Top amateur racers face off at Sebring International Raceway
NASA’s top race teams took the first steps toward the coveted Eastern States Championships presented by Toyo Tires, with the beginning of the qualifying races on Friday at Sebring International Raceway.
Jim Drago came out on top in a four-man battle that saw several lead changes and plenty of good, clean racing up front in Spec Miata.
“It was a fun race,” Drago said. “The guys I was racing with, I think we’ve all raced together for seven or eight years. Todd Buras, myself, Danny Steyn and Selin Rollan have all battled. All of us raced really hard and I don’t think any of us ever touched. I didn’t know if I was going to finish first or fourth.”
Michael Patterson is a bit of a lone wolf, competing in a Chevrolet Camaro, while all of his competitors are driving Mustangs, but he turned in a pretty dominant performance Friday to take the victory.
“The one Chevy versus 10 Mustangs, I can’t complain,” Patterson said. “This is my first time here. I practiced it yesterday and learned a little more this morning and put it on the pole for the race. The race went off without a hitch. I kept it on the track. Some of my competitors didn’t.”
American Iron Extreme
Robert Shaw was the only one of the four who had entered the Championships to make it to the track, giving him a default win today, but not taking away from the fun he was having.
“I’m trying to get some more AIX guys out,” Shaw said. “I think COTA is going to do it next year.”
Shaw still has goals when he’s on the track, even if he’s competing by himself.
“I just pick some guys who look mean and evil; I love the Cup cars, I love the Corvettes and whoever is fast, that’s who I try to stick with.”
Super Touring 1
The battle in ST1 was a good one, between Franklin Futrelle in his Elan NP01 and Brian Goldburg in his Panoz GTS, but it was Futrelle who crossed the finish line 1.067 seconds in front.
“We knew it was going to be an interesting race,” Futrelle said. “There was about .8 or .9 seconds separating the whole field during qualifying. It was a little more intense than I thought it would be for a qualifying race. We had an interesting start with an incident.
“I managed to get the lead on the restart and hold off the guys for the last four or five laps. I’m happy for the Elan guys and happy to showcase this car for the ST1 class. It’s a great start to the weekend. It’s great weather and great people at NASA, who always make it fun and that’s the most important thing.”
Super Touring 2
Ken Mantovani took the checkered filed in his 2003 Corvette Z06, finishing 2.669 seconds ahead of Scott Argow in a solid battle for the top spot in the class.
“It was interesting,” Mantovani said. “In the beginning, it was a little hairy. A couple of cars went off track and then we had that incident up on the wall with the Mustang. Other than that the rest of the race was pretty clean. It was good clean racing.”
Super Touring 3
One of the first things any new driver learns about Sebring International Raceway is that talks of its bumpiness are not exaggerations. Kevin Harvey learned that a few weeks ago, but still enjoyed himself on his way to a 5.805-second victory.
“It was a great race,” Harvey said. “We put together a great car for this event. Four weeks ago is the first time I came here. This is a driver’s track. Every time my head hits the roll bar, I think ‘Yeah, there’s bumps.’”
Super Touring 4
Todd Buras had just wrapped up a grueling battle in the Spec Miata class and then climbed into another Miata for battle in the ST4 class and came away with an impressive 10-second victory in Friday’s qualifying race.
“It got really hot and sweaty,” Buras said. “It was a good race and the field is completely different. The difference between this car and that (Spec Miata) car is night and day.”
Bryan Putt looked unstoppable in his Mazda-powered Elan DP02 during the morning qualifying session, but Charles Wicht had other ideas in the qualifying race. The two diced back and forth all race long, taking advantage of traffic when possible, or having trouble getting around slower cars. Finally, in a last-second sprint across the finish line to take the checkered flag, Bryan Putt emerged victorious by a fraction of a second.
The No. 51 NASA NP01 of Tom Hahn and Jay Aranha turned in a solid performance and notched a best lap of 2:21.319 on its way to an impressive victory.
“It was awesome,” said. Arahna. “It was super amazing and a lot of fun. The traffic was fine. Hopefully we’ll keep it up and try to best the track record we just laid down.”
