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ChumpCar's 8 plus 7 Grand Prix at Pittsburgh International Raceway

Story by Doc Waldrop, Photos by Bill Strong

A complete rebuild of the North Course and some slightly new contoured corners, waved curbing, and a complete repaving of the South Course at Pittsburgh International Raceway Complex greeted the nearly 60 ChumpCar World Series racers as they arrived at the combined course for a Double 8+7 Grand Prix over the October 7th and 8th weekend.

A tight field rocketed into T1 on a slightly damp track for the 8-hour Saturday race and immediately paid the price as several teams went off track and had to be towed out necessitating a quick full course yellow. Predictably most of the top teams went to the front quickly. Naturally leading at the front was the Robin Bank Honda Civic No.194, followed by the Interplanetary Ninja Assassins 2010 Honda Fit No.194, a new car to CCWS both moving up nearly 20 places in the first hour.

A pair of BMWs, led by Team Troxell No.9 and the No.111 RVA Graphics & Wraps, led over the hard charging No.381 Toyota MR2 from Mckibbins Biohazard Racing, Visceral Racing Group’s No.918 Porsche 944, and another pair of 325is’, that of A. Senna Driving School and the sister No.325 of Team Troxell. Five cautions slowed the field during the first 2 hours, the worst being brought out by a caution for contact and when the Safety Third Motorsports’ Toyota Supra No.769 hit the Robin Bank No.194. Clearly the Toyota team was well named.

With numerous full course yellows for assorted reasons, many teams had come in earlier than the normal 2 hours for their pit stops, including the Biohazard MR2 and the Charcoal and Ketchup RX7s from the Team Sahlen’s stables who had also moved up into the top 10 just after the 2-hour mark. The Saab 9-3 from Robin Bank had taken place of his Civic up in 3rd which had been retired. Unsarcastically, early favorites including the GMS Racing RX7, the newly built BMW 325is from Guarino-Watson Racing, and the No.940 Volvo from Krueger Tuned Racing North had all run into small problems that were fixed on pit row, but had kept them well down from the rest of the field.

Taking their place up with the top runners at the half way mark was the Lucky Seven Racing No.206 Triumph TR7 with a V8 swap, Rhinoceros Racing’s ’86 Mustang (our only 2 “D” class entries), the Porsche 944 from Shok ‘EM Motorsports, Kim Jung IL Racings Acura Integra, and Well Lubricated Racing’s No.478 2002 Ford Focus. The Sped Source No.75 RX7 and Lucky Monkey Racings Acura Integra had also joined the top 15 cars. With pit strategies all over the board the race settled down in the last half of the race with position changes mostly occurring due to stops.

Trading off the top 5 positions were the RVA Graphics & Wraps BMW, the Biohazard MR2, the Troxell ’93 BMW, Sahlen’s “Charcoal” themed RX7, and the Visceral Racing Porsche 944, depending on when you looked at the scoring monitors. Autobody Specialist’s BMW No.186, OFM Racings Mustang, Sped Source in their 1989 Mazda RX7, the Honda Fit No.94, and Half Fast Garage in another 325is rounded out the top 10.

With 2 hours to go until the 4PM checkered flag a full course caution brought virtually the entire field to the pits for one last driver change and refueling. The one exception was the No.111 RVA entry which had assumed the lead from Biohazard and the Visceral Racing Porsche 944 when they pitted. Running hard to stretch out as much of a lead as they could the No.111 RVA entry finally pitted with an hour and a half to go when the next Full Course Yellow (FCY) fell at 3:45PM. Unfortunately, once the BMW had finished their stop they were stuck behind a very slow-moving car being pushed by a safety vehicle down pit row causing them to lose valuable time to Biohazard, Visceral, and the Troxell BMW as they continued circulating with an hour to go...

As time wound down the 944 kept hounding the Mckibbins Biohazard RX7 followed by the BMW. The battle for the lead was the only the real battle left as the rest of the field was separated from each other by a lap respectively to each other. As a result of the pit row crawl to rejoin the race the RVA BMW was regulated to a lap down, running in 4th place to the top 3 cars.

