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by Ed Sutcliff and Andy Feldman on January 22nd, 2013
Empty Keg Racing boasts two of the top drivers in the Red Sox Racing League, Paul Hesla and Patrick Guerin. With their history of RSR league wins, no one was surprised when the 2013 season began with a win by Hesla and a strong 4th place finish by Guerin. Riding a wave of momentum out of Florida, the EKR team arrived in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin full of energy for the “Blain’s Farm 30″ at Road America.
Hesla and Guerin dominated qualifying for the event and were the only two drivers to post sub 2:07 laps. Hesla earned his second pole in a row with a lap time of 2:06.391 while Guerin earned the outside position of row one with a lap time of 2:06.853. Brian Irby (3rd), Douglas Beard (4th), Tommy Rhyne (5th), Les Turner (6th), Brad Vincent (7th), John Koscielniak (8th), Nim Cross Jr (9th), and Michael Gagliardo (10th) completed the first five rows of the grid.
The remaining spots were earned by; Chris Weidner, Reed Rundell, Andrew Gantman, Andrew Humphrey, Dean Moll, Pierre Robitaille, Stefan Hojnowski, Tony Duffy, Dean Ayer, Michael Baley, Terry Daul, Dennis Griffen, Scott Husted, Bill McCaw, David Weiss, Gary Jorgensen, Cyril Roberts, Andrew Feldman, Jeff Thomas, James Prostell Jr., Ed Sutcliff, William Kabela, Kevin Kyle, Divina Galica, David Berry, and David Holzwarth.
Road America is a fast road course featuring 14 corners and 3 straights along a sprawling 4.04 mile layout. The long front stretch gives drivers the opportunity to test the top speeds of their cars before they reach the first corner which lulls many into trouble. Despite being nearly 90 degrees turn one can be taken quickly as long it is turned into precisely. RSR drivers managed to avoid the dangers of turn one at the start of the race, but couldn’t complete the full opening lap without incident.
Several drivers had off-course penalties as they overshot corners having not backed up their braking points to accommodate tight traffic at the start, but the most serious incident happened between turns two and three when Dennis Griffen and Dean Ayer tangled on the downhill heading into T3. After light contact with Baley’s rear bumper entering T1, Ayer lost momentum which allowed Griffen to pull ahead on the approach to T3 and when Ayer moved over to setup his entry to the corner, he clipped Griffen’s right rear corner which forced Griffen off track and into a nifty 360 spin through the grass. Griffen’s momentum carried him into the right side of Hojnowski, sending the 17th place starter into a scary two wheeled ride that he somehow saved before his car went completely over and onto its roof.
Griffen ended up at a dead stop, facing backwards on the track as the rest of the field came barreling through at race speed. With no way to avoid the stranded car, Terry Daul managed to stop his ITT Storm Front Racing MP4 just as it reached the front grill of Griffen’s car. The unfortunate pair were forced to sit still while the the field passed them. Likewise, David Weiss and James Prostell Jr. were trapped behind the pair. Hojnowski’s car was undamaged and all drivers were able to continue racing, but Griffen was forced to pit for repairs.
Galica and Kyle both spun in T9 on the opening lap. Galica kicked things off as her car understeered mid-corner and slid off the left side of the course. Kyle, overcorrecting to avoid Galica’s lazy spin, followed suit with an almost identical maneuver. Their cars tapped lightly before coming to a stop in the sand. Both drivers escaped the incident without damage.
On the second lap Husted succumbed to the dangers at T1 when he carried too much speed into a wide entry on lap two and slid off the left edge of the track surface. He spun harmlessly in to the dirt before recovering control and rejoining the action.
Lap five saw another group of drivers risking damage for an extra inch of track at T1. A fierce battle between three drivers trying to remain in the top-10 saw Koscielniak, Rundell, and Gagliardo running 3-wide past the start/finish line and down the front stretch towards T1 at breakneck speed. Rundell wisely eased off the gas before the pack reached the corner, but misjudged Koscielniak’s braking point and lightly tapped the rear of his car has he moved to tuck in behind Koscielniak in the outside line. All three drivers continued racing through the corner without losing position.
Daul was mired in the back half of the field when he got sideways and went off course at T8 on lap five. His car slid backwards through the sand before slamming into the tires, but Daul was able to continue racing.
Kyle had an exciting night, using up three of his nine lives in this race alone. After his incident with Galica in the carousel, he used up the second of his nine lives when he lost control and spun in T1 on lap eight. His car did a lazy 360 spin and avoided contact with the wall, allowing him to return to the track in one piece. He escaped a similar incident in T8 on lap eleven without damage.
Berry was hot on the tail of Holzwarth’s car on lap eight when he lost control of his car at T7. He continued driving despite hard contact with the tire barrier, then did exactly the same thing one lap later. His car must have been built to military specs, because it kept running even after making hard contact a second time.
Duffy nearly collided with Moll as they slowed for T14 on lap eight, but managed to avoid the contact by steering his car off track. “I was expecting Dean to be a little faster coming out of that corner”, said Duffy after the race. “Glad we didn’t hit him!”
