Saturday’s warm-up went off in the dry, and then clouds and rain moved in. As qualifying approached, the track was drying, however, clouds still loomed, and slippery conditions seemed to be the order of the day. While competitors struggled to make tire choices, it turned out that either rains or slicks could have been used. Justin Hille took the first spot of the grid, followed by Chris Price, Bob Keller, Chris Williams, and Brian Murdick. The entire field of 27 cars took to the treacherous track, and everyone survived!
For the race, dry tires were the right call. In an unusual fashion, the front five cars fell into perfect qualifying order as Hille led the field into the back turns of Putnam Park. The front five cars raced nose to tail for the first five laps with no change in position, and no one pulling away. Farther back in the pack, Christian Maloof began a series of passes that would lead to his hard-charger award.
Ultimately, this race was determined by skill in slicing through traffic and some serendipity. Hille showed uncanny mastery as he pulled away from the group. Chris Price couldn’t keep pace with Hille, while Murdick, Williams, Maloof and Keller settled in to battle for third place.
Hille and Price had solid locks on first and second until Price’s car started running out of gas and cutting out in right handers. Maloof took advantage of this and passed Price right at the finish line to capture second place and his first Spec Miata podium. Eleven seconds after Hille took the checker in first place, Maloof crossed the line in second, followed by Price, Murdick, and Williams. Second place through fifth places crossed the line within 1.5 seconds of one another.
Guess who was on pole for the second race. It was Hille, this time with a track record shattering 1:21.527 — too bad it wasn’t in a race! Hille frustrated Chris Price by just .1 seconds. Frank Todaro improved his starting position to third just .15 seconds ahead of Williams in fourth and Maloof in fifth. Williams and Maloof had identical qualifying times of 1:22.303, warm up times had Williams just .02 seconds ahead of Maloof. Crazy close!
At the start of the race, Williams and Price decided on a tandem second-to-fifth shift with Williams holding up Murdick while the field bounded past on the outside. After Turn 2, Keller found himself in fourth behind Maloof, with Price and Hille up front.
As the pack entered Dead Bear, Keller’s car went into a sideways slide that brought the rest of the pack to lock up as they struggled to avoid Keller. This was all the opportunity the front three needed, scampering off to run their own race.
Ken Brinkman was on the heels of the second pack and as the race neared 13-lap mark, when he put on an awesome pyrotechnics display! Brinkman’s engine unceremoniously dumped its entire contents of oil on the track and his exhaust, resulting in flames that spread at least 20 feet behind his car. Brinkman piloted the wounded Miata into the pits and the debris flags came out in Dead Bear and the entrance to Turn 9. But the trap was set and 26 Miatas, plus a host of out-of-class cars were barreling toward an oil slick in Turns 9 and 10.
Price who had passed Hille using a pick in traffic, was focused on keeping Hille at bay, when his white No. 3 found the oil and headed directly towards the pit entrance barrier, Hille motored through on a tighter line and back into the lead. Price brought the car under control and rejoined Turn 10 in first gear! Price got going quickly enough to maintain a solid lead over Maloof who was alone in third.
The mayhem was not over! Williams in fourth place was leading Murdick, Todaro, and Davis in a tight of group of cars. Williams took the inside line after noticing the slick, but the cars behind fighting for position, didn’t see the slick in time. Davis continued straight through the slick and made a quick pit entrance, executing the equivalent of a drive-through penalty in the pits. Todaro went spinning and narrowly missed disaster at the wall, while Murdick’s spin put him smack in the middle of death lane, perpendicular to the direction of travel in the middle of Turns 9 and 10!
The parting of the Miata sea that followed was incredible because not one car touched Murdick while he was vulnerable. Todaro got his ride back under control, only to find Davis ahead of him after the sneak attack exit from the hot pits.
In the end, Hille completed the weekend sweep with two poles and two victories. Price survived his oil slick encounter to take second, and Maloof finished an uneventful race to take home the last podium spot.
Justin Hille took two wins and two poles at Putnam Park. With an ability to slice through traffic, and just a bit of luck, he edged out Chris Price in Sunday’s sprint race.
Video Courtesy of Justin Hille