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Great Lakes FFR Challenge Season Opener

Lexington, OH. - Once again, the Great Lakes Challenge Series opened its season at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car course in Lexington, OH. And the weather, as in years past, certainly played a major role. The weekend opened with a test and tune on Friday. Peter LaRose, Brian Sanders, and Wes Holliday, sans car, were there first thing in the morning facing rain and very cool temperatures. Neither Peter nor Brian was interested in braving the elements in the first two sessions. Around noon, Mark Dougherty arrived with Wes’s car and delivered Bob Deeks new ST2 Roadster. Note, this car was new for Deeks but is actually the rebuilt Challenge car previously owned and raced by Mark. As Mark was parking the trailer, both Greg and Gregg Wellinghoff pulled in. That made for a field of five Challenge cars and Bob’s ST2 which he ran in TT this weekend.

Late Friday the rain moved out and everything was dry but very cold and windy on Saturday. All cars took to the track in the morning practice. With the cold temps and the need to work out the off-season bugs, no one set anything near a blistering time. And this was to be the case for most of the weekend. Greg Wellinghoff, sometimes known as junior, had lost an engine at the last race in ’08 and the rebuilt engine proved to be uncooperative as he retired early with overheating issues. As we approached qualifying, the temps remained cold but the sun was shining brightly and putting some good heat into the track. This qualifying session would set the grid for both races on Saturday. The session ended putting Brian on the pole followed by Greg (Sr.), Peter, Wes, and Greg (Jr.).

Due to the fact that this was Easter weekend this year, NASA decided to go with a three race format, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. Each driver would score their two best races towards series points. This allowed racers to get two races in even if they needed to leave on Sunday.

Race 1

As the Challenge racers came down to take the green flag, Brian’s column of cars had all kinds of problems. This allowed Gregg, on the outside, to take the lead heading into turn one. Gregg would continue in the lead until lap four when he over-slowed for a yellow flag in turn 1 allowing Brian to get right on him. Exiting the Keyhole, Gregg took the inside on exit, to get beside a Corvette, and Brian followed the ‘vette and picked up a bit of a “tow” to slingshot past Gregg into the lead. For the next eight laps, Brian, Gregg, and Peter would run nose to tail. On the last lap, Gregg tangled with an overtaking SU car and in avoiding contact; he gave up the second position to Peter. When the checkers flew, it was Brian followed by Peter, Gregg, Wes, and Greg, retiring early again overheating.

Race 2

At the start of race two, Brian was determined to not get caught up with the car in front of him again, so as the green flag flew he moved left immediately to squeeze in between the slower car and Gregg to snatch the lead in turn one. Peter had the same thought and followed Brian and relegated Gregg to the third position by turn one. For this race the track had improved greatly and Brian and Peter took off and set some of the best lap times of the weekend. For the next ten laps, there was never more than second between Brian and Peter. All it would take is a small mistake by Brian and Peter would claim the lead. On the next to last lap, Peter got caught up with an overtaking car and had to avoid contact. This gave Brian the breathing room to cruise to a second win without pressure. Peter still managed to hang on to second followed by Gregg. Wes would claim fourth but not on the track. Near the end of the race, Wes lost the car exiting the Carousel and spun into the pit wall. Since he was facing pit-in, he simply pulled in and retired. His car only suffered cosmetic damage with some rubber striping on the right side. Greg Jr. sat out this race and traveled down to Jeg’s to grab some parts to try to solve his car problems.

As the sun rose on Sunday, the racers were greeted with even colder temps. The morning practice was a wash as the dew formed overnight was actually a thin layer of ice on the whole track. But with the bright sun, the track absorbed heat very quickly and by qualifying, the track was getting very good. Sunday qualifying was only changed slightly as Peter stepped up and posted a better time than Gregg. Brian was still able to eek out a pole. Wes grabbed fourth and Greg actually ran a session without overheating.

Race 3

Sunday’s race would prove to be the most difficult of all for Brian. Peter was relentless. There was not a single lap that Brian was able to run a normal line. He knew if he left the door open just a little, Peter was going to sneak through. From the drop of the green flag to the checkers, Peter drove a flawless race and in doing so, made Brian do the same with one exception. Late in the race, Brian locked up a wheel entering the Carousel and really got the car out of shape. However, with a miraculous save, was able to keep the lead and take the “hat-trick” for the weekend. Gregg was again third, Wes fourth, and Greg retired overheating again. This time Greg stopped on pit road, pulled the hood, and said he could see water coming between the block and head.

One thing this weekend proved is that this is going to be the most competitive season ever. Peter has already proven that he will strongly defend his 2008 Region Title. It appears that Brian has chased away the engine gremlins that plagued him last season. Gregg (Sr.) proved he can run at the front. At the end of last season, Greg (Jr.) was running well. Wes will come along as he gets more seat time in the car. And Lyle Riggen, even though he was not at this event, has said he plans to run the rest of the Great Lakes and vie for the championship.

The next stop for the Great Lakes racers is Putnam Park on May 16-17. But before that, some racers will travel to the beautiful Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, WI to compete in the Midwest Region.

--Brian Sanders

Great Lakes/Midwest FFR Series Director.

Page last updated: 04/13/2009

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