests of NAPA Belts & Hoses and a great group from NAPA Spokane also received the VIP treatment.
The Meridian race will be televised to a national audience on NBCSN on Oct. 4 at 3 p.m. PT.
The next event on the K&N West schedule will be the NAPA AUTO PARTS / ENEOS 150 at All American Speedway in Roseville, California on Oct. 12.
Tanner Carrick placed second, leading four Toyotas into the top-five in the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series’ 38th annual 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway, Saturday night.
Starting from the outside of row one, Carrick quickly moved to the lead past pole-sitter Jerry Coons, Jr., with Logan Seavey also slipping past Coons for second, while Kevin Thomas Jr., was fourth and Rico Abreu was fifth.
By lap five, Abreu had moved into third, followed by Tyler Courtney and Thomas, while Coons began to slip back in the field as a red flag waved after Jason McDougal got upside down.
Carrick would maintain the top spot through the first 15 laps before Seavey would get past him for the lead on lap 16. The two Keith Kunz Motorsports (KKM) teammates would continue to battle for the lead over the next two laps before Carrick reclaimed the top spot on lap 18.
Just one lap later, Courtney would make a run down the back straight and overtake both KKM drivers with Carrick able to throw a slider back at him to hold the lead at start/finish. The two would continue to battle with Carrick continuing to hold down the top spot at the scoring stand through lap 24.
Courtney would make one more run at Carrick, though, and this one would be successful, passing Carrick for the lead on the final lap for the victory. Carrick would finish second, followed by Seavey, Abreu and Thomas. Tucker Klaasmeyer would make it five Toyota-powered entries in the top-10 with a ninth-place finish.
For the night, Carrick led 22 of 25 laps, while KKM Toyota drivers led 24 of the 25.
The Toyota midget car program returns to action Friday night at Jacksonville Speedway for the first of a pair of POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League feature events at the Illinois track next weekend.
The SCCA® U.S. Majors Tour® Mid-States Conference has brought its 2019 calendar to a close. Nearly 275 racers took part in the Conference’s 14-round season that visited five different venues. Drivers who triumphed have earned a 2019 Mid-States Conference championship.
One driver doubled up on class championships within the Mid-States Conference this year. Michael Pettiford took the top spot in Touring 1 by racking up eight wins in his Chevrolet Corvette GS and amassing 70 more points than runner-up David Muramoto in a Nissan 350Z. In a tighter battle, Pettiford also claimed the Touring 2 championship, this time in a Pontiac Solstice GXP, by 13 points over the BMW M3 of James Leithauser.
In B-Spec, Frank Schwartz and his MINI Cooper emerged with the Mid-States championship by only 10 points over a duo of Mazda 2 drivers who managed to tie for the runner-up spot, those racers being Riley Salyer and John Phillips. Only eight points behind Salyer and Phillips was James Rogerson’s Honda Fit. For Schwartz, this is his second B-Spec title on the year as he earlier claimed the U.S. Majors Tour Western Conference championship in the class.
The Mid-States Conference produced a couple other close finishes at season’s end. In GT-2, the three Conference wins claimed by Boyd Lear and his Chevrolet Monte Carlo where not quite enough as Mike McGinley and his four Conference wins in a Chevrolet Corvette won out by a scant four points. Then in Formula Enterprises 2 it was Liam Snyder who claimed the championship by only eight points over Robert Vanman, both driving SCCA FE2 Mazdas. And eight points was also the winning margin in Formula F as Max Kaeser, with three Conference wins in a Euro Swift SE-1, just edged out Bill Kephart’s Vestal Crane 02 15AB for the title. Only two points behind Kephart in third was the Van Diemen RF99 Honda of Jay Messenger.
The Mid-States Conference opened its racing season back in March with a Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour event at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Jennings, Oklahoma. Round 3 and Round 4 then took place at Gateway Motorsports Park just outside St. Louis before competitors headed west in May for a weekend at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas. A visit to two Colorado circuits was next, with the first being Pueblo Motorsports Park followed by a weekend just east of Denver at High Plains Raceway to open July. Then it was back to Heartland Motorsports Park for Round 11 and Round 12 before the calendar wrapped up in August back at High Plains Raceway.
Conference points are awarded to the top 20 finishers in each class. Winners earn 25 points, and 21 points go to second. Points are then doled out to others starting with 18 and descending to a single point for the 20th finisher. Only the best eight finishes at Mid-States Conference races count towards a driver’s point total. Below are Mid-States Conference champions with Class: Name, Hometown, SCCA Region and Car.
