With a 17 point lead over the rest of the field, Justin Brunner went to Circuit of the Americas in a comfortable position after his back-to-back podiums in the AOR Pro Mazda Championship’s second season. Kerry Knowlden had shown signs of weakness at Barber Motorsports Park after qualifying outside of the front row for the first time in the league’s history, coupled with an off-track moment that gave him a DNF last time out. The reigning champion’s struggles would continue at COTA, after a dismal qualifying in seventh position. Knowlden’s teammate, Phil Reid, took pole for the 32 lap race of the West configuration, but would share the front row with the current championship leader Brunner.
Brunner pressured Reid at Turn One from the outside of the corner, but Reid held him off with relative ease. Knowlden’s struggles, unfortunately, continued to compound as he clipped the second curb of The Esses which compromised his line and sent him into the third curb even harder. Knowlden’s car was launched into the air and when he came back down to Earth he was sent into a spin which put him on a collision course with Michael Mittner at over 90mph. The resulting impact sent Knowlden into the air once again, this time with Mittner keeping him company. Knowlden flipped and tumbled his way towards an early retirement while Mittner was able to continue, albeit from last place.
As the field crossed the Start/Finish line for the first time, Reid had a commanding lead over Brunner in second. Brunner mysteriously lifted off the throttle on the run down towards Turn One, however, which lost him more time to Reid and also two positions to Ghovand Keanie and Marcus Jensen.
Jensen now found himself in a podium position after Brunner’s issue, but after a few laps he found himself losing touch with Reid and Keanie. Pushing hard now, Jensen made a mistake at the blind apex of the penultimate corner and found himself with a corner cut slow-down which, at Turn One of Lap Eight, forced him to concede the position to Brunner.
The battle between Jensen and Brunner didn’t stop there, however, as Brunner slowed down once again at the beginning of Lap Ten, possibly the result of a corner cut similar to Jensen’s or a return of the issue that lost him second place at the start of Lap Two. Either way, Jensen grabbed the slipstream and moved back into third at the start of Lap Ten.
The corner cut penalty saga continued just one lap later. This time Jensen found himself with a penalty coming out of The Esses and on to the section of track that cuts of the rest of the GP circuit. Once again the blind apexes played a significant role in the battle for the final podium position as Brunner took third once again on Lap 11.
After the gifting of third place from Jensen on Lap 11, Brunner buckled down and the American began hunting down both Keanie and even Reid (who weren’t very far apart). Just past the halfway point of the 32 lap race and Brunner was beginning to catch a slipstream from Keanie, posting a 1:28.359 on Lap 19 (pole position was a 1:28.127). By Lap 21 Brunner was right on his gearbox and used that slipstream on the run down to Turn One and breezed into second place with a dozen laps remaining (and Reid not far in the distance).
At the end of Lap 24, Keanie became the first of the front runners to pit, from third position. At the end of Lap 29 the leader Reid dove into the pits with only three laps remaining and was followed by Brunner. Brunner’s stop was quick. Extremely quick, in fact. Brunner took the lead from Reid and had a significant lead with very little racing to go.
Over the next three laps Brunner cruised to what seemed to be an easy victory over the rest of the field. Reid in second place was nearly six seconds behind Brunner, meaning Brunner got his first win with the league in just his third race (and with a third in Brazil and a second at Barber, he’s yet to finish off the podium). Brunner seemed untouchable.
But was he? The details of Brunner’s pit stop came to light once the race was over and it was discovered that there had been some confusion about the regulations of the league. The rules specifically state that one pit stop *for fuel* is required from each driver. Brunner had stopped on Lap 29, but failed to put in the minimum of one gallon of fuel into his tank, which resulted in a much quicker pit stop and eventually led to him winning the race. As a result, Brunner was hit with a ten second penalty, relegating him to second place, behind Reid. In the championship, Brunner extends his lead at the top after his third podium in a row.