Round Three of the SCCA Eastern Conference Majors Tour tackled Road Atlanta on Saturday for the first series of races on the doubleheader weekend. Points toward the season-long Conference championship were scored in 27 classes on Saturday.
The first group of the day saw a dominant group of race winners. Jim Daniels started third overall in the No. 86 SpecMiata.com Mazda MX-5 E Production machine, but rocketed to the overall lead around a pair of F Production machines and got away. Steven Lustig's GT-3 No. 51 Luna Sueno Tequila/Autosport Acura Integra chased Daniels, with Ken Kannard's overall pole sitting F Production No. 5 Northwest Cable/Hoosier/Mazda Mazda Miata behind in third, but Daniels scored an overall 9.842-second win.
The group's battle was for the H Production top spot. Michael Miller's No. 64 SportsCarSalvage/AppRaceTire Austin Sprite battled early with the No. 16 Sports Car Salvage/LTD/Comptune Austin Sprite of teammate Tony Drum and the No. 54 MINI of Charleston/MINIUSA.com Mini Cooper of Brad Cooper.
That fight became a battle for the lead when the No. 6 Atlantic Autoworks/Hoosier Honda CRX Si of Jay Griffin fell out with a mechanical issue on lap 10 of the 18-lap race.
Drum held off Davis late as they joined eventual winner Miller on the podium.
Jim Taggart's No. 61 Drug Money Motorsports Lotus Exige and David Brand's No. 3 Krugspeed/BGB Esq. Louts Exige looked like they were going to put on a show in Group 2, but when Taggart's STU machine fell out on Lap 5, the overall win was Brand's.
Just behind them, however, was a hard fought Touring 3 battle. Chad Gilsinger's No. 07 BFGoodrich Tires/HPD/H&R Recaro/BRM Acura TL SH-AWD cranked out lap after lap, passing the pole sitting No. 26 Hoosier/Carbotech/Redline Honda S2000 of Chris Puskar early on.
Clear in front, Gilsinger's mirrors were full of the No. 88 ICS Learning Group/DWW Motorsports Nissan 350Z piloted by Brian KIeeman.
Lap after lap, the two crossed the stripe less than a second apart, each waiting for the other to make a mistake. When it didn't happen in 18 laps, Gilsinger's Acura crossed for the stripe for the race win.
Just after lunch, Group Three's small open wheel cars saw some of the best racing of the day, especially in the Formula Enterprises class. Paul Schneider's No. 73 Performance Motor Cars of Charlotte Formula Enterpises/Mazda and Brandon Kennedy's No. 14 Osinga Construction/Hage Tools FE swapped the lead no less than eight times in the first 12 laps of the race.
On lap 12, however, Kennedy's No. 14 machine spun and he fell back to 5th, out of touch with Schneider – who now found himself with a huge lead. Kennedy was able to work back to third place before a full course caution froze the field with one lap to go, ending under yellow.
Doug Peterson's great day began in Group 4, where his No. 87 3Dimensional.com Chevrolet Camaro started on the overall pole and held off a hard driving Dillon Machavern for 18 tough laps in the GT-1 race. Peterson never got more than a second ahead of the No. 29 Heritage Automotive Group Ford Falcon, but maintained the gap to the checkered flag.
It's been a tough season to date for the 17-year-old Machavern. He got a win at Sebring despite competing in the same class as 2012 SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Champion Simon Gregg, and then lost on Saturday to Doug Peterson – the current Trans-Am point leader following his opening round win.
Peterson doesn't just drive the big GT-1 machines, however – he also scored a finesse win in the open-wheel Formula Mazda race, driving the No. 87 3Dimensional.com Formula Mazda.
In the big bore group, Jeffrey Werth kept his perfect season alive with a third straight Majors win in American Sedan, driving his No. 46 Hoosier/OG Racing/WRE LLC Chevrolet Camaro across the stripe just a few seconds ahead of Tom Ellis' No. 51 Steeda/Averitt/Palm Express Ford Mustang.