-American Sedan®: Timothy White; Omaha, NE; Nebraska Region; Ford Mustang Cobra
-B-Spec: Frank Schwartz; Ann Arbor, MI; Detroit Region; Mini Cooper
-E Production: Cameron Wogrin; Littleton, CO; Colorado Region; BMW 328is
-F Production: Neal Frank; Santa Fe, NM; Rio Grande Region; Mazda Miata
-H Production: Jack Schulz; Monett, MO; Ozark Mountain Region; MG Midget
-Formula 500: David Vincent; Leavenworth, KS; Kansas City Region; KBS Mk VII
-Formula Atlantic®: James Wright; Glencoe MO; St. Louis Region; Swift DB-4
-Formula Continental®: Bill Johnson; Leawood, KS; Kansas City Region; Van Diemen RF01-2
-Formula Enterprises: Mark Snyder; Southlake, TX; Texas Region; SCCA FE Mazda
-Formula Enterprises 2: Liam Snyder; Southlake, TX; Texas Region; SCCA FE2 Mazda
-Formula F: Max Kaeser; Keystone, CO; Colorado Region; Euro Swift SE-1
-Formula Mazda: Ryan McLaughlin; Evergreen, CO; Colorado Region; Star Formula Mazda
-Formula Vee®: Mark Felsen; Denver, CO; Colorado Region; Vortech
-GT-1: Robert Prilika; Larkspur, CO; Colorado Region; Porsche 991.1 GT3 Cup
-GT-2: Mike McGinley; Overland Park, KS; Kansas City Region; Chevrolet Corvette
-GT-3: George Walker; Tulsa, OK; Northeast Oklahoma Region; Mazda Miata
-GT-Lite: Jonathan Goodale; Conifer, CO; Colorado Region, Mazda MX-5 Miata
-Prototype 1: Kirk Kindsfater; Eaton CO; Colorado Region; Speads RS 11
-Prototype 2: Chuck McConica; Longmont, CO; Colorado Region; Speads 06
-Spec Miata: John Harms; Plano, TX; Colorado Region; Mazda Miata
-Spec Racer Ford 3: Michael Cameron; Highlands Ranch, CO; Colorado Region; SCCA Enterprises SRF3
-Super Touring® Lite: Brian Laughlin; Tulsa, OK; Oklahoma Region; Mazda Miata
-Super Touring® Under: Robert Wright; Florissant, MO; St. Louis Region; BMW 325i
-Touring 1: Michael Pettiford; Louisville, CO; Colorado Region; Chevrolet Corvette GS
-Touring 2: Michael Pettiford; Louisville, CO; Colorado Region; Pontiac Solstice GXP
-Touring 3: Cecil Morris; Denver, CO; Colorado Region; Porsche Boxster
-Touring 4: Tommy Boileau; Colorado Springs, CO; Continental Divide Region; Mazda Miata
The U.S. Majors Tour is one pathway to the 2019 SCCA National Championship Runoffs® being held Oct. 8-13 at VIRginia International Raceway along the border of North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Majors Tour drivers qualify for the Runoffs by participating in three U.S. Majors Tour weekends and starting at least three U.S. Majors Tour races in the same car class over the course of the season.
The Sports Car Club of America®, Inc., founded in 1944 and currently celebrating its 75th Diamond Anniversary, is a 67,500-member motorsports organization that incorporates all facets of autocross, rally and road racing at both Club and professional levels. With headquarters in Topeka, Kansas, the SCCA annually sanctions over 2,000 events through its 116 Regions and subsidiary divisions. Much of the SCCA’s activities are made possible with support from the following Official Partners: Hagerty, the Official Insurance Partner of SCCA; Hawk Performance, the Official Brake Products of SCCA; Sunoco, the Official Fuel of SCCA; and Tire Rack, the Official Tire Retailer of SCCA. To learn more, please visit www.scca.com.
Photo: Michael Pettiford scooped up the Touring 1 Mid-States Conf. Championship in a Chevrolet Corvette, then repeated the feat in Touring 2 driving a Pontiac Solstice GXP
Photo Credit: Jay Bonvouloir
Andretti Autosport announced today that the team will join forces with Harding Steinbrenner Racing via a partnership that will see Andretti field a fifth entry for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. The No. 88 Honda will join the Andretti stable under the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport banner. HSR team principals Mike Harding and George Michael Steinbrenner, IV will join Michael Andretti as leadership partners of the 88 team.
The partnership is born from a successful technical alliance between Andretti Technologies and Harding Steinbrenner Racing, which provided engineering support through the 2019 season. Additionally, the relationship provided a development environment for Colton Herta, who will return to Andretti to pilot the No. 88 as part of a multi-year agreement.
Herta, who climbed the European racing ranks before joining Andretti Autosport for the 2017 and 2018 Indy Lights seasons, currently ranks third in the IndyCar Rookie of the Year standings with one win and five top-10 finishes.
