LEXINGTON, Ohio (September 22, 2002) -- The Sports Car Club of America Valvoline Runoffs® came to a close with the final five races Sunday afternoon at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In all, the competition was fierce, the weather was superb and experience prevailed, with 17 of the 24 races won by previous National Champions.
In GT-3, the first race after lunch, Mike Cyphert, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, captured his second-career National Championship in his Red Line Oil/Toyota Motorsports/TRD/Goodyear Toyota Celica, but it wasn't easy, as he had to battle back from a mid-race spin to take the win.
Cyphert passed polesitter Mike Pinegar on the fourth lap and held the point until he spun in turn 13 on lap nine. Cyphert was able to rejoin in third place, but well behind Pinegar. On lap 16, Pinegar began to slow and pitted with a driveline problem handing the lead back to Cyphert, who moved past Larry Hansen, of Eureka, Calif., on the same lap. Hansen, who drove a car built entirely by Eureka High School students, held on to finish second by a mere 0.391-second.
"I've never won a race where I had to go backwards for a couple hundred yards," joked Cyphert, who also won in 2000. "I saw Mike [Pinegar] behind me, and I guess I went into turn 13 a little hot. I didn't fall too far behind. Once I got by into the lead, the oil light was on, so I guess I was low on oil and lucky to make it to the finish."
Terry Watson, of Quebec, also rebounded from a spin to finish third, followed by David Pettigrew and Rob Warkocki.
Rookie Andrew Prendeville, of Morristown, N.J., battled brother Doug for the Formula Continental Championship, winning by 2.703 seconds in his TCW Inc./Quest Promotions/Avon Tyres Van Diemen.
"I had to work hard towards this," said Andrew Prendeville, age 20. "After [brother] Doug took me on the restart I had to work hard to get back. It took me three laps to get close enough to get a clean pass. I braked later than he did into turn seven and we went side by side through the esses. We actually touched in turn eight. I was then able to stick my nose ahead and took the lead. I was then able to pull away a little bit."
Brian Tomasi, of Elgin, Ill., finished third, followed by Tim Minor and Jerry Szykulski.
Craig Chima, of Akron, Ohio, earned his second-career National Championship and first in E Production in his Midwest Motorsports/Hoosier Elva Courier. Chima, who started from the pole, survived a mid-race battle with Jon Brakke, of Fargo, N.D. Brakke took the lead for a lap, but slid wide in turn eight, allowing Chima back through to take the win.
"Going into the race I felt that my only chance was to stay in front," said Chima. "I got it early on, and then Jon [Brakke] began coming at me hard. We have very different cars. His Miata is a rocket on the straights, while I am faster through the corners. It was clean, hard racing. This is my second win, but it really is better than the first. I was the underdog with a 30-year-old car. It was a challenge, and winning is kind of neat."
Brakke held on for second, followed by Jeff Dernehl, of Woodstock, Ga. Erik Skirmants, of Wixom, Mich., and Tony Rivera, of Littleton, Colo., completed the top five.
Tim Cowen, of Ashland, Ohio, passed Cliff Ebben, of Appleton, Wis., on the penultimate lap to take his first SCCA National Championship, driving the Cowen Truck Line/BFGoodrich Ford Mustang Cobra in GT-1. Cowen started from the pole, but fell behind Ebben at the start. Little by little, Cowen worked the deficit away and made his move when Ebben pushed wide on the 19th lap.
"After coming so close the last two years I could not have scripted it better than to come back in the last two laps to win," said Cowen. "I thought that Cliff was going to run away but my tires began to come in later in the race. I caught Cliff and it looked as if his tires were going away. I was able to get up inside him in the Keyhole, he went wide, and I was able to get by."
Following Ebben were Philip Simms, of St. Cloud, Fla., two-time defending Champion Jeff Ervin, of Chesaning, Mich., and Jack Bush, of Torrington, Conn. Four-time Champion, Academy Award winner Paul Newman, of Milford, Conn., finished ninth after being spun out of seventh on the final lap. Newman, who started 11th, ran as high as sixth in the event.
The final 2002 Valvoline Runoffs race came down to the wire, with Mike Biangardi, of Rolling Meadows, Ill, taking the win over two-time defending Champion Larry Connor in Formula Atlantic by just 0.332-second. Biangardi started from the pole in his Inject-it.com/Hoosier Tire Ralt RT-41 with a record lap and led Connor the entire event. In the final two corners, the duo caught traffic and Connor made his move, but couldn't get it done.
"The car started off pushing in the beginning and then it came around and Larry and I started battling a little bit," said Biangardi. "I had to put my head down and ask myself how much I wanted this. I put the last third of the race together and got the job done. There was a lot of lapped traffic, but I lucked out and caught it at the right time. Larry [Connor] was a total gentleman the entire race.
"I'm now officially retired," added Biangardi, bringing the 2002 Valvoline Runoffs to a fitting close. "I'm going to go karting with my kids next year. I won't push them to race-well, maybe a little."
The results from Saturday's Showroom Stock C race were revised, with Joel Lipperini, of Pittston, Pa., named the Champion after Bill Hagerty was disqualified for a technical issue, John Fernandez was disqualified for an on-track incident and Erich Heuschele was penalized one position for a pass under yellow.