What an exciting time for Honda Challenge in the Southeast. We had three new racers complete competition school and join the ranks of wheel-to-wheel racing, for a total of nine cars in class this weekend. Most of us have known Shane Lovely for years, but his bride Melissa Lovely finally went to competition school! Joining her was Michael Kramer and Devon Manno, with all three in the H2 Class. Stephen Pearce and Vincent Coker joined the classroom and track sessions, assisting with the NASA Southeast competition school and welcoming these new racers to our craziness.
The Honda Challenge race for H1 and H2 started with our own wave in the Thunder race group. Pearce on pole got a good start, but nothing compared to John Putnam moving his K24 up four spots by Turn 1. A little rubbing moved him back a few spots by the apex and we all settled down single file by Turn 2. Vincent Coker and Karl Kondor both in H2 trim were pushing Rob Oxford in H1 right behind Stephen Pearce for the first two laps, but soon the separation began. H1 driver Putnam developed VTEC issues and fell way behind. Coker turned a 1:21.7 in qualifying, which is below the H2 track record, but he was unable to duplicate that in the race. It got a little too warm, but he says the car has more time in it, so stay tuned and see what happens on Sunday! Jesse Poage was right with Kondor, slightly pulling away each lap, but Poage kept him in his sights.
There was a double-yellow toward the end of the race, and at the restart Kondor got punted off track, but maintained his position, only to get drag-raced by the punter and pushed off track again at the end of the front straight. He had all four wheels off track twice within two turns and kept the car safe. Good driving by Kondor. Poage has come a long way since his first rookie race just a few months ago. Rookie racers Lovely, Manno and Kramer brought up the rest of the pack, making clean laps, watching their mirrors for some of the blistering speeds of the Corvettes and prototypes.
The H1 race ended with Pearce in P1, Oxford P2 and Putnam in P3. In H2, we had Coker in P1, Kondor in P2 and Poage in P3. We did have one small incident with Manno, but thanks to his dedication to fix it, he was back on track for Sunday.
On Sunday, Coker went out for a damp qualifying, and that’s when he developed an issue with the engine. The compression was down in a couple of cylinders and it wasn’t worth pushing it. It was a shame because race conditions were perfect for setting the lap record for H2. The damp track kept a lot of racers from qualifying, so it made the grid interesting, putting three rookies in P1, P2 and P3. Pearce, who got close to the H1 track record on Saturday, was more determined to get that track record for H1. After a few laps in the race, he finally got it, knocking off Chad Slag’s long-standing record with a 1:20.140 — and Stephen’s S2000 is a few hundred pounds overweight for class! Putnam and Oxford quickly worked through the H2 field and set their own pace at 1:22.17 and 1:22.37, a full two seconds off the pace of Pearce.
For H2, it was a little different, with Coker being in the paddock with a broken car. Kondor took off to a good lead, but Poage and Kramer were not far behind. These two had a great race, being within half a second of each other, but Kramer explored the grass in Turn 5 and that put too much distance between him and Poage to make up.
On Sunday, H1 finished with Pearce in P1, Putnam in P2 and Oxford in P3. In H2 we had Kondor in P1, Poage in P2 and Kramer in P3. Manno and Lovely brought up the rest of the H2 field, running a clean race and wrapping up a successful rookie weekend.
From left: Rob Oxford picked up a second-place finish in Honda Challenge 1 at Roebling Road in January. Melinda Ball congratulated winner Stephen Pearce and third-place finisher John Putnam.
From left: Karl Kondor picked up a second-place finish at the NASA Southeast opener at Roebling Road. Melinda Ball helps congratulate winner Vincent Coker and Jesse Poage, who took third. Jim Pantas is at right, adding to the austerity of the occasion.