For more information, visit AndrettiAutosport.com.
The Trans Am TA2 powered by AEM class delivered another outstanding show for the fans on hand at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) with an action-packed Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli race on Saturday.
The dramatic TA2 race had battles from the front of the 25-car field all the way through the pack, with Thomas Merrill (No. 81 Skip Barber Racing/ Big Diehl Racing Ford Mustang) dodging incidents in the final moments of the 100-mile feature to secure Big Diehl Racing’s third win of the season.
After falling down the order to fifth early in the race, TA2 class championship leader Marc Miller wheeled his No. 40 Prefix/Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger to a second-place finish. His Stevens-Miller Racing teammate Dillon Machavern (No. 77 Liqui-Moly / Prefix Ford Mustang) returned to the podium for the first time since finishing third at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“This is my first time racing here at VIR and these Trans Am cars are wicked fun to drive around here,” said Merrill, who fell to fifth before taking the lead. “We had to make the best of the opportunities we were given. It got tight toward the end, but we came away with the win. Big Diehl Racing gave me an awesome car. Trans Am racing is the best racing in the world, and I am just happy to be here.”
After starting the race from pole, Rafa Matos (No. 88 3Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro) was looking to claim his third flag-to-flag win in a row. But disaster struck for the Brazilian driver on lap nine as a mechanical problem took him out of the lead and out of the race.
“We were really driving hard,” said Matos. “It was a hard fight between me, Thomas (Merrill) and Scott (Lagasse Jr). It was a hard-fought battle, and on the restart I struggled a bit but then my car started to come in, allowing me to pull away from Scott. Then I started experiencing mechanical issues. It was a frustrating moment because we were trying to recover the points we lost in the middle of the season. To break like that leading the race is gutting. That’s how it goes sometimes, we can’t control certain things, and we are going to keep fighting until the end.”
Miller’s race was just as eventful as Matos’ as the championship leader played a conservative hand at the start to slot into fifth in the opening segment of the race. He moved up to third before taking one more spot to claim second at the checkered flag with a healthy haul of championship points.
“It’s been a tough weekend,” said Miller. “It was an eventful race. I said before the race that I was racing to win, but six laps in, I was just racing to finish. The way the guys up front were racing was out of control, so I was just like be ‘smart, hold back.’ I hate to see it end under caution, but we are very happy to be on the podium with an undamaged car, which puts us one step ahead of preparation for COTA. I’m really happy with a podium, really happy with my team and all the fans that are here to support us and I’m really happy to extend my points lead.”
For Machavern, patience paid off during the grueling 31-lap race. Starting in sixth, Machavern watched as drivers darted off track or pulled into the pits after exhausting their race cars. But Machavern kept his cool under tough circumstances capture the last step in the podium in third.
“Patience was the name of the game today,” Machavern said. “We didn’t have the outright pace at the beginning, we missed the set up a little, but being patient is all it takes sometimes. Just being there, being consistent. We watched from behind as drivers were out there being rowdy, putting wheels off, and we just kept it clean all day, and it paid off for us.”
Lagasse Jr. was relentless in the pursuit of his second consecutive win at VIR.
Starting from fifth, Lagasse Jr. fought to the front and was glued to Matos as he also fended off the pressure from Merrill and Miller.
Merrill slipped in to take first on the restart, but Lagasse was on the hunt. On the white flag lap, Lagasse Jr. got airborne as he raced through the Roller Coaster section of the track. The incident, which is still under review by race control, saw his white Camaro come to rest upside down. He emerged from the incident unscathed, but was taken to track medical for precautionary review.
“In my many years of high-speed racing, that was by far the worst crash that I’ve been involved in,” Lagasse said. “I am thankful for the M1 Racecars chassis and Simpson for keeping me safe. I was able to just FaceTime my daughter, which going through the air I never thought I would again. It was a tough one but I’m still here.”
With just minutes left in the session, Round 10 finished under full course caution.
After spinning on the first lap, Maurice Hull (No. 57 WaukeganFarms/EvertreeCompany Ford Mustang) worked his way back to 10th place to earn the Masters Class award at his home track.
“I wish we could have finished under green, I had some more to give,” Hull said. “It was a good time coming back. I want to thank my guys Jeff, Alan, Chad, Peanut, and most of all my crew chief, and my wife, who worked tirelessly on the car.”
Coming in sixth in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series on Friday in Richmond, Virginia, Harrison Burton (No. 26 Mike Cope Race Cars) was forced to start last in the TA2 race since he missed qualifying. Driving from a 25th-place start to finish just inside the top-10 in ninth, the part-time Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie received the Cool Shirt Cool Move of the Race award.
