Mid-Ohio and Mother Nature combined to provide an ideal condtting for the NASA Great Lakes season opener for 14 Spec Miatas on the first green flag of the year.
Saturday qualifying showed lots of familiar faces with a new one in Ryan Roberson and his Gulf blue No. 44 cashing in on his first pole position in NASA Great Lakes. Longtime crowd favorite Brian Murdick in the silver No. 17 snagged the number two spot, and Chris Williams No. 55 rounded out the top three.
Jonathan Davis returned to form completing the second row in the fourth spot, while Frank Todaro and John Guthrie set the third row and the last of the qualifiers in the 1:43s. The first six cars were set to race with less than .4 seconds separating them.
Jay North, Robert Keller, Todd Ayers and Michael Phillips rounded out the top 10. Thomas Todaro returned to action and slotted 11th, Gary Ellis in 12th, followed by Mark Domo and newcomer to Spec Miata Doug Kowalczyk finishing the field.
When the green flew on the first race of the year, Roberson, Davis and Williams began a fight for first that was sorted out in short order, putting Williams in the lead with Davis pursuing in second. That order remained for the entire race, with Williams just out of reach of Davis ending with Williams and Davis finishing first and second.
The real entertainment in race form came from an epic battle for the last spot of the podium between Guthrie, Roberson, Murdick and North. Multiple lead changes, out-of-class traffic encounters, and clean, hard racing marked a race that didn’t provide an assured third place until the last lap. Ultimately, John Guthrie snagged the last podium spot followed by Roberson in fourth, Murdick in fifth, and North bringing home a sixth place. Frank Todaro was alone in seventh, and Bob Keller placed eighth, nursing an ailing differential. Ayers and Phillips continued a race long fight to the finish line, with Ayers nipping Phillips at the line by just .4 seconds. Ellis placed 11th, Thomas Todaro 12th, Domo 13th and Kowalczyk 14th.
Sunday qualifying put Williams on the pole, with Davis in second and Murdick in third. Keller fixed his differential issues and completed the second row with a fourth place qualifying effort. North finished a strong fifth, Roberson sixth with Frank Todaro, Guthrie, Thomas Todaro, and Ayers rounding out the top ten. Phillips, Domo, Ellis and Kowalczyk completed the field in 11th through 14th. Guthrie never had a chance to really make a good run in qualifying as he was dramatically taken out in Turn 1 by a spinning 944 Spec. The sideswipe damage was serious enough to put Guthrie on the sidelines for what was potentially a double-podium weekend.
Sunday’s race looked to be a repeat of Saturday’s contest after the first few laps, with Williams in the lead and Davis challenging, perhaps a little closer in this race. Near the middle of the race, this changed quickly. One of Keller’s connecting rods exited his block in Turn 1, laying down a nice traction challenge for the rest of the field. Keller pulled off to the inside of Turn 1, the yellow flag was out, and the Turn 1 slip and slide was constructed. As Williams and Davis entered Turn 1 for the first time after the connecting rod carnage, Williams snuck by on the inside and Davis began one of the longest slides possible through Turn 1. After finally reaching the limit of his steering wheel travel, Davis ran out of options and real estate and slid off safely close to the exit of Turn 1. Davis quickly recovered and joined the group midpack, but any hopes of challenging for the win slid off with him in turn one.
Meanwhile, Murdick took advantage and tried to mount a challenge for the lead, but wasn’t able to quite close the distance, and it was Williams in first with Murdick close behind in second at the line. Davis began working on the task at hand and diced up through the field where he encountered a determined Jay North. North was looking for a breakthrough podium and clung onto the last spot on the ladder until the last few turns on the final lap. Alas, Davis would not be denied his podium spot and finished third while North brought home fourth. Roberson was all alone in fifth, with Frank Todaro in sixth. Thomas Todaro, Philips, Ellis, and Domo rounded out the top ten. Kowalzcyk was 11th with Ayers retiring early on lap ten in the 12th spot and Keller having to push his blown motor car onto the trailer in 13th spot.