Virginia International Raceway (VIR) was the site for round 8 of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC). The Oak Tree Grand Prix started with dark skies looming over the track. A condition that would favor the MINI JCW Team that had experienced over-heating issues during practice and qualifying.
Brian Clauson Tribute
The team would sport a different livery for this weeks race. All three cars had green stripes down the center from front to back. Additionally their rear quarter panels had a decal with the initials BC on them. This was done as a tribute to Brian Clauson.
Clauson passed away earlier this month after succumbing to injuries sustained during a midget race. Team owner Luis Perocarpi had a long history with Clauson and most recently served as his crew chief in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
New Fuel Pumps
All three MINIs started the race with “new” fuel pumps. The team had been experiencing issues with them during the previous day’s practice and qualifying. With no time to wait for parts the team had to borrow them off crew members personal cars. That’s one of the advantages of converting the JCWs that anyone can buy at the dealership into race cars.
Derek Jones in the #73 JCW had a quick start to the race. Jones moved the car into the top 10 less than five minutes into the race.
18 year-old Austin Mack made his CTSC debut this weekend in the #37 MINI JCW. Mack looked to make his mark early moving up to 15th just 10 minutes in to the race.
The Rain Begins
Fifteen minutes into the race the rain started to come down. The #73 and #37 took advantage of others pitting for rain tires to move further up the field. Both soon found themselves in the top 10.
As the rain began to fall harder and harder even Jones had trouble keeping all four wheels on the track. Luckily he was able to avoid damage and keep running.
Mack wasn’t as lucky. He suffered heavy damage and would have to limp his way back to the pits. That would be the end of the day for the #37.
When the red flag came out for the heavy downpour 30 minutes into the race, Jones was in 6th place, with the #52 driven by Abdolvahabi further back in the field.
The race would be under red flag conditions for just over an hour.
The Race Resumes
As the race transitioned from red to yellow flags the field got moving again. With less than an hour to go in the race the entire field made their way to the pits. Service was completed and driver changes were made in preparation for the run to the finish.
Mat Pombo would rejoin the field in 8th place.
The race would finally go back to green with just 45 minutes left. Mat Pombo quickly established himself as the fastest car on the track. Pombo at one time was running laps a half second faster than the leader. With 36 mins to go he had already improved to 5th place.
Pombo continued his tear, passing a car every few minutes to where he was in a podium position with 30 minutes to go. He set his sights on second place as the race wound down.
13 MINS TO GO, 2.8 SECS BEHIND SECOND
5 MINS TO GO, 0.5 SEC BEHIND SECOND
1 LAP TO GO, 0.2 SEC BEHIND SECOND
Pombo pushed hard lap after lap to where he was right behind second place Eric Foss. But time would run out on Pombo and he could not improve his position.
The team was excited after what seemed like their second podium finish ever. Even MINI USA took time to congratulate the team on twitter.
Congrats to the #MINIMotorsports team for placing 3rd @VIRNow! More proof MINI can & will always #DefyLabels. #CTSC – MINI USA
But bad news arrived later for the team. The heavy downpour that led to the red flag session caused issues with timing and scoring. IMSA, the authority that manages CTSC, did an audit and found that the #83 Porsche had completed one more lap than originally thought. This moved the Porsche into second place and subsequently bumped the #73 off the podium and into 4th place.
The MINI JCW Team will have to continue to wait for that next podium finish.
The team will be back in action September 16th at the Circuit of the Americas.
A previous version of this article stated that the #73 had finished in 3rd place. The article was updated to reflect the revised finishing order confirmed by IMSA.