“These Trans Am guys get after it, I had a lot of fun,” said Burton. “I am trying to get prepared for my NASCAR Xfinity race next week. I got a lot of great experience here with Trans Am to help me next weekend.”
Finishing results are provisional and under stewards’ review.
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Gold Cup weekend with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association continues Saturday with the 100-mile (70 minutes, 31 laps) TA/SGT/GT 100-mile (70 minutes, 31 laps) feature at 5:15 p.m. Eastern. The next stop for the TA2 powered by AEM class is Circuit of the Americas Oct. 4-6.
The final round of the Vintage Race of Champions (VROC) presented by Chopard Watch at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) was action-packed with a good dose of surprises. Todd Bodine stormed to the overall win with Bob Lima in the latter’s small block (355 c.i.) B Production (BP) 1969 Corvette after Ribbs’ car, also a 1969 Corvette, broke traction on VIR’s “Roller Coaster” between turns 14 and 15. Ribbs recovered for the A Production (AP) win and with co-driver Ed Sevadjian nailed down both VROC series championships for the class.
“There’s no doubt you give up some horsepower running B Production,” Bodine said, dripping wet with Glenora Sparkling Brut Wine and perspiration after an inspired podium celebration. “But this car really handled. I think I was getting off the corners better than anybody.”
“I was sliding all over the place,” said Ribbs. “Bottom line, the way race shaped up, we knew we had the championship if we just finished. I’m so grateful to work with the Duntov team, they had that car working like a Chopard Watch all season long.”
While John Cloud was clearly the amateur BP champion, the contest on the professional side proved to be an impossible call. Davy Jones and Wally Dallenbach Jr. delivered nearly identical results to conclude the season knotted up at 25 points and making tie-breakers for most wins and highest average finish useless. The two drivers both scored podium finishes during the year with Dallenbach third today and Jones bringing Shannon Ivey’s 1967 Camaro home for the final podium step at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month. Both received Chopard Watches for their efforts, as did all the season champions.
The race and indeed the entire weekend were a struggle for almost half of the 15 teams who took the green flag. Boris Said got off course in Friday pro practice which pulled loose an oil line that hosed down the track. First on the scene was Al Unser Jr. in Colby Hillman’s 1969 Corvette and spun into rough trackside terrain. The result was damage to the front and underside of the car that required repairs impossible to complete before race time. As for Said’s team, car owner and co-driver Jim Caudle and his mechanics thrashed into the wee hours to install a new engine. Peter Klutt, in his Legendary Motor Car Corvette also had a costly excursion that not only damaged the front of the car but also inflicted a hairline crack in the transmission housing that required some brinksmanship to make the starting grid.
An even closer call came when Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta also bounced through the landscape during early Saturday morning practice in his red 1972 Corvette that he was sharing with Bobby Labonte. The car also suffered transmission damage that necessitated a swap. It wasn’t until literally the last moment before the command to start engines that the car was in place. That Saturday session also produced some close calls as Pat Sessions, Unser’s new co-driver, cracked the fiberglass of his 1963 split rear window Corvette. John McCormick inflicted similar damage to the Ford Cobra he shared with Donnie Beechler. Duct tape applied, both cars came to the green flag worse for the wear, but game for competition.
Aside from Ribbs’ late race scare, he and co-driver Sevadjian had everything go their way as all three of their AP rivals suffered mechanicals. Ribbs’ closest threats in the championship were Skinner and Labonte, both of whom suffered early outs, finishing third and fourth out of four entries in the class. The only other AP car running at the end was Klutt’s Corvette in the hands of Geoff Brabham. Sometime after the mandatory five-minute pit stop for driver swap the alternator in the Legendary Motor Car entry malfunctioned, slowing the car considerably.
In the BP race Jim Caudle’s car retired early on, costing him an excellent chance at the trophy for the amateur championship. Co-driver Boris Said was also in the hunt on the professional side, but all of that was dashed as they could never get things fully sorted after their engine issue. Beechler and McCormick also went behind the wall early as the entries with professionals Chris Dyson and Mark Dismore stumbled as well. The two youngest drivers in the field, Jeb Burton and Mike Skeen, completed the BP podium behind Bodine.
By all measures, the first VROC season championship was an unconditional success. The vibrant atmosphere at VIR provided clear evidence the series has the attention of race fans. It lived up to its aspiration as a race for legends, attracting champions from across all branches of the sport, from the Chili Bowl to Formula One. It also lived up to its racing for a purpose mission in gifting nearly $100,000 to charity this year alone, including over $20,000 for IGNITE – the Autism Society of North Carolina, the beneficiary at VIR.
Ribbs summed up the feelings of all the drivers, saying, “It doesn’t matter what series you’re in, competitors want to win championships, and that’s what we did today.”