Round 3 of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) is in the books. The Circuit of the Americas 120 saw 32 cars hit the track for a two hour race in the heat of Austin, TX. The ST class in which the MINI JCW Team competes made up half of the field. Previous history has shown that the team performs well at this state of the art track.
Practice and Qualifying
The team showed good speed during practice. Mat Pombo put the 73 at the top of the speed charts for the second session. This combined with the teams previous success at the track gave the team high hopes for qualifying. Co-driver of the 73, Derek Jones, would do the qualifying honors. Jones put down a blistering lap of 2:29.735 which would prove good enough to earn the team it’s second ever pole position (both by Jones).
Mike Lamarra had a good qualifying session also. He was able to put in a lap of 2:30.679, good enough for 6th starting position. The 52 was the slowest of the three and qualified 14th with Tyler Stone behind the wheel.
Turbo Woes for the 37
As the green flag waved it wasn’t long before the team saw its first issues. The 37 experienced an issue with their turbo minutes into the race. Needless to say the lack of a properly working turbo saw them plummet from their 6th starting position. They would spend a major portion of the race trying to solve the issues and would eventually finish in 14th position and 22 laps down. This was a real shame as both Lamarra and co-driver James Vance had shown good speed in practice in qualifying. It looked like it could have been a good day for the 37. With the 37 out of the running MINI fans were left to look at the stalwart 73 and hope for a turnaround with the 52.
Electrical Issues for the 73
After impressive practice runs and a pole position qualifying effort hopes were high for the 73 to continue their strong run for the season. After initially falling to second at the start of the race. Derek Jones quickly found his rhythm and was hounding the leading 34 Mazda Miata. As the race progressed it was obvious those two were the class of the field. They quickly separated themselves from the rest of the ST class and held their own battle without worry of the other class cars catching them.
But just as MINI fans were settling in for an exciting race the 73 ran into issues of their own. Twenty minutes into the two hour event the 73 entered into pit-lane speed limiter mode. After Jones exited the car he described how hitting a curb too hard would cause the car to enter this mode, limiting it to 3500 RPM. Eventually Jones would be able to get the car back up to speed but this would be an issue the 73 would have to deal with throughout the day.
Jones had fallen 2/3 of a lap behind the leader and looked to be in danger of going a lap down when luck would come their way. The class leading 34 Miata blew an engine bringing out a full course yellow. This not only took out their biggest competition but allowed the 73 to catch back up to the field. Mat Pombo took over after Jones pitted and would restart in 13th.
Pombo looked determined to make up the lost ground and get back to the front of the field. At one point nearly wrecking as he tried to push past the 52 MINI. But Pombo would have to deal with the same issues as Jones, and in the end would finish in 10th. While a disappointing result the team should be happy with it considering the issues they had.
The 52’s day to shine
Any long time fan of the MINI JCW Team knows that the 52 has always been the unlucky one of the bunch. It seems as no matter who’s behind the wheel some issue tends to arise or the car simply isn’t as fast as its stable mates. That’s what made this run such a surprise.
Nate Norenberg and Tyler Stone would be behind the wheel of the 52 for this round of CTSC action. Stone didn’t have the best qualifying effort but kept the car clean and competitive throughout his stint. Stone would take the 52 as high as ninth position before handing over the wheel to Norenberg.
After the full course yellow that would end the day for the 34 Miata, Norenberg would rejoin the race in 12th place. Norenberg would have a more adventurous run. At one point nearly being taken out by the 73, and at another being hipped checked by a Porsche trying to force his way around. Norenberg was able to keep his cool and slowly work his way up the field. With 40 minutes to go he was up to 9th, and with 30 minutes to go he would find himself in 8th.
When Norenberg crossed the line he was in 7th postion. A very solid run for the 52 and the best finisher for the team this event. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the 52. They’ve certainly had more than their fare share of bad luck and it’s time for things to turn around.
The next race on the schedule will be the 2 hour event at Watkins Glen on July 1st. The summer months are when the season really picks up and Watkins Glen is the first of three races in July alone.