With a truncated season taking place in the region due to COVID-19, NASA Northeast drew a record 13 eager competitors for ST2 for its most recent race at New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt course Sept. 26-27. Momentum has been growing in the class due to the simple rules set and camaraderie among racers in the field. The race saw four rookies mixing it up on track with nine seasoned regulars.
After extensive upgrades to his No. 24 Mustang in the last several weeks, AJ Hartman asserted himself as the man to beat during Friday practice, turning fastest lap of the class with a 1:23.7. However, by Saturday, his Hoosier A7 tires started to slow up and Hartman found himself running in the 1:25s, putting him just off the pace of ST2 front runners Mike Phillips No. 528 and No. 265 Mark Petronis in their Corvettes.
Qualifying found Phillips and Hartman starting P1 and P2, with ST2 rookie and Mid-Atlantic visitor No. 22 Ben Grambau in P3. A qualifying error found Petronis starting back in P7. As the green flag waved, Petronis picked off all the cars in front by the second lap and then started his chase for Phillips. After a couple of lead changes midrace, Petronis finally made it stick with only two laps to go, and beat Phillips to the finish line by a mere .46 seconds.
“I made the pass and started praying to the Racing Gods for the checkered flag!” noted Petronis. “It was a full green race and by the end my tires were overheating. Mike definitely had more pace than I, but as we all know it can be easy to close the gap on someone, but much harder to pass them. Mike and I raced hard and fair and it was a pleasure to be fender to fender with him.”
Phillips finished second and Hartman took third.
For Sunday’s race, the field started with Phillips, Grambau, and Petronis starting P1-P3. Petronis dropped back to P6 trying to avoid contact in Turn 1, and an early full-course yellow brought out the pace car to bunch the field. At the restart, rookie racer Grambau gave a little too much quarter to his competitors, and Petronis and Parmenter in their C5 Corvettes slithered past him at the apex of Turn 2.
“I came to NJMP looking for a field full of competition and I found it,” said Grambau. “I learned a lot in my first two races as a rookie. Next time those guys better keep their tires cool, because the only way they’re getting around me is on the outside!”
Petronis picked off Parmenter and found himself in the familiar position of trying to chase Phillips for the remainder of the race. This time Phillips diced his way through traffic with more surgical precision, and held off Petronis to take the win with an 8-second margin.
“After Saturday it was apparent that race traffic was going to play a big factor in Sunday’s race,” said Phillips. “I didn’t want to see the chrome-red C5 of Petronis filling my mirrors again, so the plan for Sunday was to work through traffic more effectively and build a strong lead early in the race.”
Phillips’ strategy clearly worked as he took both the win and fastest lap in ST2 on Sunday. Parmenter once again took home the bronze medal.
Racers in ST2 shared data as well as beers after the race to get the field as fast and competitive as possible. There are several more cars being put together this off-season to run in the class, which will hopefully make the NASA Northeast ST2 group one of the largest fields in the country.