It took him 21 starts, but Sam Halkias, of Westerville, Ohio, finally captured his elusive first SCCA National Championship, taking the win in a wet E Production race that brought the 2009 SCCA National Championship Runoffs to a close. Aaron Downey, of Corona Del Mar, Calif., and Wayne Graham, of Santa Barbara, Calif., completed the top three.
As the cars sat on the grid, the skies darkened, but the rain did not begin to fall steadily until the cars were on the pace lap, forcing drivers to predict what tires they would need at the green flag of the scheduled 13-lap, 52-mile race.
The top three cars of polesitter Jon Brakke, from Fargo, N.D., and defending Champion Jesse Prather, of Topeka, Kan., and Greg Ira, of Plantation, Fla., elected to keep dry tires on their cars. Fourth-starting Graham split the difference between slicks and rains on his No. 9 Mariah Motorsports Mazda RX-7 and went with intermediate Goodyears.
Just after the green came out, Brakke spun his No. 89 Margaret Peterson Bars Mazda Miata, and Prather tip-toed into the lead in his No. 34 Prather Racing/Carbotech/Moss Mazda Miata. The lead would be short lived, though, as Prather spun in Turn Eight, handing the lead to Graham.
From there, Graham led the first five laps as the rain became heavier around the 14-turn, four-mile course. Graham admitted that his tire choice was good for the first part, but as the rain became heavier, he couldn't hold off Downey and Halkias.
Downey, who started sixth, took the lead from Graham in his No. 5 roundpeg.com/Mazda Motorsports Mazda RX-3 on full rain tires, while Downey wrestled with a fogged windshield. Halkias moved his No. 83 Catawba Island Marina/Goodyear Triumph TR6 into the lead on lap seven.
From there, the veteran driver who's previous best finish was third (twice) pulled away until the checkered flag came out at the conclusion of lap 11. Downey spun on the final lap in Turn Eight, and finished 15.499 seconds behind. Halkias averaged 75.594 mph.
"It feels wonderful to finally win," Halkias said. "I was on the grid at the last second when my buddy John Schmitt came by and said 'my motor's down, I'm on wets and I'm going to take a chance.' I said 'it's not raining, I can't put them on yet.' We brought them over, we were watching the radar and decided to put them on. It was under five minutes [before the race] when the tires got changed, and that's when we made the decision. Thank God we had the brand new Goodyears.
"I was just being very patient at the start," Halkias said of the race. "I knew a lot of the guys had slicks in front of me and I didn't want to get collected on their slicks. I was very patient, one at a time, here and there watching cars go and one by one by one, I was running people down. I saw Wayne [Graham] and I saw Aaron [Downey]. Without a windshield, you don't see a thing behind a car like that. Wayne did a great job on dries. I just took my time and I didn't know how many laps, my lap counter wasn't working. In this condition, just bringing your car home is a victory.
"Once I realized it was the three of us [with Downey and Graham], I got a little aggressive. I figured 'what the hell?' I had a chance at Mid-Ohio in '05. I was leading the last lap and Kim Knapp went around me and it didn't happen. That's kept me awake for a long time, and today I was just as calm as could be and thought I'd finish first, finish second, or finish third - just don't do anything stupid and I didn't. We got real close in traffic, there was some bumping out there, but the Goodyear tires just kept me going."
Graham also battled fogging issues with his windshield, but held on to finish third, nearly a minute behind the Champion.
John Schmitt, of Sunbury, Ohio, finished fourth in his No. 62 Hoosier/Red Line Oil Honda Prelude, followed by Austin Snader, of Brookshire, Texas, in the No. 64 Snader Racing Mazda RX-8.
Prather pitted for tires on lap two, and battled back from 30th place to finish sixth, the highest finishing driver of those that pitted. Ira also pitted for tires in his No. 2 CU Yacht Charters/First Coast Auto Datsun 240Z and turned the fastest race lap of 3:02.106 (79.075 mph) afterward.
Greg Kasprzyk, of Yatesville, Pa., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing from 31st to finish 12th in his No. 00 GK Construction/Racelabz/Morgantini BMW 325.
