In two seasons and 18 races to date the SSCA Grand American Championship presented by O’Neil PC Systems has provided some memorable online racing; none more so than the Wisconsin 120 at Road America. More than any other event, this race showcased the incredible competition and close battles that characterize the SSCA Grand American Championship.
The Daytona Prototype battle was, as always, tight and uncompromising at the front of the field. Chris Hughson took the pole followed by Colin MacLean, Mike Young and Jaymz Mynes all within half a second of each other. These four drivers have battled hard all season and the pairing of Young and Mynes is in prime position for a run at the DP championship.
At the drop of the flag Hughson, MacLean and Young pulled out a gap to the field. Things would go horribly wrong for Young in Turn Five as Chris Damron Jr. misjudged his braking point and ploughed into the right rear corner of Young’s DP. Young’s car appeared undamaged until he took the next turn complex at full speed, looping the DP into the inside wall and ending his day.
“Going up the hill and through Turn Six it felt alright,” said Young, “but as soon as I turned right for Turn Seven the back just kicked out and spun in front of the whole field. Luckily, everyone was able to get through without an incident, but the race was over for me just as soon as it started.”
As Hughson and MacLean approached The Kink on the first lap, MacLean was determined to make the early pass and stamp his authority on the race. Hughson turned-in slightly late and had to breathe the throttle on entry. This gave MacLean enough momentum to put together a run into Canada Corner. MacLean faked left, then darted right at the last second, giving Hughson no time to respond as MacLean swept by in the brake zone.
Once in the lead MacLean pulled away and would not surrender the position taking home his third victory of the season. Sadly for Hughson his promising race would end a mere six laps later as damage from a minor incident forced him to retire in pit lane. Bringing his DP home in second place, Mynes is now the favorite for the championship. While not always the fastest car on track Mynes has finished in the top five of every race he has taken part in, winning one round at Barber Motorsports Park. Young will need strong results at Brands Hatch and VIR if he hopes to snatch the crown from Mynes in the last two races of the season. Rounding out the podium, Gilles Mourette put together another stellar performance firmly cementing his fourth place in the championship.
The race in the Corvette C6.R class was surely one of the most exciting any of the participants have taken part in. Virtual racing or not, the heart rates of the participants were sky-high and there were a few exhausted sim racers at the checkered flag. Qualifying gave a hint of the thrilling race to come as positions two through four on the grid all qualified within one tenth of a second. Damron Jr. led the class on pole with Joe Vorndran and RC Rigdon rounding out the top three. Alex Ulleri qualified only one hundredth of a second behind Rigdon in fourth.
When the times are so close in qualifying the race is sure to be a good one. It would not disappoint.
At the green, Damron Jr. immediately dispatched Mynes, working himself up one spot in the running order. His journey to the front would be short-lived however, as the contact with Young in Turn Five ended his day with a deranged front suspension. With Damron Jr. out, Rigdon briefly inherited the lead with a mirror full of Vorndran who would make his intentions known with a strong pass for the lead on the exit of Turn Five. Taking advantage of Rigdon’s evasive maneuver around a spinning Young, Ulleri darted into second pushing Rigdon back to third. First to third in two corners, Grand American racing at its finest.
Lurking behind the leaders on a full tank of virtual fuel, Dean Ayer was biding his time. His pit stop was going to be quicker than the leading cars as he planned on a splash and dash pit strategy. Always a risky strategy, splash and dash can make up for a lower qualifying position as less time is spent in the pits. Chuck Chambliss, who started at the rear of the field after problems in qualifying, was gradually working his way back to the front putting together another impressive performance.
On Lap Six Vorndran, distracted by Hughson’s crippled DP, put two wheels off through The Kink. Teetering on the brink of disaster, Vorndran held it together but relinquished the top spot to Ulleri in the process. The next lap another small mistake would drop him back in the order as Chambliss and Ayer motored by into third and fourth place in class. Ulleri would hold the lead until Lap 11 when a spin allowed Rigdon and Chambliss past, dropping him to third.
Already four leaders in only 11 laps and the pace would not relent! Running inches apart for the next few laps the Corvette drivers were taking no prisoners. Ulleri regained one spot on Lap 14, passing Chambliss in the ever-popular braking zone in Turn Five.
If the race was not tense enough already, the Corvette class leaders came into the pits on the following next lap literally nose-to-tail. The big winner in the pit lane shuffle was Vorndran whose strategy of staying on the same tires vaulted him up the order behind Rigdon and ahead of Ulleri and Chambliss. Ayer, heavier on fuel, inherited the lead and set about laying down quick laps in an effort to build a gap to the chasing pack. Rigdon would have a pucker moment as Dwight Plesh spun dead center in The Kink, causing light contact with leading Corvette. This was enough to let Vorndran slip past into first place, setting-up an epic conclusion to the race.
The second half of the Grand American races are always very interesting and often full of drama as fatigue and mistakes have a tendency to creep into the driving. There would be no room for error in the Corvette battle as even a tiny mistake could cost four positions. Ulleri piled on the pressure and within two laps had made quick work of Rigdon and Vorndran. Then, with a masterful pit strategy, Ayer leapfrogged up the order into third place with a very late pit-stop on Lap 25. He was not the only one making progress . . .
“I got a great run out of the last corner and drafted RC down the straight , ” said Ulleri. “Turn One is not an easy spot to make a pass but I pulled it off. I was so pumped at that point as I knew I had more speed on fresh tires then Joe. On the same lap we lost Chuck to some weird braking mishap. On the next lap Joe went wide in Turn Five and RC passed him. So I was back in the lead…or so I thought.”
Post pit-stops the order looked to be set with Ulleri, Rigdon, Ayer and Vorndran the top four, but Road America would throw up a few more surprises before the day was done. Rigdon quickly closed the gap to Ulleri but the race took an unanticipated turn on Lap 26 as Rigdon got loose under braking and slid into Ulleri,spinning both cars off the track. Ayer didn’t need an invitation and promptly blasted past into an unexpected lead. The incident was enough to bring Vorndran back into the picture and set up a four lap dog-fight to the finish. On Lap 29, just one lap from the end, Ulleri succumbed to intense pressure from Vorndran, losing control of the car on the final turn, dropping him to fourth and handing the third spot on the podium to an elated Vorndran.
As the white flag waved the battle for the class win was far from over. Ayer was really feeling the heat from a hard-charging and determined Rigdon. Every turn Rigdon was pulling a few tenths as Ayer struggled to keep his Corvette shiny-side up on its old, worn tires. The unrelenting pressure would pay off for Rigdon when a harried Ayers took the defensive line into Canada Corner. His shallow entry pushed his car wide on exit and Rigdon slipped past into the lead. Rigdon would hold his position through the final corners and took the checkered flag in emphatic style. A fantastic class victory and a fitting end to an epic and truly memorable race.
Next week, the racers with any energy left will make the trip across the virtual pond to Brands Hatch in Kent, England. There is never any shortage of drama at Brands Hatch but can it possibly top this race? Stay tuned to find out!
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