The talent pool at the top of the SCCA Club Racing programs virtually guarantees that a driver can't luck into a Runoffs National Championship, and the pool of Spec Miata drivers might be the deepest of the bunch. Defending National Champion Jim Drago showed his talent and experience, riding behind Danny Steyn's No. 39 ADEPT Studios/ROSSINI/OPM Mazda Miata for 16 laps as the two worked away from the field.
Steyn, a very talented driver in his own right, watched Drago push his way past and cement the lead with one and a half laps to go, then fought to get around the No. 2 East Street Racing Mazda Miata on the final lap.
The two drivers came side by side under the bridge and through Turn 12, with Drago holding on and crossing the finish line just 0.12-second ahead of Steyn, while Andrew Carbonell's No. 74 BSI Racing Mazda Miata finished third.
That wasn't the closest race of the day, however. An almost identical situation played out in the Spec Racer Ford battle to end the day, with the No. 61 PM Racing SRF of Brian Schofield and the No. 7 Ayres Racing SRF of Tray Ayres working hard to get away from an eight-car pack.
Unlike last week at the BFGoodrich Tires Texas Super Tour at Circuit Of The Americas, when Ayres started at the rear of an 82-car field and passed 65 cars before the finish, a front row start alongside the pole sitter Schofield. Each took a turn up front, with Schofield leading to start the final lap of the race.
Ayres got a run down the back straight, and then held the inside line through Turn 10 and Turn A, under the bridge down the hill through 11, and to the inside of the final right hand corner while Schofield swept around the outside.
The two exited the corner side by side, with Ayres carrying just enough momentum to grab a 0.019-second win, just inches ahead of Schofield at the finish.
Round Four of the Eastern Conference Majors Tour takes place on Sunday, with a brief warm-up at 8 a.m. EDT followed by the seven group races.
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Live timing and notes are available on Sunday at www.scca.com/SCCALive.
Provisional race winners for Saturday's SCCA Eastern Conference Majors Tour Round Three at Road Atlanta. Drivers are listed by Class: name, hometown, and car.
American Sedan: Jeffrey Werth, Silver Springs, Md., Chevrolet Camaro
B-Spec: Robbie Davis, Summerville, S.C., Mini Cooper
C Sports Racing: Jim Downing, Atlanta, Ga., Peach Mazda
D Sports Racing: Robert Urso, Harrisburg, Pa., Decker Mk 5
Formula 500: Jack Walbran, Saint Louis, Mo., Scorpion/Rotax
Formula 1000: Glenn Cooper, Roswell, Ga., RFR F1000
Formula Atlantic: Keith Grant, Germantown, Tenn., Swift 014a/Toyota
Formula Continental: Roberto Lorena, Hallandale, Fla., Van Diemen RF02
Formula Enterprise: Paul Schneider, Charlotte, N.C., Formula Enterprises/Mazda
Formula F: Lewis Cooper III, Grosse Pointe, Mich., Van Diemen RF00
Formula Mazda: Doug Peterson, Bonita Springs, Fla., Formula Mazda
Formula Vee: Guy Bellingham, Brantford, Ont., BRD AFV02/VW
E Production: Jim Daniels, Memphis, Tenn., Mazda MX-5
F Production: Ken Kannard, East Troy, Wis., Mazda Miata
H Production: Michael Miller, Walhalla, S.C., Austin Sprite
GT-1: Doug Peterson, Bonita Springs, Fla., Chevrolet Corvette
GT-2: Pete Peterson, Lumberton, N.C., Toyota Celica
GT-3: Steven Lustig, Chester, N.J., Acura Integra
Spec Miata: Jim Drago, Memphis, Tenn., Mazda Miata
Spec Racer Ford: Trey Ayres, Woodstock, Ga., Spec Racer Ford
Sports 2000: Hawley Chester III, Atlanta, Ga., Royale RP 38/42/Ford
Super Touring Lite: John Schmitt, Sunbury, Ohio, Honda Civic
Super Touring Under: David Brand, Syosset, N.Y., Lotus Exige
Touring 1: George Winkler, Frederick, Md., Ford Mustang Boss 302S
Touring 2: Matthew Pullano, Endicott, N.Y., Chevrolet Corvette
Touring 3: Chad Gilsinger, Marysville, Ohio, Acura TL
Touring 4: Brian Price, Middletown, Va., Mazda MX-5