The E Production National Championship race will be available on demand at www.speedcasttv.com/scca shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - Provisional results from Sunday's E Production National Championship Race, part of the 46th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America with finish position, starting position in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car and laps complete.
1, (10), Samuel Halkias, Westerville, OH, Triumph TR6, 11.
2, (6), Aaron Downey, Corona Del Mar, CA, Mazda RX-3, 11.
3, (4), Wayne Graham, Santa Barbara, CA, Mazda RX-7, 11.
4, (12), John Schmitt, Sunbury, OH, Honda Prelude Si, 11.
5, (17), Austin Snader, Brookshire, TX, Mazda RX-8, 11.
6, (2), Jesse Prather, Topeka, KS, Mazda Miata, 11.
7, (20), Terry Jesk, Mokena, IL, Mazda Miata, 11.
8, (15), Kenneth Shreve, Sammamish, WA, Mazda RX-7, 11.
9, (3), Greg Ira, Plantation, FL, Datsun 240-Z, 11.
10, (21), Gary Gist, Del Mar, CA, Mazda RX-7, 11.
11, (27), Richard Kosdrosky, Granbury, TX, Caterham 7 America, 10.
12, (31), Greg Kasprzyk, Yatesville, PA, BMW 325, 10.
13, (9), David Lemon, Signal Hill, CA, Mazda RX-7, 10.
14, (7), Robert Coffey, Thunder Ray, ON, Honda Prelude Si, 10.
15, (11), Michael Sturm, Grafton, WI, Honda Prelude Si, 10.
16, (26), Jeffrey Willert, East Troy, WI, Mazda RX-7, 10.
17, (29), Ron Olsen, Barrington, IL, Mazda RX-7, 9.
18, (33), Donald Walsh, Orrtanna, PA, Mazda RX-7, 9.
19, (35), Sydney Davis, Cypress, TX, Mazda Miata, 9.
20, (23), Guy Ruse, Boulder, CO, Mazda RX-7, 9.
21, (1), Jon Brakke, Fargo, ND, Mazda Miata, 9.
22, (36), William Albright, Tipp City, OH, Mazda RX-7, 9.
23, (5), Kevin Leigh, Harrisonburg, VA, Caterham 7 America, 8.
24, (18), Rick Kavitski, Freeland, PA, Mazda Miata, 8.
25, (32), John Longwell, Kittredge, CO, BMW 318is E36, 8.
26, (24), Brian Haupt, Spring Hill, KS, Mazda RX-7, 8.
27, (34), Rick Olsen, South Barrington, IL, Mazda RX-7, 8.
28, (30), Don Bunt, Rockford, IL, Nissan 240Z, 8.
29, (28), Jason Albright, Clayton, OH, Mazda RX-7, 8.
30, (22), Steve Smyczek, Brookfield, WI, Mazda RX-7, 7.
31, (25), Charlie Clark, Mission, KS, Mazda RX-7, 7.
32, (19), Meredith Haupt, Overland Park, KS, Mazda RX-7, 6.
33, (8), Sam Moore, Kannapolis, NC, BMW Z3, 6.
DNF, (13), Michael Heintzman, San Jose, CA, Mazda Miata, 4.
DNF, (16), Michael Hart, Cypress, TX, Mazda RX-7, 2.
DNF, (37), Richard Adams Jr, Deadwood, SD, Caterham 7 America, 2.
DNS, (14), James Simaras, Oconomowoc, WI, Mazda RX-7, 0.
Time of Race: 34 minutes, 55.392 seconds
Margin of Victory: 15.499 seconds
Winner's average speed: 75.594 mph
Fastest race lap: #2 Greg Ira, 3:02.106 (79.075 mph)
Lap leaders: Laps 1-5, Wayne Graham; lap 6, Aaron Downey; laps 7-11, Sam Halkias
Sunoco Hard Charger: #00 Greg Kasprzyk
Attached: Sam Halkias leads Aaron Downey at Road America
Credit: Mark Weber