Honda and Acura racers won five Sports Car Club of America national titles, including a second consecutive Formula title and the closest finish in SCCA transponder-era history, in the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America.
A total of 61 Honda and Acura racers, the largest participation in recent history, traveled to the classic Road America road course in Wisconsin September 16-22 for this year's celebratory 50th Anniversary Runoffs, taking part in 11 of the 28 classes.
Twelve Formula F drivers, exactly half of the 24-car starting field, used the HPD L15A7 engine at this year's Runoffs, a record for the manufacturer in this open-wheel, training-ground category. Tim Kautz, who made history in 2012 as the first Honda-powered Formula F National Champion, successfully defended his title after a race-long battle with Reid Hazelton.
"It was a great race, the whole race," Kautz said. "We [Kautz and Hazelton] were battling a little harder than we should have at the start. Then, I could see Reid decide 'Hey, there's too many people coming out to play, let's pull away a little.' So, we worked together, and the last couple of laps the gloves came off. I think the last lap I went from first to second to first to second to first. So that's a fun race, a real fun race."
Behind the lead pair, Jeffrey Bartz finished third in his Honda-powered Van Diemen, with former national champion Scott Rubenzer fourth in his Spectrum-Honda and Cliff Johnson fifth in another Piper-Honda.
In Touring 3, Chad Gilsinger took his Acura TL SH-AWD to victory, despite final lap drama that saw his relatively comfortable lead of more than eight seconds nearly wiped out when he encountered a slower car – and yellow flags for a separate incident at Turn 12 – less than a mile from the finish.
"I was basically in cruise mode at that point, but came up on a lapped car. He was going overly slow and was pointing me by," Gilsinger recounted. "But as I got alongside him, I noticed a yellow flag [for the incident at Turn 12]. I didn't want [a penalty for passing under yellow] to screw up the win, so I almost stopped to let him back by, until we could get past the incident and I could [legally] pass him. It was almost a bad situation, but luckily it turned out okay."
Gilsinger's victory was his second Touring 3 national championship. He also won the category in 2010, driving a Honda S2000.
In the production categories, Acura Integra drivers finished first and third in F Production after an exciting race-long battle that also included the Mazda Miata of Eric Prill. Mark Carpenter took his 2nd Runoffs championship in the class, with Kevin Ruck finishing third in his Integra.
Officially, Carpenter led all 13 laps around the four-mile Road America circuit in his first Runoffs appearance since winning in 2009, but Prill pulled along side several times, and Ruck was never far behind.
"Our decision to go racing didn't happen until June of this year," Carpenter said. "It's a little different feeling this time around. In such a short period of time, my guys did a great job getting the car together, even on the trailer, to get it out of the garage. I was tripping over it in my garage for two years. Even though I've been out of the driver's seat, I've still been at the track, working in pro racing [as an engineer] for the last couple of years. I've learned a lot of things that have helped my driving. There's a lot I've picked up on. It's different this time around, but it feels just as sweet as 2009, for sure."
The fourth Honda championship of the weekend came in H Production, where Lawrence Loshak won his fourth title – and second with Honda after winning E Production in 2006. Loshak started from the pole and was ahead of a multi-car, first-lap crash that briefly stopped the race.
On the restart, a missed shift dropped Losak's Honda CRX down to fourth. But by mid-race, Loshak reclaimed a lead he would maintain to the finish. Jay Griffin finished third in his CRX to add to Honda's podium total for the weekend, with 2011 champion Greg Gauper taking fourth in his Honda Civic.
"You know, sometimes when you get a run, you gotta go," Loshak said of his recovery to retake the lead. "You follow them around, kind of get a judge of character of who you're racing with, and these guys have been awesome. You gotta do it, especially at the National Championships. It worked out."
The weekend closed out with one of the most exciting races of the weekend and, with a seven-thousandths-of-a-second margin of victory, the closest Runoffs finish since the SCCA began using transponders, as Chris Bovis took his Honda CRX Si to victory lane for the second time in his career in GT Lite.
Bovis, who previously won GT Lite in 2007, started this year's race from fifth on the grid, and spent the first nine laps battling multi-time champion Kent Prather for second place. With three laps remaining in the 13-lap contest, Bovis finally had Prather in is rear-view mirror, and set fastest race lap as he chased down the Nissan of race leader Bobby Lentz.
On Lap 12, the pair was running nose-to-tail, and sometimes side-by-side, as they fought for the lead. Coming out of Turn 12, they again ran side-by-side, rubbing fenders, through the fast right-hand Turn 13. Lentz nosed ahead after the contact, but Bovis "squared-up" the final Turn 14 and pulled alongside Lentz as they exited the left-hander, setting up a drag race to the finish where Bovis prevailed, literally, by inches.
"The difference between Bobby's laps and mine was just a matter of a few feet here and there. I was trying to figure out where I was quicker. I was just marginally quicker," Bovis said. "The best turn I had was [Turn] 13, which is a terrible place to do anything. I'd love to tell you I had a plan, but I consciously thought going into [Turn] 3, this is just going to happen somewhere. Road America is a very important place for me. I grew up here. I've seen a lot of drivers run here. I just know sometimes here, if somebody is diving really hard into the corner, you can square the corner up, cut back, and just lengthen the straightaway up, and sometimes it works. That's honestly the only option I had. It was the [last turn of the] last lap."
Honda Performance Development [HPD], through the Honda Racing Line, offered contingency awards of up to $2,500, along with additional support to help offset travel costs for the racers. HPD also hosted catered, trackside hospitality exclusively for Honda/Acura competitors and their team members, providing buffet lunches September 17-21 and a Friday night ice cream social in celebration of the Runoff's 50th Anniversary.
Founded in 1993, Honda Performance Development (HPD) is the technical operations center for high-performance Honda racing cars and engines, and operates at race circuits around the world from its headquarters in Santa Clarita, California. HPD offers a line of race engines for track applications from prototype sports cars to karting; and showcases "fun" products for professional, amateur and entry-level efforts.
Launched in 2009, the Honda Racing Line is a program targeted at licensed participants in sanctioned amateur and entry-level professional racing. The Honda Racing Line was formed to provide its members with a direct connection to Honda Performance Development and its unparalleled record of success at the highest levels of motorsport.
For more information about HPD and to register for the Honda Racing Line, please visit http://hpd.honda.com.
2013 Honda/Acura SCCA National Championship Runoffs Victories and Podiums:
|Touring 3:||1. Chad Gilsinger, Acura TL SH-AWD|
|B Spec:||2. Joel Lipperini, Honda Fit|
|Formula F:||1. Tim Kautz, Piper DF3 Honda
3. Jeffrey Bartz, Van Diemen RF00 Honda
|GT 2:||2. Joe Kristensen, Acura RSX|
|GT Lite:||1. Chris Bovis, Honda CRX-Si|
|F Production:||1. Mark Carpenter, Acura Integra
3. Kevin Ruck, Acura Integra
|H Production:||1. Lawrence Loshak, Honda CRX
3. Jay Griffin, Honda CRX
|STU:||2. Chad Gilsinger, Honda Civic Si|
# # #