Starting from third on the grid in the No. 17 Murillo Racing Nissan 350Z, Black kept his patience through a flurry of activity at the drop of the green flag and a five-car battle at the front of the field through the early laps. While some of his competitors encountered problems, Black focused on staying within sight of the lead in the early running.
His patience was rewarded on Lap 7 of the 13-lap race, when he pulled to the inside of Jeff Dernehl, of Woodstock, Ga., in Road America's famed Canada Corner (Turn 12) and into the lead. Black would not be challenged from that point on and went on to win by 3.542 seconds over Dernehl.
It was Black's first Runoffs victory since taking gold in Spec Racer Ford in 2003 and was Black's 11th Runoffs medal overall. Black also turned the Hawk Hot Lap of the race at 2:23.894.
"That was definitely a crazy battle on those first couple of laps," Black said. "I expect that in a Spec Racer. I had no idea it was going to be that in a GT3 race. I was really surprised. It seemed like people were really going for it right off the bat. I've made a number of mistakes and lost races because I thought I could win it in those first few laps. I thought, 'You know what, don't worry. If they get by you, it's 13 laps. It's way longer than you think. Just stay patient.'
"I kept having to talk myself down, because everybody was going for it. People were going by me and I felt like I was back to fourth at one point or something. I just tried to stay as calm as I could. Heck, by the end of the race, after I made that pass on Jeff, I was shocked at how much longer we had to go. You always forget how long those races are."
Dernehl started second and matched his starting position with a second-place result in the No. 03 Roswell Outback Auto/RRE/Hoosier Mazda RX-7 after leading Laps 2-6. It was Dernehl's best Runoffs result to date and was his second medal after a third-place performance in E Production in 2002.
"The early-on battle was pretty neat," Dernehl said. "Rob Warkocki, the 2010 champion, is a friend of mine and he got me out there. I had just a little bit of pull on him on the straightaway and made a run and took him back in Turn 1. I buckled down and just started working real hard and pulled away. I thought, 'Wow, this could be it.' I looked in the mirror, and good old John here, he's a tough cat. He hung in there and chased me down and we had a great race. It just got to the point where I just couldn't hold him off any longer.
"Overall, it was just a fantastic week here at the Runoffs. We did a bunch of work on the car and everything worked. This is the Super Bowl, right? This is the 'It.' This is THE event that you want to perform. You've got the best of the best here, so to be up in this group with these guys, I'm thrilled."
Competing in his 28th Runoffs, Wolfgang Maike, of Santa Barbara, Calif., scored his fifth medal with a third-place performance in the No. 15 Toyota/Goodyear/Red Line Toyota Paseo. Maike improved two spots from his fifth-place starting position.
"For me, it was a relatively uneventful race because the guys in front took off," said Maike, who made his first Runoffs appearance in 1975. "I tried like heck to catch them, but it didn't quite work, so I settled to run the fastest I could to get a podium finish. It worked out really well. It was a nice, wonderful race, and I love coming to the Runoffs!"
Mike Henderson, of El Cajon, Calif., was fourth in the No. 12 Mazda/Red Line/Goodyear Mazda RX-7, followed by Jim Hargrove, of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Hargrove finished fifth in the No. 38 RaceEnergy/Analytic Systems Honda Civic Si.
Ken Nelson, of Novi, Mich., won the Sunoco Hard Charger award with a seventh-place result after starting 13th in the No. 91 Nissan 200SX.
Three early contenders saw their chances at victory come to a premature end. Mike Cyphert, of Twinsburg, Ohio, started from the Gumout Pole Position and was a central figure in the lead battle until he and Warkocki, of Frankfort, Ill., made contact in Turn 3 on Lap 3. The contact sent Cyphert's No. 76 Toyota Motorsports/TRD/Red Line Oil/Goody's Toyota Celica hard into the outside barrier and out of the race.
Warkocki - who led the opening lap of the race - fell to the rear of the running order before battling back to sixth at the checkered flag. D. Richard Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., was also a lead-pack runner in the early going before a mechanical problem dropped his No. 30 Abacus Racing/Hoosier/Sunoco Nissan 350Z.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - Provisional Results from Friday's Sunoco GT3 National Championship Race, part of the 48th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America with finish position, starting position in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car and laps complete.
1. (3), John Black, Olympic Valley, CA, Nissan 350Z, 13.
2. (2), Jeff Dernehl, Woodstock, GA, Mazda RX-7, 13.
3. (5), Wolfgang Maike, Santa Barbara, CA, Toyota Paseo, 13.
4. (8), Mike Henderson, El Cajon, CA, Mazda RX-7, 13.
5. (10), Jim Hargrove, Surrey, BC, Honda Civic Si, 13.
6. (4), Rob Warkocki, Frankfort, IL, Mazda RX-7, 13.
7. (13), Ken Nelson, Novi, MI, Nissan 200SX, 13.
8. (12), Kerry Bonner, Katy, TX, Ford Probe, 13.
9. (14), Dave Dobry, Plymouth, MI, Eagle Talon, 12.
10. (15), Roger Welling, New Milford, PA, Nissan 280ZX, 12.
11. (16), Chad Bacon, Kingsport, TN, Toyota Celica, 10.
DNF, (9), Joe Kristensen, London, ON, Acura RSX, 5.
DNF, (6), D Richard Bushey, Virginia Beach, VA, Nissan 350Z, 3.
DNF, (1), Mike Cyphert, Twinsburg, OH, Toyota Celica, 2.
DNS, (7), Paul Young, Commerce Township, MI, Ford Probe, 0.
DNS, (11), Jim Valdez, Denver, CO, BMW E46, 0.
Time of Race: 31:22.952
Winner's average speed: 99.418 mph
Fastest race lap: #17 John Black 2:23.894 (100.074 mph)
Lap Leaders: 1, #78 Rob Warkocki, 2-6, #03 Jeff Dernehl, 7-13, #17 John Black.
Sunoco Hard Charger: #91 Ken Nelson