Twenty-two drivers traveled to Belgium for the “Van Ophen 30 at the famous Circuit de Spa GP” in Francorchamps, Belgium during week six of the Red Sox Racing League’s 2012 Season One schedule. After hearing about the photo finish between Chad Peterson and Les Turner in last week’s race at Okayama, race fans in Belgium were eager to see a repeat performance. They would not be disappointed.
Pre-race practice and qualifying sessions at the 19 turn, 4.35 mile track gave everyone a hint of what was to come as Peterson and Turner once again battled for the top spot. Peterson won the pre-race competition by earning his 2nd pole of the season with a qualifying lap of 2:06.356. Turner posted the only other sub-2:07 lap and secured the outside position of row one. Andrew Gantman, Jim Albertson, Terry Daul, Gary Jorgensen, Divina Galica, William Kabela, and Bill Pawluckie completed the grid. HPD drivers Justin Kirby, Wilbur Gildersleeve Jr., and Kevin Kyle participated in the practice session but failed to start the race.
Dustin McGrew once again dominated the Corvette field during qualifying. He won his 6th pole of the season with the only sub-2:15 lap of the event, crossing the line with an incredible time of 2:14.577. Tommy Rhyne edged out Bruce Snelson for the second Corvette grid position. They were followed by Dean Moll, Scott Husted, James Prostell, Jr., Jeff Thomas, Larry Krupp, Bill Hadden, and Ed Sutcliff.
Despite beautiful racing conditions, the race got off to a brutal start for several drivers. Mechanical issues forced Bill Hadden to abandon the race before the field took the green flag, then a blown engine knocked Prostell out of the event as the field got up to speed. While the back half of the field slowed for the smoke and oil coming from Prostell’s car, Rhyne made a sharp move to the left to avoid a slow starting HPD. His decision to jump in front of the outside row could have proven disastrous had Snelson been unable to react to it. As it was, Snelson was forced to the outermost edge of the track to avoid a collision with Rhyne.
While the rear of the field continued to jostle for position, the front half of the field brought fans to their feet in a hotly contested entry into Turn One. Things got ugly fast though when Moll’s Corvette tagged the rear end of Pawluckie’s HPD. Their collision started a chain reaction which eventually caused trouble for Galica, Kabela, and McGrew. Galica got the worst of the fracas and was forced to retire with heavy damage before the dust settled. McGrew went off track to avoid the carnage, but was collected by Galica as she careened into the outside wall. Worse than the damage his car suffered was the fact that McGrew lost the lead in the Class B race. Adding insult to injury, McGrew was rear-ended by Kabela at the top of Kemmell Hill as the two tried to catch the field.
Spa is the longest track on the 2012 RSR schedule. It is also the most technically challenging. Despite their reputation for clean racing, RSR members racked up an incredibly poor average of 6.2 incidents per driver as they collected 112 incidents in 221 laps of racing in Belgium. Their combined 0.506 incidents per lap average was easily the worst performance of the season.
Fortunately, most of the penalties came from “off-track” and “self-spin” incidents which did not result in damaged vehicles. Peterson, Turner, Daul, and Sutcliff were the only drivers to finish the race without collecting any incident penalties.
Class A results:
Peterson and Turner put on a remarkable show for the fans as they fiercely battled for the top spot throughout the thirty minute race. Even more impressively, both drivers completed the event without collecting a single incident penalty despite battling each other and lapped traffic during fourteen laps of heart stopping action.
Gantman tried to keep pace with the leaders on Lap One, but fell victim to the tricky cornering at Les Combes and spun out exiting Turn Five. Gantman was never a factor in the race after the incident.
Turner stayed close to Peterson in the early going and moved into the top spot when the leader pitted for fuel on Lap Eight. Peterson retook the lead when Turner pitted two laps later. Peterson then held off Turner for the remainder of the race and earned his second victory by 4/10’s of second. Most of the suspense in the HPD class was over after Lap One as Albertson, Daul, and Jorgensen locked down the 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions. They tried hard, but were never able to mount a serious challenge to Peterson or Turner.
Albertson summed the race up this way; “Les and Chad are having an incredible season. I don’t know what the rest of us can do to keep pace with them. After the mechanical problems we had last week, I was just happy to be on the track again. Congrats to Chad and Dustin for their respective wins tonight.”
Pawluckie, Gantman, and Kabela rounded out the scoring. Galica’s early exit meant a last place finish for her.
Turner enjoys a twelve point lead over Gantman in the championship battle, while Daul, Jorgensen, and Kabela round out the top five positions. “The last two laps of this race were epic”, said Turner afterwards. “Chad was quick again tonight as usual. I tried hard to stay with him in the early going hoping for a mistake. When he short pitted on Lap Eight, I put my head down and clicked off some fast laps. When I exited the pits a few laps later, we were right together again. Things got interesting when we encountered heavy traffic in the last couple of laps. Congratulations to Chad for another great win!”
Class B results:
Rhyne took advantage of McGrew’s Lap One troubles and led the first five laps in the Corvette class. He was unable to hold off the hard-charging McGrew however, as the points leader ignored damage on the front and rear of his car and electrified the crowd with daring passes during his climb back into contention. McGrew caught Rhyne on Lap Six. He, Rhyne, Snelson, and Moll swapped turns in the lead during the pit cycles, but McGrew put a strangle hold on the top position and never looked back after Lap Nine.
Moll and Snelson locked horns for the second spot on the last lap, but only one would finish the race. Moll bobbled exiting Turn One on the last lap, allowing Snelson to get past him on the long downhill straight leading to Eau Rouge. Moll’s clean exit of the turns at the bottom of the hill meant he had the momentum climbing the uphill, but his pass attempt on Snelson was thwarted when Snelson moved right to protect the inside lane. Still traveling in the faster car, Moll made a smart move to the outside to set up a pass on the high side approaching Les Combes. Snelson mirrored the move at the last second, forcing Moll to leave the track surface to avoid a violent collision. Moll’s car hit the wall hard and was heavily damaged as Snelson continued into the infield grass without losing the position.
Rhyne finished in third place. He was followed by Husted, Thomas, Sutcliff, and Krupp. Moll, Prostell, and Hadden rounded out the scoring. Thomas was happy with his second top-5 finish of the season. “It sure was nice to score another top five and move into 4th place in the championship. We are practicing hard for the night race at Sebring!”
McGrew’s fourth win of the season gave him a solid five point lead over Rhyne in the championship battle while Moll, Thomas, and Husted round out the top five positions.
RSR drivers head to Florida for the “Hendricks Field 30 at Night Sebring” at Sebring International Raceway on February 23, 2012.
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