Fantastic weather at famous Road Atlanta meant great racing for the 23 ST and SU cars entered for the “Race for the Pi” on March 12-13. The huge turnout in all classes and race groups put more than 100 cars on track for the “all racer warmup” session on Saturday morning. This was a great opportunity for practicing traffic management.
The nine ST3 cars ran in the Tornado race with the Spec E36s and Thunder Roadsters. Vernon McClure and Steven Laderman, both in BMW M3s, had close battles on both days. On Saturday, McClure took the win by a mere half second. On Sunday, McClure made a mistake in Turn 10, going off and through the gravel trap, allowing Laderman to take the lead and ultimately the win by 1.3 seconds. Scott Oliver claimed third in his 2003 Corvette on Saturday, and John Huebner finished third in his BMW M3 completing the BMW sweep of ST3 on Sunday.
In the Thunder race, the top of the SU field was Reese Cox in his MTI 2006 Corvette. Cox took the SU win on both days and posted the fastest lap of the race on Sunday. Cody Kishel in his 2013 Corvette posted the fastest time of the race on Saturday but was unable to keep the pace and finished third behind Chuck Conner. In the Sunday race, Kishel finished second to Cox.
Terry Mathis won ST1 on Saturday in his 2006 ZO6 but mechanical gremlins kept him out of the race on Sunday. John Allen in a beautiful 2005 Porsche 911 who finished second in ST1 on Saturday took the win on Sunday. Gordon Ackley in his 2008 Viper was third on Saturday and second on Sunday.
The best racing of the weekend was in ST2. At the top of the ST2 field on Saturday, Matt Isbell in the No. 88 Vengeance Road Racing Corvette qualified P1 with Kevin Harvey in the No. 01 Corvette close behind in P2. Starting nose to tail in P4 and P6 in Thunder Group, Isbell jumped in among the ST1 and SU cars and used them to quickly outdistance Harvey. Putting down solid 1:29 and 1:31 laps respectively, they finished ST2 in the order they started: Isbell first, Harvey the first loser.
Sunday morning the track was wet from overnight rain. Drizzle and rain continued into qualifying. Many Thunder race drivers elected not to venture out in the rain, but not Harvey, who opted for rain tires and was rewarded with the fastest qualifying time for ST2 and Thunder race group overall. Isbell qualified in P2 making for an all ST2 front row.
By the time the Thunder racers headed to grid for the noon race, the clouds had cleared. Coming to the green flag, Harvey held the pace speed until the late green flag that resulted in a great drag race to Turn 1. Isbell tucked in behind Harvey, and they stayed nose to tail for the next seven corners. Accelerating down the back straight, the faster SU car of Cox momentarily split the pair as he blistered his way to the front of the pack. Isbell once again tucked in behind Harvey, and they stayed a car length or two apart for the next several laps clicking off low 1:31 laps in the process.
Exiting Turn 7 on the third lap, Isbell executed a picture-perfect draft and pass into the 150-plus mph brake zone for Turn 10A. Harvey was now chasing Isbell as they headed under the bridge and down the hill to Turn 12. With barely a car length between them, the duo charged down the front straight and into the braking zone of Turn 1. As Isbell entered the brake zone at about 130 mph, the brake pedal went to the floor. With no brakes and few options, he turned the car to the right in an attempt to scrub speed into the corner.
In a heroic effort, Isbell kept working the car to the right and into the uphill corner. As he swept sideways to the outside, his left rear tire caught a dip at the beginning of the outside curbing, which caused the car to rotate to the left and leave the track surface. Once on the wet grass, the car accelerated to the tire wall on driver’s left, hitting hard. The race was red-flagged while emergency crews cleared the car and reset the tire barrier. Isbell was uninjured but his Corvette, well that’s another story. The race resumed with Harvey at the top of ST2 and solidly in P2 overall behind Cox. As the final laps wound down, Isbell borrowed the radio from Harvey’s wife and spotter, Dawn Stowers, and said, “I am OK. Everything is good. Do what you do and hammer down to the checkered flag!” Harvey took the win with Matt Bohall taking second in his 2006 Mitsubishi Evo.