Lime Rock Park, a historic ribbon of asphalt tucked away in the lush countryside of Connecticut. Carved from the ground as a sand and gravel quarry and turned into a racetrack in the 1950s, Lime Rock has been host to all manner of prolific racing and racers. July 7-8, 2023, it hosted NASA Northeast racers, including a Spec3 field for the first time ever.
The field consisted of Taylor Johnson, the new NASA Northeast Spec3 series leader, Harry Ramos a Northeast Spec3 rookie competing in his second NASA race weekend, Angel Arias, a Mid-Atlantic Spec3 rookie also in his second race weekend, Nic Morel, a Northeast Spec3 rookie, and Alex Rubenstein running his second Spec3 race weekend with NASA, coming from racing in various other organizations. To spice things up, one Spec E30 also joined the Spec3 field with Liv Willis at the helm.
The scenery? Beautiful. The weather? Hot. The track? Mesmerizing.
Lime Rock Park in a Spec3 is a wonderful collection of unique turns that can only be described with one word: flow. Six right turns and one left turn may sound boring on paper, but each of them is unique and challenging. Turn 1 and Turn 2, “The Big Bend,” go on forever and reward those who can brake deep and rotate the car with both feet, then are patient with the throttle. Turn 3 is a near 180-degree left-hand turn that can be taken several different ways. It leads into a tricky and sometimes frightening right-hander that you need to be flat for, with the ever-looming wall on the outside that comes up quickly. Only the smoothest steering input will get you through it without kicking the rear out.
Turn 5, “The Uphill” is a high-speed right turn you can only make it through with such speed because it’s a steep climb that actually can cause the car to leave the ground at the crest. Keep your wheel straight! Turn 6 is another right right-hander that requires smooth input that requires the ability to rotate the car with the brake in order to get on the gas early and dig out of it with a good run under the bridge and down the hill to Turn 7, which is the most important turn on the track.
Since most of the Spec3 racers had never been to Lime Rock before, and those who had raced there had never done so in a Spec3, all of them had to work the nerve up to take Turn 7, “The Downhill,” without braking by the end of the weekend to really decrease lap times.
Taylor Johnson’s goal was a 1:02, to beat the Spec E30 record set by Robert Casella, which he knew would be difficult, but possible in his first attempt at the track. The new-to-them course, bundled with some hot and sticky weather had all of the racers turning times they weren’t happy with to start, but after data-and-video-review class in Rubenstein’s trailer, all the Spec3 racers were dialed in and chipping away at their times.
Between warmup and qualifying, everyone dropped multiple seconds off their laps. Rubenstein and Johnson were neck and neck in qualifying, but Johnson was able to edge Rubenstein out by .6 seconds for the pole position for the race, with a 1:04.35 to Rubenstein’s 1:04.41. When the green flag flew, Rubenstein and Johnson rocketed into “Big Bend” side by side, and as Rubenstein displayed his finely honed race craft and made sure to leave Johnson only the required room on the inside of the corner exit, Johnson quickly realized he didn’t know how wide the track actually was. To leave space, he jumped the inside curb which upset the car and sent him sliding to the left.
He was able to get the car under control, but not before a little love tap on the side of Rubenstein’s No. 53 machine, which quickly scurried away with the lead. Taylor spent the next few laps trying to chase Rubenstein down as they fought through out-of-class traffic. Johnson finally got his chance when a Miata, a Honda Challenge car, a GTS2 car and two Spec3s tried to go four wide on the front straight and he picked the best “lane,” which allowed him to squeeze by into Turn 1. The two then jostled for position, with Johnson having the lead when the checkered flag flew. The best lap of the race, and the first Spec3 lap record at Lime Rock was a 1:03.229 by Johnson. Race one had Johnson in first, Rubenstein in second and Morel in third, with Arias, Ramos and Willis just off the podium.
NASA Northeast does Lightning group qualifying the best way possible, with a race. Spec3 took the green flag just like a normal race and they repeated the same song and dance as before. The field was set from the results of the race the day before. Rubenstein and Johnson once again were door to door through Turn 1, but this time, Johnson checked up to avoid the curb and Rubenstein was able to clinch P1. At this point, he ran away with it and Johnson couldn’t match his times. Rubenstein was on pole for the final race.
Now this is the exciting part. The green flag dropped and Spec3 raced into Turn 1 where Johnson was able to use Rubenstein’s move against him and held his line around the outside of Turn 1 to take the lead, but the race went full-course yellow before a lap was finished due to an unfortunate mechanical failure of another Spec3 racer.
On the second lap, Rubenstein and Johnson received a very clear black flag at Turn 5, and pitted only to find that no one else had received that black flag or pitted. The flagger had deployed the black flag by accident and pulled it back in as soon as they went by. As the field passed them, they pleaded with the pit lane staff who told them to get back out there with the field as Rubenstein’s crew was screaming at him over the radio to do the same.
The two racers sped from the pit lane and caught the field under pace, just barely avoiding being lapped. When the race resumed, they were both dead last and had an entire field to dice through, then had to catch and pass the rest of the Spec3 racers just to regain their starting positions. A tall task, especially with the speed everyone had picked up through the event.
Rubenstein got the slip on Johnson as they split an E30 three-wide going through Turn 3 — props Liv Willis for handling that flawlessly — and then they battled back and forth as they diced through the field. A moment should be taken to appreciate the excellent work all of the Lightning racers did on track to not only have their own amazing races in class, but to let other classes through as they battled.
In the video of the Sunday race, you can see Honda Challenge cars put on a master class of traffic management. Several attempts were made to pass for the lead with multiple turns side by side, with Rubenstein keeping the lead, but ultimately Johnson got a run through Turn 7 and was able to make it stick down the back straight into Turn 1 and played “keep away” until the end of the race.
The final results for Saturday were Johnson in first, Rubenstein in second and Arias in third, with Ramos and Willis just off the podium.