TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 12, 2008) – Bill Gray, of Fayetteville, Ark., capitalized on a last-lap mechanical failure for Tony Ave to earn his first GT-1 National Championship in 10 years at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs. Ave, from Maiden, N.C., held on to finish second at Heartland Park Topeka, followed by James Goughary Jr., of Jupiter, Fla.
Defending GT-1 Champion Ave immediately took over the lead at the drop of the green flag in the No. 36 Lamers Motor Racing/Pro-Motor/Goodyear Ford Mustang, while polesitter Gray dropped back to third. While Gray was finding a way around Goughary, Ave put the hammer down, pulling away from the field with each lap and opening up a lead of more than five seconds.
All was not well with Ave’s Mustang, however. Unbeknownst to onlookers, Ave was suffering from a fuel pressure problem. On the final lap, the issue became perfectly clear as Ave slowed on the back half of the course. Try as he might to make his Mustang as wide as the course, Ave could not hold off Gray, who pulled his No. 49 BGR, Inc. Chevrolet Corvette alongside Ave in the final corner to set up a drag race to the finish. And a photo finish it was, with Gray taking the win by a mere 0.009-second. It was the fourth-closest finish in Runoffs history.
“[Ave] caught me sleeping [on the start],” Gray said. “I ran up to the top of second and I was moving to third when the flag went and he was gone. [Jim Goughary] got by me too. After that, I ran a couple of hard laps. I ran as hard as I could and I started burning my tires up. So, I tried to stay smooth and I slowed down. Then, Tony started struggling a little towards the end. My coach on the radio said, ‘it’s time to go,’ and I gave it all I had. It was close. But, I guess everybody saw that.
“[At the end] I wasn’t thinking about anything but holding it on the floor,” smiled Gray. “To be honest with you, I didn’t think I’d won it was that close.”
Quite a distance behind Gray and Ave’s spectacular finish, Goughary held off a charging Glen Jung to bring his No. 70 Luna Sueno Tequlia/Red Line Chevrolet Corvette home in third.
Jung, of Osteen, Fla., and Tom Smith, of Springdale, Ark., completed the top five.
Kevin David Rich, of Round Rock, Texas, was the Sunoco Hard Charger, advancing seven positions in the race behind the wheel of the No. 95 Cleaning Systems Specialists Ford Mustang.
The GT-1 National Championship race will air SPEED, Wednesday, Feb. 11, at noon (EST).
The SCCA National Championship Runoffs® The Pinnacle of American Motorsports, will crown Sports Car Club of America’s Club Racing National Champions for the 45th-consecutive year in 2008. The best amateur drivers from across North America will compete on Heartland Park Topeka’s 2.5-mile road course in what is considered the “Olympics” of motorsports. This year’s event began with four days of qualifying, Oct. 6-9, and is now concluding three days of National Championship racing, Oct. 10-12. Live timing, lap notes, results and photos are all available at www.scca.com/runoffs.