Sahlen’s No.941 held down 5th position as Autobody Specialist, the SpedSource RX7, the Troxell No.325 BMW, OFM EC class Mustang, and the Lake Effect Racing BMW 325 rounded out the top 10. The only position change among the top 15 occurred when the SpedSource Mazda overhauled the Troxell BMW. As the checkered flag finish at 5PM loomed ever closer, the Visceral Racing Porsche 944 was making a valiant attempt to catch the leading Biohazard MR2 which was in fuel conservation mode, but Troy Truglio was maintaining a somewhat comfortable 25 second lead. The Porsche was managing to catch the MR2 and made some serious inroads in that endeavor, but could only manage to cut the lead to 12 seconds with one lap to go.

In the end, they couldn’t get the job done, but did manage to thrill the drivers and crews lining the pit Aarmco for the finish by coming across the stripe a mere 2.84 seconds in arrears to the winning Mckibbins Biohazard Racing No.381 Toyota MR2 which finished the race with their low fuel light glowing. A FCY with just under an hour to go had allowed Troy to save some additional fuel that he needed to finish. Despite being in fuel conservation mode the Biohazard did manage their fastest time of the day (FTD) on lap 179 of 195 total, but the absolute FTD was set by the OFM Racing 1988 Ford Mustang with a 2:00392 on lap 42.

As Sunday dawned for the 7 Hour contest on the 19 turn Pitt course, an overnight rain had left the ChumpCar teams with a slightly damp green track as they took off for the checkered flag at 4PM. It didn’t take long for several cars to go off course at T1, just the same as Saturday’s race had started. The most notable car off track being the TR7 which had to be retired as a result. Once the field had sorted themselves out after the random draw start from their pit row stalls, the Honda Fit No.94 lead the RBank No.195 Saab 9-3, GWR’s BMW 325is No.991, Troxell’s BMW, and the GMS Mazda RX7 in 5th at the half hour mark.

Just over an hour into the race, the field went under a FCY when the Krueger Tuned Racing North Volvo 940 blew their engine in turn 10. This yellow allowed quite a few of the leading top 10 cars including Visceral’s Porsche 944 and the GWR entry to duck into the pits. As pit row was very busy, the next lap saw the GMS No.556 Mazda, RVA Graphic & Wraps BMW No.111 (which had upped their aero package significantly since their last race), the Saab No.195 from the R Bank Racing stables, and the Lake Effect BMW coming in for their service. Yesterday’s winner, the Biohazard MR2, stayed out to gain some track position from yesterday’s 1 lap Margin of Victory penalty.

The next few hours saw a huge amount of position changes as various teams elected to pit during a long green flag time period compared to yesterdays. The halfway mark of the race saw the Sahlen Ketchup RX7 No.942 leading the Interplanetary No.94 Honda Fit, the GWR BMW, the Visceral 944, and the Biohazard Mazda in 5th, still a lap down, but having moved up steadily through the field. Troxell’s BMW No.325 led from 6th over the Saab No.195 in 7th with the RVA BMW, the Sped Source RX7, and Shut Up Racing’s No.234 BMW 325i rounding out the top 10, all on the same lap.

Just after this mark another FCY flew bringing Troxell, Autobody’s BMW, the Honda Fit, GWR, Mckibbins Biohazard MR2, RVA, and the Sahlen’s Ketchup all to pit row. The No.918 Porsche 944 from Visceral had pitted 30 minutes prior so they assumed the overall lead of the race. With 3 hours to go all the cars would have to stop again for fresh drivers and more fuel. Teams were intently studying the flag stand as they plotted their finishing strategies whether it be because of a yellow flag, or their mandatory driver change at 2 hours or fuel consumption.

Visceral’s 944 was narrowly leading the Ketchup No.942 from Sahlen’s shops, but the RX7 was charging hard, cutting into their lead steadily and finally overtaking them. The Porsche pitted soon thereafter at 2:18 and rejoined the race, chasing the RX7. Then disaster struck the Porsche: During the last pit stop someone neglected to secure the Cool Shirt box and they had to re-pit to secure it, allowing the Fit and the MR2 to join them one lap down to the leader. The No.942 had also pitted for fuel with a comfortable 2 lap lead and used the time to wisely secure a loose exhaust with 1 ½ hours to go.