Feldman began the race in 28th place and had worked himself into 16th position following his pit stop on lap nine. His hard work didn’t pay off however, as the Arrested Development Racing driver carried too much speed into T8 and spun exiting the corner. The accident happened with Weiss and Prostell right behind him, but both were able to avoid Feldman as he went off track. “We had the car dialed in tonight. I was hoping to steal a good finish and lift the Bluth family’s spirits, but I lost my rhythm after pitting. I’m glad David and James didn’t get caught up in my mistake.”
Roberts began the night near the back of the pack and had worked himself into contention for a top-10 finish before he was forced to pit for repairs after his car slammed into the concrete wall on the left side of T13 on lap nine. “I don’t know what happened there”, said Roberts. “We had been running great laps until that point, but the car was never the same afterwards. We’ll come back strong next week.”
In the closing laps Baley and Feldman were locked in a tight battle ahead of Jeff Thomas when Feldman got into the rear bumper of Baley’s car at T5 of lap twelve. Both drivers were able to continue racing, but Feldman was unable to challenge Baley again.
Duffey and McCaw tangled at the entry of T1 on lap fourteen, an incident caused when Duffey tried to make a pass for position. Duffey had the inside position, but got his right side tires on the rumble strips and was forced to move left as he and McCaw battled through the corner. Their cars side swiped just enough to send Duffey to spin off of the track surface as McCaw continued on a race pace.
Turner and Cross had a good battle throughout the race. Cross passed Turner on lap 4 in a daring move to the inside at Turn 3 and maintained his advantage until pitting. Having pitted several laps earlier than Cross, Turner had enough momentum on lap 8 to carry him around the outside of T1 as Cross exited the pits. However only a few corners later Cross out braked Turner at the approach to T5 and then kept Turner behind him in the closing laps.
Reed Rundell slid wide into the gravel at T1 as he exited the pits on lap 8 allowing Chris Weidner through. Weidner relinquished the spot 2 laps later at Moraine Sweep on the approach to T5 after Rundell exited T3 slightly faster. Rundell then set off after Turner and made a bold passing attempt on the outside of T5 in the race’s final lap. Rundell menaced Turner for the remainder of the lap, however Turner prevailed. Just behind their fierce battle Gagliardo took advantage of a cautious Weidner in T5 and passed him on the run uphill to turn 6.
Ignoring the battles and incidents going on behind them, Hesla and Guerin used incident-free driving to maintain the top two positions for most of the night. Hesla led 13 of the 14 laps run, and only relinquished the lead during the pit cycle. Rhyne was the only other driver to lead a lap. Irby began the race in 3rd place, but dropped to 13th after an off-track bobble on lap two. He was never a factor after that.
Hesla crossed the finish line with a 3.9 second lead over his teammate to earn his second win in a row to begin 2013. Guerin held off a fierce charge from Vincent to secure 2nd place and ensure a EKR sweep of the top-2 spots. Vincent posted the fasted lap of the race (2:07.308) edging out Beard (2:07.383) as he climbed from his 7th place starting position to earn his second consecutive 3rd place finish. Beard and Rhyne rounded out the top-5.
Guerin was thrilled with his race. “We didn’t have much luck in qualifying, but I got lucky and posted a personal best near the end of the session to get onto the front row with Paul. I focused on keeping on Paul’s rear bumper in the early going. We had a good pit stop, but Brad still made up time on us, so he was chasing me pretty hard during the second half of the race. I managed to stay incident free and hang on for 2nd place.”
Cross (6th), Turner (7th), Rundell (8th), Gagliardo (9th), and Weidner (10th) battled hard throughout the race to earn top-10 finishes.
Former RSR champion Turner was eager to speak with reporters after the race. “There was some pretty intense racing up front when we went green. I had some great battles with Tommy, Nim, and Chris in the first half. Nim and I swapped places a few times after the pit cycle. Reed got past Chris and joined us for the last four laps. With the competition out there tonight, and an incident free finish, 7th place feels like a win! Laguna Seca is going to be interesting!”
Hesla, Guerin, Beard, Rhyne, Turner, Weidner, Thomas, and Kabela earned bonus points for completing the race without incident.
Hesla enjoys a nine point lead over Vincent and Guerin in the championship race. Turner, Rhyne, Beard, Gagliardo, Rundell, Koscielniak, and Weidner round out the top ten spots.
Empty Keg Racing (Guerin/Hesla) enjoy a 17 point lead over Team VBR (Vincent/Beard), in the team competition. Storm Front Racing (Koscielniak/Daul), Teamdraft Srt (Thomas/Turner), and TOC Racing (McGrew/Husted) rounding out the top five spots.
RSR members travel to California for next week’s race, the “Pebble Beach 30″ at Laguna Seca.
Results / Standings / Video coverage
League Standings: http://rsr.ileaguerace.com/champ/show_champ/Red-Sox-Racing-League/432
League Video Site: http://www.youtube.com/user/draftin11