Twenty-seven drivers celebrated St. Patrick's Day on Sunday with victories in Round Four of the SCCA Eastern Conference Majors Tour, taking class wins on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit.
The second day of the weekend-long doubleheader event opened with repeat wins from Steven Lustig's GT-3 class No. 51 Luna Sueno Tequila/Autosport Acura Integra, Ken Kannard's F Production No. 5 Northwest Cable/Hoosier/Mazda Mazda Miata, and Michael Miller's H Production No. 64 SportsCarSalvage/AppRaceTire Austin Sprite.
Jim Daniels hoped to join that list of drivers in Group One, but a cracked header on his E Production No. No. 86 SpecMiata.com Mazda MX-5 knocked him out of the overall lead and elevated Michael Helm's No. 31 H&H Racing Toyota MR-2 to victory.
Group Two progressed much like the opener up front, with David Brand cruising to victory in Super Touring Under behind the wheel of the No. 3 Krugspeed/BGB Esq. Louts Exige. Chad Gilsinger's No. 07 BFGoodrich Tires/HPD/H&R Recaro/BRM Acura TL SH-AWD kept a comfortable gap in Touring 3 while the No. 26 Hoosier/Carbotech/Redline Honda S2000 of Chris Puskar and the No. 88 ICS Learning Group/DWW Motorsports Nissan 350Z of Brian Kleeman battled for the runner-up position.
The pair swapped the second position over the course of the race, with Kleeman in front with one lap to go. By the time the two had reached the checkered flag, however, Puskar had moved the Honda back in front to claim the runner-up finish.
On their way to victories, both Brian Price (driving the No. 5 RP Performance Mazda MX-5 in Touring 4) and Robbie Davis (in the No. 37 MINI of Charleston/MINIUSA.com MINI Cooper) claimed track records, running a 1:42.945 and a 1:51.635, respectively.
The close races that didn't develop in the opening groups most certainly did in Group 3 with the smaller open-wheel machines. Paul Schneider, whose No. 73 Performance Motor Cars of Charlotte Formula Enterprises/Mazda had been shadowed by Brandon Kennedy all weekend in both races and qualifying, finally escaped for an easier win on Sunday, but the top four drivers in both Formula F and Formula Vee had to work for their podium spots.
Lewis Cooper III battled early with Steve Bamford, and when the two tangled coming down the hill between Turn 11 and Turn 12 and Bamford ‘s No. 07 Mygale SJ-11 spun on lap six, two other cars joined the lead battle. Cooper's No. 0 Polestar/Martini Van Diemen/Ford held the lead, but Bamford, John Benson's No. 7 Advanced Borehole Services/Lee Racing Swift DB-3 and David Livingston, Jr.'s No. 85 ThermaMasters Swift DB-3 ran in a line just behind.
Cooper snuck away at the end, leaving the three others to battle for the final two podium positions. Bamford held the front of the trio around the final 12 turns for that runner-up position, with Benson finishing third.
While the Formula F field was waging their battle, a nearly identical chess match was playing out in the Formula Vee race. With Guy Bellingham on the point in the No. 12 Vallis Motor Sport BRD AFV02/VW, a four-car stream followed – first with Mitchell Ferguson (No. 52 Vector GB-4/VW), Donnie Isley (No. 30 Agitator by Brookshire Agitator 016/VW), and Stevan Davis (No. 88 Goodyear/Butler Engines Racer's Wage 1/VW) right behind.
Davis experienced mechanical difficulties and fell out on lap seven, but Alexander Rizer's No. 02 Royal Pawn Vortech 05-15/VW joined the group and the run for the podium.
Traffic broke up that battle with just a couple of laps to go, with Bellingham running to his second consecutive victory, followed by Ferguson and Isley.
The big bore machines of Group Four had their start waved off by the starter twice before finally getting the green flag on lap three when the field formed up two-by-two to satisfaction. Once green, the only question was which of the leaders in GT-1, GT-2, American Sedan, Touring 1 or Touring 2 would be able to set a new track record.
Three drivers did. Doug Peterson won his third race of weekend, doubling up in the GT-1 No. 87 3Dimensional.com Chevrolet Camaro and setting a new Road America class record with a lap of 1:21.339. George Winkler's Touring 1 No. 27 Winkler Automotive Service Center Ford Mustang Boss 302S and Matthew Pullano's Touring 2 PullanoPT.com/Phoenix Performance Chevrolet Corvette both doubled up on the weekend and set new class records with laps of 1:32.712 and 1:34.137, respectively.
For the second day in a row, the Spec Miata race was a heartbreaker for Danny Steyn. Steyn's No. 39 ADEPT Studios/ROSSINI/OPM Mazda Miata worked to the front of a draft of cars that was nine deep at various points of the 18-lap race.
As the laps wound down, however, Steyn and the No. 74 BSI Racing Mazda Miata of Andrew Carbonell had pulled a gap on the field and, when Steyn led Carbonell across the stripe to begin the final lap, they would decide the race.
Steyn found himself in the same situation on Saturday when Jim Drago's No. 2 East Street Racing Miata whipped past him in Turn 10 under braking down the back stretch. For the second-consecutive day, Steyn was a sitting duck on the final lap, this time with Carbonell (PICTURED) pulling the lead under braking in turn 10 and getting to the checkered flag just 0.104-second ahead of Steyn.
Getting to enjoy the podium ceremonies for the first time this weekend was 17-year-old Dillon Machavern, driving the No. 24 Heritage Motorsports/Panic Motorsports Miata. The youngster finished as the runner-up in the GT-1 race on both days, but had to jump from his No. 29 Heritage Automotive Group Ford Falcon and into his Spec Miata before the trophies were handed out. Machavern finished fourth in Spec Miata on Saturday, so the final podium was a sweet reward for a successful weekend.
Traditionally, green is an unlucky color on a race car, but it looked like the neon green-painted C Sports Racing No. 63 Downing Atlanta Inc Peach Mazda of Jim Downing would have the luck of the Irish this St. Patrick's Day weekend.
The Saturday race winner chased the No. 07 Phoenix-Innotech/Mazda JMS016/Mazda of Jacek Mucha throughout the 18-lap race for both the class and the overall win, closing to Mucha's gearbox near the midway point of the race.
Mucha continued to push, working through traffic and speeding to the CSR victory, less than a second ahead of Downing at the finish.
On Saturday, Brian Schofield and Tray Ayres left the field behind to settle the Spec Racer Ford battle by just 0.019-second, with Ayres' No. 7 Ayres Racing Spec Racer on top. Believe it or not, Sunday's race may have been an even more spectacular display.
Schofield's No. 61 PM Racing machine sat behind Ayres for 15 laps as the two pulled away from the field early in the race. Just before coming to the strip with two to go, Ayres had fallen a couple of car lengths behind Schofield and ran in the runner-up spot.
With one to go, Ayres was just a car length in back of Schofield. Whether the move to run second on the final lap was purposeful or not, it was the correct place to be. Ayres drafted Schofield down the back straight and got to the inside in Turn 10, carrying the preferred line as the two went side-by-side through Turns 11 and 12 and across the finish line.
Once again, Ayres led by literal inches, with a margin of victory at 0.026 to end the Eastern Conference Round Four weekend.
Rounds Five and Six of the Eastern Conference Majors Tour take place at the BFGoodrich Tires VIR Super Tour at Virginia International Raceway, April 6-7.
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Provisional race winners for Sunday's SCCA Eastern Conference Majors Tour Round Four 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: Jacek Mucha, Laval, Quebec, JMS016/Mazda
D Sports Racing: Robert Urso, Harrisburg, Pa., Decker Mk 5
Formula 500: Chris Smith, Lexington, S.C., Invader QC1/Rotax
Formula 1000: Glenn Cooper, Roswell, Ga., RFR F1000
Formula Atlantic: Jean-Luc Liverato, Alpharetta, Ga., Swift 014.a/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/Ford
Formula Mazda: Robert Noell, Cary, N.C., Formula Mazda
Formula Vee: Guy Bellingham, Brantford, Ont., BRD AFV02/VW
E Production: Michael Helm, Union, Ohio, Toyota MR-2
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: Andrew Carbonell, Miami, Fla., 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