After mother nature was raining buckets on the Mid-Ohio the night before, the track was soaked on Thursday. Just when everyone thought the sun would shine, more rain hit. It seemed not even the radar map could predict the weather as the nearby Great Lakes created a 'Lake Effect'. The air temperature was cooler than the water temperature of the nearby lakes so as the air passed over the warmer lake, the air picked up the lake's moisture and deposited it on areas downwind of the lake, including the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The qualifying session and qualifying race sessions only are about 10 minutes in duration, so there is little time to fully get 'in the groove'. During the qualifying session on Thursday for Hugh, it was an absolute mess. Cars were spinning off and wildly fishtailing as they hydroplaned on the now-soaked track surface. He only got one lap in. It was a measly 2:28.679, which on the Hoosier R6's, is pretty decent since they not meant for wet track conditions. If driving in the rain was not enough, Hugh found that his front control arm had a bit of play in it and a rear wheel bearing was causing vibrations making the handling and braking unpredictable. From the beginning of the year up until this point, the car has been basically problem free aside from a blown shock and such. No other suspension issues until then. Bad luck.
Later that day, Hugh nursed the BMW around the track finishing 14th out of 20 in qualifying race with a best time of 1:38.523, much quicker than the cars in front of him. If the race had been longer than 10 minutes, he surely would have caught up to some of the front runners in GTS3.
Richard Hunter, running in Honda Challenge 2 with his red Acura Integra R, was happy to be back in the driver seat after his engine needed a fresh rebuild after the last few races. It was found that an incredible 14 valve springs had broken out of the total 16. It was amazing the car had still run as surely they had been broken for some time (Remember: Richard ran at Hyperfest this year and won on Sunday with the motor).
Richard chose not to run the qualifying session on Thursday and started at the back for the actual qualifying race. It was still quite slick on the track at 2:35pm, so Schoolboy only did two laps and placed 16th in H2.
The warmup for GTS Challenge was 9:05am on Friday. Hugh put on his Hans and helmet and strapped into the Green Monster. It was much more dry today as the rain stayed away. During the warmup session, Hugh was on his hot lap when a car exiting the pit road pulled in front of him. The other car was given the Passing blue/yellow stripe flag to allow Hugh to pass. Hugh went to overtake him and as he was literally parallel with the other car, the other car bangs into the Green Monster. Both side tires on both cars made contact at over 100 mph.
"I honestly don't know how I saved it." Stewart said. Thankfully, he did save the car from spinning wildly out of control. The bad news was that the front tie rod and a few other pieces were damaged badly. Just something else to add to list of things to repair and replace. But immediately, Hugh was able to purchase a new tie rod and rear wheel bearing at a nearby machine/auto shop. After a few adjustments, the car was back as it was pre-warmup. He missed qualifying on Friday but managed to start the qualifying race.
Starting in the back of the field, Hugh worked his way up and gained 6 positions just in GTS3 alone, with a best lap time of 1:38.375. Once again, the 10 minute race did not allow Hugh to fully catch the others ahead of him, but he was on a move. Very impressive considering he still could not drive the car to its potential because of the bad control arm.
Thanks to Jonathan Vasquez however, Hugh was able to fix the car and prepare for Sunday's Championship race. Jonathan drove almost 9 hours to come to the rescue with new parts for the #2 BMW. The car was fixed and repaired late Friday night.
Schoolboy was quite fast in Friday's warmup, running 3rd of 16 cars in H2 with a 1:40.736. He stayed consistent and ran a slightly slower 1:40.951 in qualifying landing him in 6th position in H2. With random showers on Friday, the track started to get a little more slick. Regardless, Richard was flying in the qualifying race and placed 4th in class. He was closing on 3rd place Erik Olson as the checkered flag waved ending Friday's qualifying session. The track dried up quite a bit, and allowed Richard to break into the 1:39's with a 1:39.5 best lap time. Richard did not take part in Sunday's warmup session, but Hugh did.
After fixing the #2 Green Monster, Hugh went out at 9:10am and did 6 laps. That control arm problem was definitely hampering his performances in the past days. With so many cars on the track, the only real clean lap he got was on lap 3. This lap allowed him to place 5th of 14 cars running in the warmup in GTS3. He had finally broken into the 1:36's with a time of 1:36.993, just behind Dan Goodman's #5 BMW M3.
Before the GTS race, it was the Honda Challenge group. What was different about this particular race is that they did a standing start. Back in the day in SCCA World Challenge, the standing starts always were brutal on the cars' drivetrains, and often cars broke at the starting line. Also in a situation where a car would stall, there would be huge pileups as well. Luckily, none of this happened.
The faster H1 cars got the start signal first, then the H2 cars were sent on their way. The cars in H2 were going three and sometimes even four wide into the second turn at the keyhole. Schoolboy had gotten a good launch, but did not advance any places as the others launched smoothly as well. By the second lap, the H1 cars had pulled a considerable gap on the slower H2 cars. All was well until the #91 (9) Acura collided with another car punching the passenger side door in severely.
|Another Hi Speed Motorsports cage does it job.|
Next up just 45 minutes after the Honda Challenge race had ended, it was GTS Challenge's time to race. All 5 classes ranging from GTS1 (slowest) to GTS5 (fastest) were on the track at once. A total of 66 cars started this race, and it was one heck of a race! After the GTS5 and GTS4 cars had started, the GTS3 field was given the green flag. The weather had brought rain to the track just a few minutes before the race was scheduled to start so it was extra slippery out there. But that did not stop these guys from racing hard. Cars went an incredible 4 and 5 wide into the first turn!
|4 and 5-wide racing madness at the start of the GTS race.|
"I can deal with that. I just need to make sure my tires won't go away." Stewart said.
Hi Speed ran an excellent race that was smooth and consistent. He caught others and worked his way up to 11th in GTS3. Not the best result, but surely if he had not had the issues with the suspension and such, he could have started farther near the front, possibly giving the other GTS3 racers a good run. His best lap was consistent in the low-to-mid 1:37-range.
Remember, Hugh has never actually finished a race here at Mid-Ohio. Who knows whether it was bad luck or what, but in his days of SPEED World Challenge, he either broke something in the first few laps, or something prevented him from finishing. In 2002, with his Volkswagen Jetta, he broke an axle right in pit road as the cars were to line up for the warmup lap. Day over. In 2004, with the yellow #34 BMW, the car suffered mechanical issues and was forced to retire early. And in 2005, driving the silver #22 Dodge SRT-4, Hugh had gone only one corner before his race was ended after a collision with a bunch of other cars which actually sent him up on two wheels. Thankfully, nothing of that sort happened on Sunday.
Hugh stated he was happy that he finally finished a race at Mid-Ohio. The whole HSM team is happy as well.
Cecil Ramotar said that it was some of the best racing he has seen in years.
"That was awesome. I wish I was out there racing. Maybe next year." Ramotar laughed. "Looks like Hugh had a clean race though. Well done."