ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN – Heading into the second week of the young season, the question on a lot of minds in the paddock and in the stands was what to run? With BMW Z4 drivers making a strong showing, but RUF inhabitants taking the top two steps on the podium, cases could be made for each mark. Yet when the trailers unloaded at Road America, it became clear that the Z4 was becoming the car to have as over two-thirds of the field decided to put their faith in the new racer. “All the teams are free to choose which car they run week-to-week,” said a league official, “the only rule is you can’t cry about it if you feel you picked the ‘wrong’ car.” It wasn’t long before pre-race talk shifted to the possibility of the series becoming a spec series by mid-season, especially after seeing last week’s winner Brad Vincent trade in his RUF for a Z4 himself. “A few other racers commented that I was brave to stay in the RUF, but honestly I’m probably more cheap than fearless,” chuckled Caribbean Food Delights Racing Team driver James Prostell Jr. “There’s something to be said for the seat time in the car – we’ve spent the last season with the RUF, and I’m not so sure it’s time to throw all that experience and those notes away and start from scratch just because something new and shiny comes along, but at the same time, you have to keep up with everyone else so I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do but give it our all this time out.”
No matter which car they take to the grid, this week’s venue demands undivided attention, lap after lap. What name could be more apt for this track than Road America? A four mile ribbon of pavement sets the stage for Round 2 of the Red Sox Racing League’s GT3 Showdown and amongst the peaks and valleys of the course are some of the most scenic, iconic, and challenging twists and turns to be had. After the dust settled on the qualifying session, defending champion Troy Harder came out on top in his BMW for his first Wil-Trans Pole Position Award this season, followed very closely (just over a tenth of a second) by Brad Vincent in his first BMW run. Joseph Jordan and Les Turner made up row two, followed by Nim Cross Jr. and Ricky Hardin. Seventh-placed starter Brian Irby was the best qualifying RUF driver. Could his or any other RUF disrupt the dominant marque?
With the wave of the green flag, the leading trio of Harder, Vincent, and Jordan waved goodbye to the field, but not to each other, battling one another for the top spot on the podium. Despite plenty of long straights to draft and opportunities presenting themselves at sharp corners, neither Jordan could pass Vincent for second nor Vincent get by Harder for the lead. Vincent decided to pull into the pits for service after eight laps of trying for the lead. Harder and Jordan followed suit one lap later, pitting at the end of the ninth lap.
As fast and clean as the start was for the frontrunners, the story wasn’t the same throughout the pack. Trouble started early, even slightly before the green. Some mixed signals at the end of the pace lap lead to a dangerous accordion effect, and RUF driver Dennis Griffen got the worst of the acceleration and sudden braking when contact from fellow RUF driver James Prostell Jr. sent him into the pit road wall. “I felt terrible about the incident,” said Prostell Jr. about the bump. “To me, the pace car pulled off, we were speeding up, it was time to go, so I went. Just didn’t expect to need to stop and got on the brakes too late, and just hate it for Dennis, especially at the start like that.”
Griffen’s day ended almost immediately, but lap 1 was unkind to other drivers too. Just two corners later, Reed Rundell in his season debut collected Gerald Livingston, sending the Canadian into a much wilder ride than most would expect. The innocent contact escalated into an end-over-end roll with the RUF briefly on its roof before flipping right-side-up by the end of the trip. Rundell was able to continue despite some clear damage to the front of his car, while Livingston would be forced to retire after attempting to resume his race.
More contact was had throughout the race, up and down the running order, but one of the scarier impacts occurred near the end of lap 4. Snapping loose around the final right-hander to end the lap, Andrew Gantman fought to stop the spin, but overcorrected, placing his car directly in the path of Arrested Development Racing’s Ed Sutcliff. The oncoming BMW clouted Gantman, sending him for a roll through the gravel trap before the two ground to a halt. The race for both would end right then and there.
Back up front, Harder and Jordan entered pit lane first and second, and left the same way with enough time for five laps left on the board. Try as he might, Joseph Jordan mustered a challenge but couldn’t pull off a pass for the lead over Troy Harder, particularly with Brad Vincent in his mirror eager to trade third for second. Harder lead from flag to flag, even posting his fastest lap on the white flag lap to cement his claim to the top of the podium, flanked by Jordan and Vincent. Nim Cross Jr. and Dean Moll round out an all-BMW top five.
Brian Irby, Chris Weidner, Les Turner, John Koscielniak and Michael Gagliardo round out the top ten, followed by Andrew Humphrey, Reed Rundell, Tim Trayhan, Michael Baley, Ricky Hardin, Dean Ayer, Tony Duffey, James Prostell Jr., Karl Mumbower and Ray Vachon for eleventh through twentieth. Jason Cross, William Kabela, Christopher Orsolini and Terry Daul were 21st through 24th on the lead lap while Scott Husted and Jeremy Cross finished 25th and 26th, both one lap down. Greg Harris, Paul Hesla, Andrew Gantman, Ed Sutcliff, Gerald Livingston and Dennis Griffen round out the field, 27th through 32nd, each failing to finish due to damage from incidents.
Vincent and Harder head into the next race in a dead heat for the points race, both drivers tied at 92 with Joseph Jordan in third only three points back. The league heads down under to Australia for the Victoria 30 at Phillip Island.