Wilcox snags thrilling Formula Atlantic victory at SCCA Runoffs
A late-race caution allowed David Wilcox, of Derby, Kan., to close the gap to then-leader Keith Grant, with a final-lap drag race securing the Formula Atlantic National Championship for Wilcox at the SCCA Runoffs Presented by Subway. Grant, of Germantown, Tenn., held on for second at Road America, followed by Michael Mallinen, of Liberty Lake, Wash.
Grant started on the Gumout Pole and ran away from the field in his No. 40 Hoosier/Polestar Swift 014/Toyota, leading by eight seconds and seemingly cruising toward his first Formula Atlantic title. Those plans were erased on lap 11 when a Formula 1000 car, running concurrently with the FA race, hit the wall in the Kink to bring out a full-course caution.
The field restarted with one lap remaining in the 13-lap race and Wilcox's No. 70 Hoosier/Toyota/Don Preston & Swan Swift 014/Toyota on the tail of Grant. With Formula 1000 traffic mixed in the field on the restart, Grant took off ahead of Wilcox for the sprint to the checkered flag.
Wilcox made a move to the outside of Grant into Turn Five, but when the pass didn't stick he lost ground, and, potentially, a shot at the Championship. Wilcox closed the gap on Grant one last time going into the race's final corner, and when Grant bobbled on the exit it set up a drag race up Road America's long front straight.
The two raced across the finish line side-by-side, with Wilcox's nose just 0.051-second ahead of Grant.
"Unlike Keith, I was screaming for the pace car, for crying out loud," Wilcox said. "I wanted to get sucked up behind him somewhere. I didn't know it would turn out like it did. When we finally got caught up to the pace car, there was a car in between us and I knew that was going to be a challenge. I was just hoping going into Turn One that I might be able to suck up behind Keith and I was able to. Going into Five, I tried a little juke move and he didn't go for it. I got a good run through six and seven, but he was kind of pulling away from me. I got a good run through Canada Corner, and just didn't give up.
"Coming out of 14, I saw him bobble a little bit and get two wheels off. I tried to ride it out and make sure I used all of the RPMs. When I pulled up alongside him, boy, I'll tell you, we were side-by-side. About 100 feet from the start-finish I realized that was the win."
The margin of victory was the closest among all 31 Formula Atlantic races run at the SCCA Runoffs, eclipsing Larry Connor's 2001 winning margin of 0.129-second. Wilcox averaged 108.330 mph over the 52-mile race, slowed by the single caution period for two laps.
Wilcox also turned the race's fastest lap, posting a time of 2:02.400 (117.647 mph) around the 14-turn, four-mile circuit. Wilcox's win came behind the wheel of the car that Mirl Swan drove to a 2009 National Championship after two previous podium finishes for Wilcox in an older Formula Atlantic machine.
"It's just phenomenal," a clearly emotional Wilcox said. "I've waited ten years for this. Mirl Swan is the best. He won last year, and I'm in his car this year. I knew I had an opportunity to do it, it was all about me. It was a pretty big learning curve coming from the DB4, but here we are."
Grant, who won a National Championship in GT-4 in 2003, was clearly disappointed to see his first Formula Atlantic title slip away.
"I was not happy to see the yellow come out," Grant said. "I had gotten a good start at the beginning of the race and built a pretty good lead and was able to maintain that. We had gone several laps with the car off in the Kink in the back, and they did. When [the safety car] picked up the FB car, I didn't get to set the pace on the restart. I had to follow the other cars out there.
"When we restarted, David was able to close right up on me. We went side-by-side into five and I came out a little bit ahead of him. Into Canada Corner, I had a little bit of a lead over David, and we got into Turn 14 and I just blew it. I set two tires off the track coming back on the front straight and David drafted by me, and that was it."
Mallinen started third in his No. 71 Hoosier Tires/TRD Swift 014/Toyota and essentially ran in that position unchallenged for the length of the race.
"We had a fast car," Mallinen said. "I actually thought I had the fastest car going into the race, we were fastest in Q2 and it was running very, very well. We started the race optimistically. The start was pretty uneventful for me, we didn't lose or gain anything.
"The restart was pretty chaotic. I didn't know what was going to happen, so I just floored it and took off. I got past the Formula B cars and just held off Sedat [Yelkin] for fourth and came home."
Sedat Yelkin, of Canfield, Ohio, finished fourth in the No. 75 Everclear Lubricants Swift 014/Toyota, just ahead of his father Ahsen Yelkin. Ahsen Yelkin started 11th in the No. 76 Everclear Lubricants Swift 014/Toyota to earn the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
Now in its 47th year, the SCCA National Championship Runoffs Presented by Subway annually crowns Champions in the Sports Car Club of America's Club Racing classes. The live broadcast of all 28 National Championship races is available throughout the weekend at www.Speedcasttv.com/scca and later available On Demand from the same site.
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More information is available at www.scca.com/runoffs.