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Continental Tire Challenge: Sebring, Race Report

Here’s the second addition to the DSC team tonight, Texas based Beck Duggleby joins us to add race reportage for both the Continental Tire Challenge and the Pirelli World Challenge to our rapidly increasing range of Series covered.

After an exciting season opener at Daytona International Speedway, which saw the action carry out past the checkered flag to bite original race-winning Turner Motorsports with a post-race disqualification, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge traveled to Sebring International Raceway for the second round of the year.

“If they built a track like this now, people would complain,” said Fall-Line Motorsports driver John Edwards on Thursday. “But if they repaved Sebring, people would be mad!” The historic airport circuit has earned a reputation of being one the most demanding venues on both car and driver, and the 6.02-kilometre concrete monster did not disappoint and brought thrilling action in both classes, which culminated in success for some, disaster for others. Robin Liddell funneled his wealth of experience in North American sports car racing into a storming drive to the lead in the remaining minutes of the race, ultimately resulting in a victory for the Scotsman. Liddell’s win marked the first victory for the new Camaro after its Daytona debut.

Robin Liddell & Andrew Davis

Competitors were met with pleasant temperatures and bright sunshine for nearly all of the weekend. Practice on Wednesday saw the #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R of Andy Lally and Matt Bell lead the #46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 of Trent Hindman and John Edwards, followed by the #01 CKS Autosport Camaro Z/28.R of Eric Curran and Lawson Aschenbach, making up a dynamic top three in GS.

The Lally/Bell pairing were the only drivers to break into the 2:16s on Wednesday, posting a 2:16.999 in Practice 2. In ST, the #26 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 of Andrew Carbonell and Randy Pobst was fastest, leading another quick Mazda, this time the #5 CJ Wilson Racing MX-5 of Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee. In third was the #42 Team Sahlen Porsche Cayman of brothers Wayne and Will Nonnamaker.

Trent Hindman, an up-and-coming driver from New Jersey, set a qualifying lap record on Thursday, taking the #46 Fall-Line BMW to a well-deserved pole for Friday’s race. Hindman, only 18, lead Eric Curran by .218 seconds, while Billy Johnson took the #158 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang Boss 302 R to third. Chad Gislinger, driving the #93 HART Honda Civic Si, was promoted to ST pole after both CJ Wilson Racing Mazdas, the #3 of Tyler McQuarrie and the #5 of Stevan McAleer, had their qualifying times disallowed because of technical infractions. The Carbonell/Pobst Mazda and the #56 Murillo Racing BMW 328i of Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss were subsequently set to start second and third in class.

GS – Race

From the drop of the green, it was clear that the polesitting Fall-Line BMW M3 would be difficult to catch, as Trent Hindman pulled out over a 2 second gap in the first 17 minutes of the 2 hour 30 minute race. Patrick Seguin made contact with the wall very early on, and the carnage continued as veteran driver Boris Said plowed into John Farano in Turn 7, resulting in heavy damage for the Said’s Turner Motorsports BMW M3.

As GS contender Billy Johnson experienced clutch problems in his Multimatic Ford Mustang, the No. 46 Fall-Line BMW continued to dominate the race, only losing the lead during pit stops. Additionally, the polesitting #93 HART Honda of Chad Gilsinger and Michael Valiante retired due to mechanical issues, solidifying a strong outing by Freedom Autosport with Andrew Carbonell behind the wheel. Despite many dramas in the opening laps of the race, there were only two cautions in total, the first due to debris on lap 40, setting the GS field up for a potentially gripping finish that ended up in a somewhat disappointing manner: under caution.

At the restart after the first caution period, race leader Robin Liddell, co-driving with Andrew Davis in the #6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R, took advantage of several other cars making contact going into Turn 1 late in the race.

Lidell Sebring Camaro

Liddell maintained his lead up until the second caution, this time the result of a massive accident involving CJ Wilson Racing driver Marc Miller. After a brilliant fight up through the ST running order by teammate Tyler McQuarrie, Miller was sideswiped by another ST, lost control of his Mazda MX-5 and speared into the tire barrier cladding the crossover bridge directly before Turn 7.

Miller sustained multiple injuries, including broken ribs and ankle, but flew home to Michigan in good spirits on Saturday. Liddell cruised to the win behind the safety car, while John Edwards placed second for the second consecutive race for Fall-Line Motorsports. BJ Zacharias rounded out the podium in third in the #14 Doran Racing Nissan 370Z.

Edwards, who will lead the championship going into the next round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, has the extremely difficult job of doing double duty on nearly all IMSA racing weekends. In the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, he drives a BMW M3, and he drives it very well indeed. In the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, he drives a BMW Z4 GTE, which he also excels in. It isn’t as easy as one might think. (pic below Beck Duggleby)

John Edwards

“Getting back into the Z4 is like going at warp speed,” said the 23 year-old driver, who has already racked up innumerable wins, a second place in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and a third in the now defunct Rolex Sports Car Series GT class (both in 2013) in undoubtedly the early years of his career. Although the horsepower in both cars is relatively similar, the way it is transferred and the amount of downforce is completely different, almost alien.

ST Race

Now it’s time for the ST story. Undeniably, the dominant marque was Mazda. Only four of the quick little MX-5s actually raced, two of which filled out the top two spots in ST. Freedom Autosport took the lead away from the HART Honda Civic Si and ran with it, veteran randy Pobst rolling back the years with great support from Andrew Carbonell.

Continental Sebring Start

There were fantastic drives to the front by both CJ Wilson Racing cars, the huge accident for Marc Miller eliminated one car but the Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee car ending up in second place in class, McAleer having brought the car up from the back of the grid into real contention.

Daytona winners Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss came home third in the #56 BMW 328i for Murillo Racing.

“We don’t want to be competitive one race and then score a DNF,” said McAleer after the race. The series will travel to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May for the third round, a circuit that undoubtedly suits the Mazda chassis and plays to its strengths. With many undulating corners and a lack of long straights, the Mazda MX-5s should be just as strong at the legendary Californian track as they were at the Floridian one.

The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will return to action at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, once again alongside the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, on 2-3 May.

Beck Duggleby