German Touring Series 4
Robert Ferriol took the class win in a highly competitive race, but wasn’t about to rest on his laurels, having some things he wants to do to the car before returning to the track.
“I think the track was a little warm toward the end of the race,” Ferriol said. “The back of my car started to let go a little bit, but it held out. For tomorrow, I’d like to find some more grip in the back. We’ll probably play with pressures and sway bars to see if we can get a little bit more.
Scott McKay was able to outlast 32 other drivers and take the victory in the highly competitive Spec E30 class, winning by a margin of 1.627 seconds over Carlos Mendez.
“There was a good race going on and I had a nice lead and then a yellow flag came out and I had to give it all back and do a restart,” McKay said. “You get into a championship race and get all fired up and it takes more out of you then you realize.”
There was some close competition in the 944 Spec class, where Dan Piña was able to fend off Robert Keller by a little more than a second to take the class victory.
“It was a lot of fun,” Piña said. “It was a lot of work. We caught up to the E30s faster than I thought I would. Bob Keller and I had a great scrap. It was a battle. That last lap was a real scrap.”
German Touring Series 1
Clarice Lee may have been the only car in her class, GTS1, but the resident from nearby Winter Haven, Fla., made sure she enjoyed herself out on the track, despite several accidents during her group.
“The flaggers are doing their job really well,” she said. “Sebring is my home track. I’ve been driving here for seven years and racing for about three.”
German Touring Series 2
Scott Blair was able to take the victory in the GTS2 class by 1.913 seconds over Aaron Nash in yet another competitive race.
“It was a tough race,” Blair said. “I’m trying to get in the rhythm and get ahead of the track. I’m trying to stay clean out there, be smooth and stay consistent.”
German Touring Series 3
Michael Camus posted a nice victory in the GTS3 class, using consistent driving to take the checkered flag.
“It was a great race,” Camus said. “I pulled out pretty well on everybody and the yellow flag got me stuck behind a Honda. At the restart everybody got such a great run on me.”
HPD Honda Challenge 2
Robert Paszkiewicz captured the victory in the HPD Honda Challenge 2 class, his first time racing in a few months and he was definitely grateful to be back behind the wheel.
“I haven’t driven since May and this is a great track,” Paszkiewicz said. “I like this track a lot.”
While Sebring is notorious for being demanding on both the car and the driver, Paszkiewicz said he and his car have a great relationship.
“We take care of each other and work together as a team,” he said.
Performance Touring C
Aaron Michelet grabbed the win in the PTC class, facing off against some quality competition.
“It was tough, especially going up against the MX-5 Cup car,” Michelet said. “I love Sebring except for the million elevation changes on a 3.74-mile course. It was really good racing. I had fun.”
Performance Touring E
Brian Henderson earned the victory in the PTE class by turning in some strong lap times and being consistent throughout the race. A yellow flag made Henderson work a bit harder down the stretch to preserve the win.
“It was a little tricky on the restart – I didn’t get that great of a start, but it all worked out,” Henderson said. “It was a good race and a lot of fun. I’m running Spec Miata, too, so it’s going to be a great weekend.”
Broderick Bauguess had never raced at Sebring International Raceway before, but he was able to take the class victory by more than 10 seconds.
“It was fun,” Bauguess said. “It’s a lot different than it looks on TV. On TV it looks a lot wider than it is. It’s my first time ever here. I just watched a lot of video from pro guys. It seemed to help a little bit.”
Robert Miller is a tough customer in the Spec Iron class and he crossed the finish line first in Spec Iron, a NASA class that features identically prepared Ford Mustangs. However, during a caution period, NASA officials disqualified Miller and second-place finisher Carmine Pace for reckless driving while the emergency vehicle flag as out. That gave the win to Patrick Roof.
Thunder Roadster GTR
John Spain captured a narrow victory in the Thunder Roadster GTR class, winning by 1.378 seconds over Mike Rea.
“It was a lot of fun,” Spain said. “I love racing with these GTR guys. It’s been a long road to get to the front of the pack because there’s a lot of really good racers. It’s the most fun you can have in a racecar – GTR.”