Members of the Red Sox Racing League traveled to warm, sunny Florida for the “Hendricks Field 30 at Night Sebring” on week seven of their 2012 Season One schedule. The event was the first night race of the year for RSR drivers. The fact that it was held on one of most challenging courses on the schedule meant drivers had to spend hours learning the 3.7 mile, 17 corner layout before race time.
Sebring has been hosting races since 1950, including the famous “12 Hours of Sebring” endurance race. The track includes sections of an active airport, so drivers are forced to race on a variety of surfaces as they transition between the hard concrete runways and softer asphalt side roads. Turn Seventeen, named “Sunset Bend”, has a reputation for being one of the most troublesome spots on the track. The wide, double right-hand corner leading to the front stretch is wide enough to accommodate 3-wide racing, but includes one of the bumpiest transitions on the track. True to its reputation, the corner was the site of many incidents during the RSR event.
Seventeen drivers participated in pre-race practice sessions, but only sixteen started the event. Andrew Gantman earned his first pole of the season when he posted the only sub-1:48 lap of the qualifying session. His lap time of 1:47.524 not only earned Gantman the pole in the Class A event, but it put his competitors on notice that he was ready for the challenge of night racing. Les Turner earned the outside position of row one with a lap time of 1:48.400. Jim Albertson, Terry Daul, Andrew Feldman, and William Kabela rounded out the thin grid of HPD drivers.
Dean Moll also earned his first pole of the season by leading the way in the Class B Corvette qualifying session. Moll’s lap time of 1:55.903 was almost a full second faster than his nearest competitor. Dustin McGrew earned the outside position of row one. Bruce Snelson, Bill Hadden, Tommy Rhyne, Scott Husted, Jeff Thomas, John Koscielniak, Larry Krupp, and Ed Sutcliff completed the grid.
RSR drivers began the race by cleanly negotiating the opening corners and avoiding each other as they let their tires get up to temperature. Gantman, Turner, and Albertson held position out front in the HPD class, while McGrew jumped to the lead in the Corvette class by outgunning Moll through the first several corners.
Feldman was the first driver to risk a daring pass when he attempted to overtake Kabela at the Hairpin on Lap Two. Both cars were forced off course when Kabela moved low and was spun by Feldman. Feldman continued without losing much track position, but Kabela was forced to watch the entire field pass before he could rejoin the action.
McGrew gave fans a thrill when he executed a high speed 360 spin through the grass after exiting Turn One on Lap Three. Deftly avoiding what looked like a race ending wreck, McGrew somehow managed to avoid the wall as he got his car pointed back in the right direction. Moll and Snelson both got past McGrew during the incident, but Snelson gave the spot back when he drove off course two corners later.
Husted and Thomas made almost identical errors at the Hairpin on Lap Three. Husted was the first to get there. Failing to brake in time for the sharp right-hand corner, his car continued into the run-off track surface and grass. Thomas arrived a second later and spun his car exiting the corner. Thomas ended up stopped on the track, facing the wrong direction as Krupp entered the corner. Krupp picked up two positions as he kept his car on the track and away from Thomas while getting through the corner.
Fans at the Hairpin saw plenty of excitement in the early going, but incidents at the Tower and Sunset Bend, proved to be the turning points of the race for several drivers. Already a lap down on Lap Seven, Feldman’s night ended when he failed to brake in time for the Tower. The resulting impact with the outside wall totaled his HPD. Krupp and Gantman tangled at Sunset Bend two laps later. Krupp started the action by going too wide on corner exit and hitting the outside wall in front of the race leader. Gantman couldn’t react to Krupp’s return to the racing line and tapped the rear of Krupp’s car just as Husted got to the scene. Krupp was damaged in the incident, but Gantman continued on and maintained the lead.
Krupp’s car came to a stop facing the wrong way on the track, then the hits kept coming as Krupp tried an ill-timed u-turn in front of traffic exiting the high speed corner. The move left Koscielniak with nowhere to go. Rhyne drove under Krupp’s airborne car just after Koscielniak and Krupp bounced off each other. The 3rd place HPD driver, Albertson, was immediately behind Rhyne and had an excellent view of the incident. “I don’t know how we got through that mess”, said Albertson after the race.
Koscielniak pitted for repairs, but suffered race-ending damage when he bounced off the inside and outside walls of Sunset Bend on Lap Twelve.
The race continued to be rough on equipment as only Albertson, Daul, Hadden and Sutcliff managed to complete the event without incident. The remaining drivers combined for 82 incident points in 225 laps of racing.
Class A results:
Gantman posted the fastest lap of the race and led all sixteen laps on his way to victory in the HPD class. It was his first win of the 2012 season and allowed Gantman to cut into Turner’s lead in the championship battle. Turner chased Gantman throughout the race and made a rare last lap error which could have cost him 2nd place. “I knew my opportunities to catch and pass Andrew were winding down once I saw him get past Larry”, said Turner. “I pushed it too hard coming out of Turn Five and lost any chance I had to catch him through Big Bend.”
Albertson earned 3rd place in the event and was happy with his forth top-5 finish of the season. “We had a tough time finding clean track during qualifying, so I was pleased we managed to earn third place on the grid. My biggest scare came when those Corvettes collided in front of me late in the race! Other than that, the Corvette drivers did another fantastic job of giving us room tonight. Congratulations to Andrew and Dustin on their wins.”
Daul was the last HPD driver to finish on the lead lap when he crossed the line in fourth place. Feldman (5th) and Kabela (6th) both retired early.
Turner enjoys an eleven point lead over Gantman in the championship battle, while Daul, Kabela, and Albertson round out the top five positions.
Class B results:
Despite failing to earn the pole position for the first time in 2012, McGrew led the early laps in the Corvette by aggressively attacking the corners when the field went green. His grip on the lead was lost on Lap Three, but McGrew calmly worked his way back into contention. He and Moll swapped the lead twice before McGrew finally locked it down on Lap Eleven. The win was McGrew’s fifth victory in seven races.
Moll’s second place finish was his fifth top-5 of the season. “I had a good run tonight, but lost any chance to win with three really poor laps in the middle of the race. That stretch was very costly as I went from leading, to being over twenty seconds behind the leader. I got back to good form after the pit cycle, but it was too little too late. Congratulations to Dustin on another win.”
Rhyne earned third place in the race. He was followed by Hadden (4th), Snelson (5th), Sutcliff (6th), Krupp (7th), Husted (8th), Thomas (9th), and Koscielniak (10th).
McGrew’s victory gave him a seven point lead over Rhyne in the championship battle, while Moll, Sutcliff, and Husted round out the top five positions.
RSR drivers get a Winter break as they remain in Florida for next week’s race, the “Sanchez 30 at Homestead B”, at the Homestead Road Course B on March 1, 2012.
League Video Site: