Joel Weinberger, of Hinsdale, Ill., led flag-to-flag to earn his first ever National Championship in the Super Touring U class at the SCCA Runoffs at Road America. Marc Hoover, of Cameron Park, Calif., and Eric Heinrich, of Milton, Mass., completed the podium.
Weinberger, who lost a heartbreaker in 2010 in STU with a second-place finish, started his No. 3 Continental Audi/Castrol/BFGoodrich Tires Audi A4 on the Gumout Pole. He and second-starting Hoover went side-by side through Turn One, but Weinberger pulled out and sped away to win the 13-lap, 52-mile race by 6.026 seconds.
It marked the first-ever win for Audi at the Runoffs.
“I didn't know the pace of the other cars because I intentionally isolated myself during qualifying,” Weinberger said. “I thought I was fastest, the times showed it, and I have some local knowledge and I didn't want to share it with everyone. So even though I got to start up front for qualifying, I would show up late or pull off or something to run my own pace. So I gave myself about a 50-50 shot to get to turn one first, because I didn't know what everybody had.
“It worked out great, I had a nice clean start and I just had a little bit more speed than the Mazda. I just put my head down and he pressured me for probably a lap and a half, but I don't think I made a mistake the entire lap. I was concentrating and watching my marks and it just worked out great.”
Winning the Runoffs is special for Weinberger's family, but particularly because it is at Road America.
“It was really special to be here,” he added. “My dad was here to celebrate with me and he's a 50-year SCCA member. He's the one that got me down this road and got [racing] under my skin. As a kid I came up to every June Sprints, Trans-Am and Can-Am race - I've got the patches at home to prove it. I remember riding my mini bike around the paddock. This place has always been really special to me. I ran the Runoffs at Topeka in 2006 and blew a motor running third, so when it came to Road America that persuaded me to get back into it and find something I like to drive. I consider this my home track, I could drive it in my sleep.”
Weinberger also earned the Hawk Fastest Race Lap with a record 2:27.859 (97.390mph).
The battle looked like David versus Goliath, as Hoover battled the four-door sedan with his small, turbocharged No. 98 Hooverspeed/Redline/AMG/Hoosier Mazda Miata. Hoover was pleased with his result in the event that marked the 10th anniversary of his National Championship in D Sports Racing.
“This is my 10th anniversary since I won in 2001 in the D car,” Hoover said. “It was kind of cool to come back with something along those lines with a car that's not a spec kind of deal.
“Joel is a good driver. He's smooth and clean and he's got a rocket car. The Audi was just something to learn from and watch it go, because it really went well. For me, it was kind of a lonely race, because I spent my time watching Joel kind of disappear a little bit. I made a few mistakes. It's the first time this car has ever been raced in its current configuration. I ran it normally aspirated all year with about 180 horsepower at the rear wheels, so for this event, I knew that wasn't going to get it done, so we converted it to a turbo powerplant, but it's not that simple, because you have to have the stuff behind the engine to take the power that the engine is going to put out. The first thing we did was we upgraded the brakes on the car and we upgraded the transmission and put in a different transmission. Then, we installed a turbo version of one of my earlier Miata engines, basically an engine that I've raced already a season or two. We hung the turbocharger on it and put it in the car. I pulled the pan off of it, put a set of rod bearings in it, blessed it, hung the turbocharger on it, and it was amazingly quick. I think for top speed, we're probably pretty close with the Audi there.
“The car definitely is far from being refined in all aspects, but it was a lot of fun to drive. It was a good car. I was smelling gear oil for probably seven laps, but the thing ran well and it got me here.”
Heinrich had a more eventful run in his Gulf-liveried No. 10 ElephantMotorsports.com/BFGoodrich Tires BMW M3 E30. Heinrich battled the Mitsubishi Evo of defending T2 National Champion Marty Grand, the BMW of Michael Flynn and the Acura of Mathew Staal for much of the race. After starting third, he fell to fifth. On the 11th lap, Grand's car sprung a leak in Turn Five and Flynn spun in Turn Eight, letting Heinrich climb back onto the final step on the podium.
