TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 11, 2008) – Carefully dodging a disabled car on course in the closing laps, Edward Zabinski, of Stockbridge, Ga., earned his and Ferarri’s first Runoffs® win during the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Heartland Park Topeka. John Buttermore, Pontiac, Mich., and Scott Tucker, of Overland Park, Kan., completed the podium for the Hawk Performance Touring 1 National Championship Race.
Starting second, Zabinski immediately put pressure on polesitter and defending Champion Andrew Aquilante for the lead. For the next 13 laps, Zabinski’s No. 77 Level 5 Motorports Ferrari 360 Modena shadowed Aquilante’s No. 36 Hoosier/Phoenix Perf/Hawk Chevrolet Corvette, occasionally pulling his Ferrari alongside the Corvette down the front stretch.
“I knew if I couldn’t get around Andrew at the beginning, I’d have to keep the pressure on him,” Zabinski said. “As it turned out, it was going to be really hard to get around Andrew. I had him out of the slow turn onto the front straight. I could get a big run there, but he knew that and he’d leave just a little less than a car-width of room on either side of him. He was better in Turn One and Two than I was though, so I would lose everything I had gained in those turns, and then gain it back here and there.”
Unable to make the pass stick on his numerous attempts into Turn One, it would be a chance incident in Turn 12 that handed the lead over to Zabinski. As the pair approached Turn 12 on lap 15, the No. 5 Corvette of Natha Waldbaum sat motionless on the racing line, facing traffic. Making split-second decisions, Aquilante pulled left, while Zabinski pulled right. Zabinski chose the correct path, moving into the lead while Aquilante grazed the front of Waldbaum’s car, causing a tire to go down on the defending T1 Champion’s Corvette.
“I saw the car in the middle of the track and I’m thinking ‘which way am I going to go?’” recalled Zabinski. “I had just enough time to see that Andrew was on the brakes really hard and was going to have to come to almost a dead stop to get by. I went the other way, thinking that I’d get junk on my tires, but I’d be around Andrew. Then he hit the car and I saw parts and fiberglass go everywhere. When I saw that I was pretty confident that we were going to be in good shape.”
The full-course yellow came out on lap 17 of the 18-lap race, not enough time to clean up the incident in Turn 12. The race would end under yellow, with Zabinski earning his first National Championship and getting Ferrari its first Runoffs victory. Zabinski also set a new Runoffs race lap record of 1:41.523.
“I was not disappointed with the incident and the full-course yellow,” Zabinski smiled. “In fact, I was crossing every appendage I had to ensure we didn’t go back green. I do think even if it had gone green, I still would have had something for John. We would have had a good little race going for a lap or two.”
After waiting patiently behind the battling Aquilante and Zabinski, Buttermore crossed the finish line second in the No. 52 Hoosier/Nearbrook Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. It was the second-consecutive runner-up finish in T1 for Buttermore.
Zabinski’s teammate, Tucker, completed the podium in the No. 55 Level 5 Motorsports Ferarri 360 Modena.
Driving the No. 73 Phoenix/Hoosier Chevrolet Corvette, David Joseph Sanders, of Exton, Pa., finished fourth. He was followed by the No. 7 Hoosier/Carbotech/Phoenix Chevrolet Corvette of Chris Ingle, from Raeford, N.C., who battled back from first-lap contact and a spin that dropped him to last.
Oli Thordarson, of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., advanced five positions during the race in his No. 13 Alvaka Networks/OC Corvette Chevrolet Corvette and earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
The Hawk Performance Touring 1 National Championship Race will air on SPEED, Wednesday, December 31, at 1 p.m. (EST).