BOWMANVILLE, ONTARIO, CANADA – When the checkered flags waved to end the Gentleman Jim 24 Laps of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway in March, it not only brought a close to the race, but a grueling, 12-week season for Red Sox Racing League’s RUF Track Challenge as well. Troy Harder took home top honors for both the race and the season, but now that the calendar has flipped to May, the focus has shifted from celebration to the last bits of preparation now that the new season is set to start at the picturesque Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Beyond the expected changes brought about during the offseason as drivers and teams scramble to set up teams and secure sponsorship, series officials changed things up quite a bit by moving away from the purely spec stance held for the past four seasons.
This season, the returning RUF Rt-12 Track GT3 car is joined by the new BMW Z4 GT3 racer to create the Red Sox Racing GT Showdown Championship. While this isn’t the first time the officials have had to police multiple marques, having run a series that featured the HPD Prototype along with the Chevrolet Corvette C6R GT1 machines in separate classes, attempting to run both cars in the same class is a new venture. Early practice showed that both cars could run similar laptimes after some tweaking, but the real test would be seeing how the two would coexist at speed.
Heading into qualifying, with little time to compare and try out the Z4, the field was nearly evenly divided, with 13 of the 31 entrants deciding to stick with the RUF Rt-12 from the previous season’s campaign, which may have been the right decision early on. Led by perennial front-runners Brad Vincent and Empty Keg Racing driver Paul Hesla, RUF drivers had a stranglehold on the front row and the first BMW wasn’t spotted on the grid until reigning champion was found on the outside of row number two, .464 seconds back. Proof of just how new these Z4’s were to the paddock was shown almost immediately – the rush of fielding over 15 teams from scratch in less than a month left many scrambling for spare parts, and the lack of parts for needed repairs after qualifying for the BMWs of Cyril Roberts and Brian Cross kept both from seeing the green flag for the race.
Up front, eschewing his traditional green paint for red, Brad Vincent took to turn one, and whether he wanted to or not, brought Paul Hesla with him. The two would go to battle it out for the first 15 tours of the 2.46-mile course. Vincent led 9 laps to the 6 of Hesla, but the two were inseparable to say the least, with gaps between the two never greater than half a second at the line until Hesla pitted on lap 16. Troy Harder found himself embroiled in a tussle himself with the RUF of Andrew Humphrey. Harder stayed close, but needed a lap 7 off at Moss corner to sneak by for third.
Naturally, racing at the rolling hills of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park wasn’t an easy affair for everyone, and early laps exhibited a little chaos back in the pack. First, on lap two, StormFront Racing’s John Koscielniak had his BMW unsettled catching a little too much curb on the diving lefthander, resulting in a little too much speed into Moss Corner where he made contact with Kevin Kyle’s RUF. Kyle went for a spin, and upon approaching the incident, Scott Husted slowed to stay out of the incident only to be involved in one of his own when he got tagged by Andrew Gantman.
Koscielniak’s Moss Corner troubles would continue eight laps later, this time collecting the BMW of Michael Baley entering turn five. While Baley would right himself without losing much time, Koscielniak spun inside and made hard contact with the wall. He pitted for repairs, which were for naught as he’d crash again in turn five a lap later in a scary incident where the car went airborne and rolled over before calling it a day. Thankfully he’d walk away from the wild ride.
Infamous turn two threatened to bite, and grabbed hold of a few competitors this time out. On lap 10, Andrew Gantman crested the hill into the downhill lefthander with a bit of oversteer. He corrected the slide, but ran out of room on the track, and caught the tire barrier with the right side of his car as a result. Running second at the time, Paul Hesla had a remarkably similar incident to end his day only one lap from the finish, only correcting a couple extra times and impacting the wall driver’s side.
Up front after the pit cycle, Brad Vincent was up to the task of bringing home the checkered flag. With a lead over Hesla large enough to avoid a drafting advantage across the long backstretch, Vincent pulled away to a three second lead, which grew to over seven over Humphrey when Hesla had his late-race trouble. Troy Harder grabbed the last step on the podium, followed by Joseph Jordan and Les Turner for the top five.
Sixth through tenth went to Dean Moll, Nim Cross Jr., Gerald Livingston, Brian Irby and Dennis Griffen, followed by Michael Baley, Scott Husted, Tim Trayhan, Ed Sutcliff and James Prostell Jr. for eleventh through fifteenth. Dean Ayer and Jason Cross were sixteenth and seventeenth, the last on the lead lap, with Terry Daul, Paul Hesla, and William Kabela rounding out the top 20, one lap down each. 21st through 26th were Christopher Orsonlini, Jeremy Cross, John Koscielniak, Andrew Feldman, Andrew Gantman, and Kevin Kyle.
Next week, the series visits Elkhart Lake to take on Wisconsin’s Road America.