“It was an exciting race,” Heinrich said. “I had a good initial start and then I made a couple of small mistakes. A couple of our competitors got by me and then I figured it was just watch carefully, drive a smart race and look for an opportunity to make a move. I did have to push the limits a little bit to stay with those guys. I had a little bit of excitement there in a couple of spots, but I was able to keep it together, run a smooth race and get back up there.
“Part of luck is being prepared to take an opportunity when it arises and not getting overexcited when an opportunity presents itself. Coming out of [turn] three, I started to smell something burning. As we go under the Sargento bridge, I saw a little bit of smoke coming from the right front of Marty Grand's car. Going down into [turn] five, Marty just slowed way, way down and then he started to pull off. I figured he's going off into the access road and I'm going to have to pay attention and see if I can find a spot to get by Mike Flynn. Then, coming up through [turn] seven and down into eight, I got a pretty good run on him. Coming out of eight, he got a pretty good run out of the corner, but I don't know what happened. Maybe he got a little overzealous or maybe got on the gas a little bit too wide on those turtles. I saw his back end come around in one of those slow, lazy dances and that was my shot, so I went for it. At that point, I figured I've got two laps to go and by driving soon, I'll have a podium position. To be here at my first Runoffs on the podium, it's pretty exciting.”
Flynn recovered to finish fourth in his No. 26 Irish Mike's Racing BMW 325 E46, followed by Staal's No. 26 HPD/Honda Racing/BFGoodrich Acura RSX Type S.
Brian Laughlin, of Tulsa, Okla., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing eight positions to finish 14th in his No. 25 Tulsa Radiology Assoc./Mazda/Hoosier Mazda Miata.
Results from Saturday's SuperTouring Under SCCA National Championship race from Road America, with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car and laps complete.
1, (1), Joel Weinberger, Hinsdale, IL, Audi A4, 13.
2, (2), Marc Hoover, Cameron Park, CA, Mazda Miata, 13.
3, (3), Eric Heinrich, Milton, MA, BMW M3, 13.
4, (4), Michael Flynn, Eustis, FL, BMW 325 E46, 13.
5, (6), Matthew Staal, Torrance, CA, Acura RSX Type S, 13.
6, (7), Michael Pettiford, Louisville, CO, Pontiac Solstice GXP, 13.
7, (8), Joseph McClughan, New Braunfels, TX, Mazda MPS 3, 13.
8, (12), John De Barros, Kennesaw, GA, Mazda 6, 13.
9, (11), Tom Wickersham, San Ramon, CA, Honda S2000 CR, 13.
10, (10), William B Niemeyer, Loveland, OH, Acura RSXS, 13.
11, (9), Ronald Pawley, Greenwood, AR, Lexus IS300, 13.
12, (14), Michael Lattanzio, Coraopolis, PA, BMW 325i, 13.
13, (13), Rich Walke, Hawthorn Woods, IL, Mazda RX-7, 13.
14, (22), Brian Laughlin, Tulsa, OK, Mazda Miata, 12.
15, (20), David Palfenier, Naperville, IL, Mazda Miata, 12.
16, (19), Tom Kraft, Des Moines, IA, Mazda Miata, 12.
17, (5), Marty Grand, Manassas Park, VA, Mitsubishi Evo IX, 11.
18, (23), Toby Grahovec, Chicago, IL, BMW Z4 3.0, 11.
DNF, (15), Michael Jones, South Bend, IN, Subaru Impreza WRX, 3.
DNS, (16), Jim Drago, Memphis, TN, Mazda Miata, 0.
DNS, (17), L. Patrick Sandlin, Cordova, TN, Mazda Miata, 0.
DNS, (18), Steven Gorriaran, Providence, RI, Mazda Miata, 0.
DNS, (21), Ted Cahall, Bellevue, WA, Mazda Miata, 0.
Time of Race: 32:42.174
Winner's average speed: 95.404 mph
Hawk Fastest race lap: #3 Joel Weinberger, 2:27.859 (97.390 mph)
Lap Leaders: 1-13, Joel Weinberger