Lime Rock Park was the setting for round six of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC). The 1.5 mile high speed course results in lap times just under a minute.
To the Back
Qualifying showed that the field was pretty well balanced. The top nine ST cars were separated by less than a second and the full ST field was separated by just over two seconds. Initially qualifying results were pretty decent for the team. The #73 had the 5th fastest lap followed by the #37 in 9th and #52 in 11th. Unfortunately both the #73 and #37 failed post qualifying inspection, sending them to the back of the field to start the race.
The Race Begins
As the field came to green there was a gap between the GS and ST cars. Something Derek Jones was requesting after issues with race starts the past few events. Unfortunately Jones wasn’t up front to take advantage of the extra space.
Jones, along with co-driver Mat Pombo began the race second in the points standings. The series points leader Jeff Mosing would start the race in 9th, a clear advantage in terms of holding onto the points lead. But almost as quick as the race went green Mosing had an issue sending him towards the back of the pack.
As Mosing tried to recover the lost ground he made contact with the #18 Porsche leading to a drive-thru penalty. Interestingly the contact situation looked very similar to the controversial contact made last week. In that incident Mosing moved James Vance out of the way in the closing minutes and was not penalized, stealing what looked like a sure victory for Vance.
With all of the bad luck afflicting the #56 of Mosing it looked like the fortunes of the 73 might be turning and they could make some real gains in the point standings.
As the race continued on Jones made contact of his own. Jones went over some curbing at a high rate of speed and into the side of a Porsche. He was fortunate to escape without a penalty and continue on.
With the track length so short, and the cars so even, the entire course is quickly consumed with traffic as cars from both classes are passing each other constantly. This makes it tough to get into a rhythm and advance your postion. After 30 minutes of racing the #52 of Nate Norenberg was the top running MINI in 8th position, only one better than where he started. The #73 of Jones had worked himself up to 9th followed by the #37 in 13th with Mike Lamarra behind the wheel.
Shorty after the 30 minute mark the first full course yellow would be displayed for a Porsche stopped on the track that was having a fuel pump issue. While most of the field stayed out some did take advantage of the yellow to pit. This moved the top two MINIs up to 6th (#52) and 7th (#73).
With the track cleared the race was ready to resume. The #52 and #73 looked to take advantage of there new positions and move to the front.
As is often the case, when the field is bunched back together cars beat and bang until they get spread out a bit. Unfortunately for our MINI JCW Team they took a little more banging than we would like to see.
The #18 Porsche bumped the #52 sending him into the #73. The #73 went into a spin and off the course. Luckily Jones and Norenberg were able to avoid any major damage and rejoin the race. Where the MINIs saw real damage was in their track position. All three MINIs now found themselves back to back in the standings with the #52 in 11th leading the way.
#52 Takes the Lead (Briefly)
As the one hour mark approached the field started to pit for service and driver changes. The #52 stayed out the longest, perhaps in a strategy move. As others pitted Norenberg assumed the lead putting MINI at the top of the leaderboard. But he wouldn’t stay out much longer and would pit to hand over the car to Mark Pombo.
Closing Out a Tough Race
As Mark Pombo rejoined the race there was a noticeable tire rub on the #52. Smoke was coming from the left rear as the tire and body work made contact. This would luckily go away and have no effect on the speed of the car.
Mark Pombo ran some very quick laps over the remainder of the race. Despite being a lap down to the class leaders he was able to gain positions. He moved up from 11th with 50 minutes remaining to 8th with under 5 minutes to go. Pombo was in a fierce battle with the #54 BMW for quite a while, a battle that received a lot of screen time from the IMSA live stream. While Pombo held him back for quite a while, the #54 eventually got the better of him and would take the position away with less tan 2 minutes remaining. Pombo would eventually bring the #52 home in 9th place.
With the field all spread out positions were hard to come by. The #73 with Mat Pombo behind the wheel and #37 being piloted by James Vance would struggle to gain any ground.
With 15 minutes remaining what looked like it would be a 1-2-3 finish of Mazdas was broken up when the second and third place Mazdas got into an accident. This seemed like it would be a good opportunity for Mat Pombo and Vance to group back up and gain some positions but the yellow never came out. Both Mazdas were able to get moving again and the race stayed green to the finish.
Unable to gain any more ground Mat Pombo brought home the #73 in 12th, and Vance finished the race in 15th.
The results definitely weren’t what the team was looking for; let’s hope the team bounces back strong in the next event.
Next up on the calendar is the Road America 120 on Saturday August 5th in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.