This year’s annual Hallett Summer Shootout featured a field of three new NASA Prototypes driven by Matt Rivard, David Beckmann and Dave Balingit. This was the first points weekend of the NASA Prototype Atlantic Series Championship and it turned out to be a great location because none of the drivers frequent this location and therefore no one had home track advantage. Having never driven the track, Beckmann wisely took advantage of a full test day to learn the circuit and try different settings.
Saturday morning qualifying found Beckmann on pole and 12th on the overall grid, having used the test day to his best advantage. Balingit was one second off, but took overall spot number 13. Rivard had an issue in qualifying and started 24th overall. Had Rivard been able to participate in qualifying his practice time from the morning session would have placed him right between Beckmann and Balingit. At the drop of the green flag, the rookie Beckmann, who was still getting used to the concept of rolling starts stumbled a bit, which allowed Balingit and two other cars to surge ahead. Balingit kept a Super Unlimited car between himself and Beckmann for the eight-lap race. Rivard caught up and started to harass Beckmann. At the checkered it was still Balingit, Beckmann and Rivard. The lap times for the NP01s were, respectively: 1:25.188, 1:25.027 and 1:25.010!
Race two for Saturday was gridded based on the finishing position of the prior race. The start was a little closer, with the three cars all in one group heading into the first turn. At Turn 3, traffic backed up and Rivard sneaked around the outside of Beckmann and took over second. For the next three laps, Balingit played the same strategy as in race one by keeping a Super Unlimited stock car between himself and the other NP01s. A bobble at the exit of Turn 1 allowed the buffer to get around Balingit and a lift by Rivard allowed Beckmann to regain second.
By Turn 6, Balingit had lost the gap and his rear view camera was filled with Beckmann’s car. Over the next three laps Beckmann tried several late-braking moves and found himself alongside Balingit but off the quick racing line. With Rivard filling his mirrors, he chose each time to drop back in line to protect his position. One final dive attempt into Hallett’s famed “Bitch” had Beckmann hopping over the apex curb and losing that position to Rivard and they finished in that order. The quicker pace of the second race dropped the lap times down into the high 1:23 range. Rivard nabbed the new track record.
As with race two, race three on Sunday morning was gridded using the prior finishing positions. Rivard took advantage of an open inside line into Turn 1 and passed Balingit for the lead. It was then Rivard’s turn to use traffic to keep the other NP01s at bay. Eventually traffic cleared and Balingit was less than four car lengths behind Rivard. An early turn-in for Balingit forced him up and over the inside apex curbing and caused a spin allowing Beckmann to breeze by.
Beckman continued to chase Rivard while Balingit tried his best to make up lost ground. Beckmann had what appeared to be a “lack of go juice” and limped across the Start/Finish line at the white flag, and Balingit took over second place. Rivard took the win, but Beckmann reset the new track record down to a 1:22.152.
The final Summer Shootout Championship race was gridded based on points as is done at NASA Championships events. With two wins and a third, Balingit was first in NP01. Rivard was second and Beckmann started third.
Earlier that morning, Balingit grasped at a few straws to find the second per lap he had lost to the other two cars and played with suspension settings. The roll of the dice did not reward Balingit, who managed to drive off track in turn one on the warm-up lap. The first two laps stayed in order as traffic sorted itself out with Balingit, Rivard and Beckmann glued to each other.
Exiting the “Bitch,” Balingit’s car took a wider line, which lifted a rear tire and he was unable to keep power planted to the ground. Rivard and Beckmann powered by to take the two top spots. Balingit slowly dropped back and eventually retired with a car “too scary to drive.” For the next seven laps, Beckmann harassed Rivard, never dropping back more than a car length. At the end of lap 12, it was Rivard with Beckman tucked right under his bumper.
Rivard now leads the series with 375 points. Beckmann has 350 and Balingit, 339. The next Championship Series race will be September 22-25 at Watkins Glen in conjunction with the NASA Eastern States Championships presented by Toyo Tires.