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Continental Tire Challenge: Circuit of the Americas, Race Report

Continental Tire Challenge competitors headed west to Circuit of the Americas for the penultimate round of the 2014 season. A unique 5.5-kilometer venue done up to FIA Grade 1 standards, “CoTA” was the brainchild of racer, promoter, and Austin native Tavo Hellmund and 1993 Motorcycle World Champion Kevin Schwantz. Aside from its big claim to fame in bringing Formula 1 back to the United States, the Texas track has hosted a handful of IMSA-backed sportscar series as the Continental Tire Challenge makes its return.

Practice and Qualifying

Kicking off a full weekend of racing, the #13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche 997 of Matt Plumb set the fastest time in a damp Thursday morning session while the #50 BERG Racing Porsche Cayman of hometown hero Conrad Grunewald took bragging rights in the ST class. The sun briefly broke through the gloom to shine down upon the #158 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang Boss 302R of Billy Johnson, who took overall honors in Practice 2 and would later snag the pole to the tune of a 2:22.504.

“We’ve had a pretty rough season for both of our cars,” said polesitter Johnson. “It’s easy to get down when things aren’t going right, but we had a double podium at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The guys always kept giving 100-percent. They gave me a great car, and it’s great to finally get my first career pole.”

The #23 Burton Racing BMW 128i of Terry Borcheller would go quickest in Practice 2, but the road racing veteran’s 2:31.538 would ultimately be eclipsed by rising star Adam Isman’s 2:29.977, ensuring the #04 Autometrics Motorsport Porsche Cayman ST class pole.

“After our first two laps I really didn’t expect to get any faster,” commented Isman. “But the team came on the radio and said we only needed a little more, so take a slow lap and see if the car comes back. It did, and it’s an awesome way to get the pole position.”

GS Race

A packed grid of 51 cars and 102 drivers were greeted by ominous cloud cover and 26°C ambient temperature, saturated to an unpleasant 80% humidity. Although the weekend’s string of bad weather would only get worse throughout the day, Billy Johnson would lead the field to green on slicks.

On the opening lap, carnage ensued with contact between the #14 Doran Racing Nissan 370Z and the #8 Mantella Autosport Aston Martin Vantage in turn 1, sentencing the latter a lengthy repair time. Almost immediately after, Tim Bell lost control of his #28 Nissan 370Z and careened into the tire barriers at turn 12 in a very frightening, high-speed accident. Bell would walk away under his own power and was released from the medical center after checkups shortly after.

Eight laps and a repair barrier later, the race got back under way with polesitter Billy Johnson still in the lead. It didn’t take long for the heavens to open up and force drivers into the pits early. Johnson pitted his Mustang from first place on lap 24, allowing Multimatic teammate Scott Maxwell to take over the lead at the halfway mark.

A handful of drivers exchanged the lead until the #97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 of Tom Kimber-Smith, on slick tires, finally took control of the race on lap 39. As rain continued to pelt down, however, it was clear that wet tires were the way to go as the second-placed #46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, with John Edwards at the controls, took roughly four seconds out the Kimber-Smith’s lead each lap. It was only a matter of time until Edwards put a move on Kimber-Smith and assumed the lead of the race, where he would run for the rest of the event, scoring his second win of the season and his second alongside Trent Hindman.

Hindman, meanwhile, is provisionally promoted into the lead of the championship. “To be honest with you, I don’t think we’re going to change anything,” commented Hindman on preparations going into the final round at Road Atlanta. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing; there’s no reason for us to go out and overthink it and start beat ourselves.”

“Historically, I think we’ve had a great car at Road Atlanta. Obviously, the dynamic has changed quite a bit compared to past years performance-wise, but either way we did a bit of testing at Road Atlanta at the end of last season with the current package that’s on the car now and we feel really confident with it.”

ST Race

It was young Canadian Adam Isman who lead the stout ST field to green at Circuit of the Americas on a cloudy Friday morning. The race barely had time to get going due to GS driver Tim Bell’s massive accident at turn 12 on the very first lap, so Isman maintained the lead through the lengthy caution period and paced a train of cars on lap 8’s restart. Shortly afterwards, Stevan McAleer would assume the ST lead in his #5 CJ Wilson Mazda MX-5 on lap 10.

As the rain steadily rolled in, polesitter Isman was forced to retire with a mechanical gremlin, a disappointing end to an altogether promising weekend. The #33 Skullcandy Team Nissan Altima of Vesko Kozarov would later inherit the lead from McAleer’s Mazda. However, Kozarov’s lead would be short-lived as a charging Ryan Eversley put on a storming drive to take his #75 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic to first place. Eversley would take a comfortable victory over Eric Foss and Mat Pombo.

The final round of an exciting 2014 season takes place at Road Atlanta on Petit Le Mans weekend. The first practice session kicks off proceedings at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 1. The 165-minute, championship-deciding race will be held on Friday, October 3 at 1:15 p.m.

Beck Duggleby