Aaaaand we are back again with more multi-make, multi-class racing from Virginia International Raceway as everything from BMW M3s and Mustang Boss 302Rs to GTIs, MINIs and the first ever Kias to turn a wheel in anger return to our televisions on the SPEED channel.
The Conti' series is the opening act for Grand-Am as that series crosses the country, but often times puts on a better show than big brother. 61 cars make up the field at V.I.R. today in the Grand Sport and Street Tuner classes at what is thankfully a fairly large course that will no doubt see some bumps and shunts before the day is over.
Start at 0:40 and see what happened last year at Barber to see a little of what I mean:
Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park (via GrandAmVids)
The top qualifiers to start the race in GS are Al Carter in the #45 M3, Joe Foster in the #15 Boss 302R, the #79 M3 of James Clay, the #35 WRX STi of Bret Spaude, and Jack Roush Jr. driving his #61 Boss 302R.
Getting a rolling start behind the larger displacement cars are the ST leaders headed by David Murry and Sam Schutlz in the #73 and 09 Porsche Boxsters, a pair of Volkwagen GTIs driven by teammates Chris Gleason (#181) and Ryan Ellis (171) and Adam Burrows in the #12 Kia Forte Koup - one of the only two Kia race cars in the world.
Eggs/bacon = eaten. Cold one = cracked. Let's get to the racin'...
The new Mustang Boss 302R was made specifically to beat the BMW M3 is sports car competition. None would have been built and sold to customers if the prototype hadn't been able to edge an M3 out at Laguna Seca in testing, which is how this edition got its name. That wasn't enough at the start here, though, as the #45 and 79 M3s are both ahead of the top qualifying Mustang by turn one.
The ST start got a little more dramatic as Mike Galati imagined his Kia came equipped with the rare cow catcher option and used the fictional iron plow to shove aside a pair of MazdaSPEED 3s as he made his way up through the field. Hey Mike: people tend to notice when you regularly punt your competitors off the field. Either race control is going to handle the situation or the other drivers are.
BOOM! and it was door number two - a BMW spun the wheel of karma and gave the aggressively-driven Kia an introduction to the tire barrier before the lap was even over. "Om mani padme hum," Mike.
In the time it took for the next commercial break, the following things happened:
- Alec Baldwin (I can't not hear it as "Areck Barrrrdwin") tried to sell me a credit card
- Joe Foster skipped two M3s and an ST car to put his Mustang in the race lead while the #29 Mustang GT in its gorgeous Shell-esque livery decided the tire wall looked snackable and attempted to eat it. The #90 Civic Si exploded on track, leaving an oil slick that sent a Camaro and another Civic into graceful slides across the grass next to the offending Honda which, unlike the grass under it, was not currently on fire.
Race time left 1:55:13.
Another commercial break, another series of events which will impact the outcome of the race:
- the #91 Audi S4 and #19 BMW M3 got into a spat with the Audi playing the Ernie Terrell to the BMW's Muhamad Ali. No word on what caused it.
- the pole-sitting #45 M3 is out of the race, dying at some point on the track and requiring a tow back to the pits.
The race leaders went from BMW, 'stang, 'stang, BMW to now Porsche, Camaro, and two new BMWs. There isn't a Lotus out here, but fans of most makes have somebody to root for in this series.
Race time left 1:28:55
The two GTIs are first and third in ST, split by a 328i and hounded by the #196 MINI Cooper S which has moved from 13th to 4th place in the field despite having new restrictions placed on its rev range.
The #13 Rum Bum M3 took the #83 Boxtser and the #64 328i passed that GTI, so Bimmers lead both classes now with 1:19 left in the race. The Rum Bum car will scorch the retinas, but you can't argue with that name.
The cameras were focused on a foul up in the pits of the #171 GTI and thus missed a Civic slamming into a MazdaSPEED 3 at maybe 70mph before sandwiching the Mazda into the wall and ricocheting back onto the crowded track. Everyone looks to be OK, but I'm pretty sure I can see cartoon birds circling Pierre Kleinubing's helmet. Everyone will be looking to pit-in during this full course caution.
The top six cars at the ensuing restart go: BMW, Camaro, Camaro, BMW, Mustang, Mustang, the V-8s singing in chorus.
The pole-sitting ST leader #73 Boxster wasn't getting enough attention, so it decided to pull a triple barrel roll despite the wishes of driver Rick DeMan, who emerged from a cloud of radiator steam seemingly unscathed.
2011-continental-tire-series-VIR-rick-deman-flip.avi (via imoon001)
That impact necessitated a bit of a rebuild to the barrier, so an extended full course caution period left 33 minutes in the race by the time the next green flag dropped. The top three go BMW, Mustang, BMW, with the Stevenson Camaro having clawed its way back up to 7th place. The Camaro was breathing down the neck of the leaders three wide before the Rum Bum car next to it was completely drop kicked at his braking point by the #15 Mustang and took a sleigh ride across 30 yards of turf and into the tire wall - hard. I'd say things are heating up as the race draws closer to the end of its 200 miles, but banging like that has been the story of the entire race so far.
Race time left 17:42
Billy Johnson has muscled his Roush car up into first place as rain is now imminent. Sports car stalwart Bill Auberlen is now in second in his Turner Motorsport M3, chasing the Mustang and making Roush work hard. The cars' windshield wipers are starting to come on.
Nico Rondet has drawn his 328i up from 10th place to take the ST lead away from Ryan Eversly in his Civic Si as we go into the last commercial break.
Race time left 9:40
Eversly and Rondet are changing positions back and forth now as two MX-5s have ganged up on the third place Kia to now run 4th and 5th. The quick shower has passed, and the track is quickly drying out for the finish.The second Kia has now run up to come to the aid of his teammate against the two Mazdas.
The Turner and Roush cars are somehow managing to run a clean race as they turn and burn through the final laps. Their cars are jumping and drifting through corners as Auberlen kicks it wide the penultimate time around the old oak tree and is passed by another M3 to fall to third place. He may have been nudged heading into the turn, but it's the Roush car that just roared through a white flag.
Auberlen rubbed an ST car as he claws desperately at Terry Borcheller in the M3 in front of him, and Johnson is floating through turns in four wheel drifts. The two M3s are after it tooth and nail as Auberlen manages the pass before the checkered flag. Eversly looks to have a comfortable lead in his Si over the 328i aaaand holds him off across the line by maybe .3 second. That's two very close finishes in both classes/
"Did you like what you saw? Well guess what: every single round of the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge series is just like that," said broadcaster Calving Fish at the end of the race, and he's right. Fields this large mean there will inevitably be some bumping, but this is no demolition derby. There is some exceptional driver skill on display is this series with front and mid-engined cars in front-, rear- and all-wheel drive configurations at many different horsepower levels battling it out on the same track at the same time.
That's it for us today, but maybe I'll see you around the track for the next Conti' race at Lime Rock Park this Saturday the 28th of May.