Fifteen minutes later the yellow flag fell over the entire course when the No.195 RBank Racing Saab, running in 5th position went into the barriers after blowing an engine and was retired to the garage, perhaps permanently. As the cleanup and the repairs to the wall were extensive, the entire field was brought onto pit row under a red flag. The stoppage with just over an hour to go showed the No.942 in the lead followed by the 944, the Honda Fit, and the Troxell No.325 BMW all on the same lap. The Biohazard was having their own battle with the RVA Graphics & Wraps BMW for 5th.

Sped Source’s Mazda RX7was 2 laps down to the top 5, but having their own battle on the same lap with the remaining Autobody Specialist’s BMW 325 and the Shut Up Racing BMW which had run in the top 10 the entire race. The Charcoal RX7 sandwiched the BMW’s of GWR and the Auto Neurosis Racing’s 325i on the same lap, bookended by the RX7 from GMS Racing some 3 laps down. Well Lubricated Racing’s 2002 Ford Focus wound down the top 15 cars.

At 3:00 PM the remaining cars slowly rolled down pit lane to resume the contest with just one hour remaining. The first car to falter was the GWR BMW out of 10th when they pitted to replace the 325’s ECU, handing the Sahlen’s Charcoal entry a position. At virtually the same time the No.918 Visceral 944 was spotted with a dangerously loose sunroof and were subsequently black flagged to pit row for a quick fix with some strong tape. No sooner than they had rolled out of the pits, yet another FCY flew, no doubt frustrating them no end. They would have to pull some seriously fast laps to move up from their 4th place finish.

The leading Ketchup car maintained a slim lead over the Troxell BMW when the green flag flew with just under a ½ hour to go, but could make up no ground. The real battle for the 3rd and final podium position was just beginning to get started between the Honda Fit, Visceral’s Porsche, and the MR2 of Biohazard running in 5th, both of who were catching the No.94 Fit. The 944 finally made it past the Fit, but Biohazard’s MR2 was hounding them unmercifully having passed the Honda as well.

A late caution flew with 2 laps to go for a car stuck in gear and stalled right in the middle of the course allowed the MR2 to chase the 944 and close considerably when the track went back to green very soon after the stricken car was dragged behind the barriers. They were aided in their quest by making sure they pressed hard and passed the leading RX7 so they had one more lap to try and catch the 944 for the final podium position when the checkered flag flew just behind them. At the finish one lap later, the Visceral Porsche had held them at bay for 3rd overall. The Honda Fit had been moved to EC class overnight and finished in 5th.

Sixth position was occupied by RVA’s BMW, the Sped Source Mazda RX7 followed in 7th, with the Autobody Specialist No.186 and Shut Up Racing in their BMW 325s ending up in 8th and 9th, each of the 4 cars on the own lap. The Ztek Honda Accord wound up as the last top 10 finisher with GWR’s BMW having made up 2 positions on the Charcoal RX7 and the Auto Neurosis entries in the last 30 minutes, all 4 ending the race with 168 laps completed. GMS in the RX7 came home in 14th position with a lap lead on the Well Lubricated Ford Focus well in hand.

Sahlen’s overall win was fueled (literally) by some well-placed cautions that helped their strategy and the overall FTD of the day with a 2:01.958. Troxell’s 2nd place finish was also well deserved, having replaced the transmission overnight when it failed just over 2 hours into Saturday’s race. As the teams packed up, many had visions dancing in their heads of an Eastern Division Chumpionship at AMP on the Halloween weekend coming up just 3 short weeks ahead in the rolling North Georgia foothills.

If the Pitt race was any indication, it will be a hard-fought Double 8 battle with Park Ferme conditions on Saturday evening as the local Dawsonville kids “Trunk or Treat” out of the racecar’s trunks that night.

Race results

*From ChumpCar

10/11/17

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