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Grand Finale at Mid-Ohio

Lexington, OH -- On August 12 & 13, twelve Challenge Series racers showed up to compete in a tri-points weekend. This was the final round for the competitive East Coast Series and regional points weekend for Ohio/Indiana and Midwest. And what a big weekend it was! All drivers really stepped it up in preparation for the upcoming National Championships to be held at Mid-Ohio next month. Seven of the twelve drivers eclipsed the old track record with Tony Buffomante (Baltimore, MD) turning the best time of 1.41.042 in Sunday's qualifying. The other six drivers that bettered the old record were Brian Sanders (Cincinnati, OH), Gary McDaniel (Kansas City, MO), Brian Cates (Broad Run, VA), Tony Johnson (North Wilkesboro, NC), John George (Nashua, NH), and Dan Elam (Richmond, VA). The five remaining drivers, Ed Boothman (Naples, FL), Peter LaRose (Northville, MI), Harry Elam (Richmond, VA), Lyle Riggen (Channahon, IL), and Carl Thompson (Hockessin, DE), all ran better times over the weekend and some came close to the old record.

We could not have asked for better weather in the middle of August, plenty of sunshine and temps in the low 80's. The day started off like any other race morning, car prep for the first practice session. This session set the tone for the weekend. Buffomante, Cates, Sanders, and Johnson topped the practiced charts, all bettering the old track record. Others were just shaking down the car and learning the track layout. Qualifying was the first time that all 41 cars in the run group hit the track. This had a few Challenge racers complaining about the lack of a "clean" lap. Qualifying times set the grid for our standing start. Cates earned the pole, followed by Buffomante, D. Elam, McDaniel, George, Thompson, Riggen, Sanders, Boothman, Johnson, LaRose, H. Elam.

Photo courtesy of Finish Line Productions, Chris Schutze

As always, when we lined up for the start, there is that intense anticipation of the drop of the green flag. When the flag finally dropped, Sanders launched with a start that would rival D. Elam's. By turn 1 Sanders had moved from 8th to 5th with Johnson following him and gaining two positions. As the Challenge racers screamed towards the bus stop for the first time, they were treated to something you rarely see. Buffomante decided he couldn't make the second apex and drove straight off the track. But there's more. As the first cars exited the keyhole, there's Buffomante re-entering the track ahead of them. Normally this would have resulted in a penalty but Buffomante had the presence of mind to allow Cates to overtake him, thus relinquishing the lead. But it wasn't long before Buffomante took back the lead. On the second lap LaRose had brake issues and was forced to retire. After battling for several laps, Sanders was able to overtake McDaniel and set his sights on D. Elam. As Sanders was closing on Elam, the overall leader, a Viper Comp Coupe, was coming up to put him a lap down. However, a double yellow flag was displayed. We passed four double yellow stations, when the Viper decided to pass Sanders under yellow. As we were picked up by the pace car, Sanders was caught behind the leader and essentially lost a lap to Elam. The Viper was disqualified after the race for this move but that didn't help during the race.

On the pace laps under caution, D. Elam started to notice a serious problem with his brakes. He even had a wheel lock up at one point. He managed to complete the race and a late spin allowed him to gain a position on Cates. After the race it was found that Elam had broken a caliper mount and that the caliper had almost cut the wheel into two pieces. The race ended with Buffomante in first, followed by Elam, Cates, and Sanders. However, after the race, Cates was penalized one position for passing under yellow. Final results were Buffomante, D. Elam, Sanders on the podium with Cates, Johnson, George, Boothman, Riggen, H. Elam, McDaniel, Thompson, and LaRose rounding out the field.

Overnight and during the day Sunday, several drivers made drastic changes to their cars and it paid off! Most notable were John George and Peter LaRose. Both started the morning off with their fastest times of the weekend and carried it on into qualifying, George would start third and LaRose mid-pack.

There is always excitement in racing but this is probably one of the more "routine" races there's been. Not many positions were gained or exchanged. Everyone was running the best they could. In the end, it was Buffomante, D. Elam, and Cates on the podium followed by George, Sanders, Johnson, LaRose, McDaniel, Boothman, Thompson, Riggen, and H. Elam.

This was the final race of the 2006 East Coast Series. See the accompanying story here.

Points were also awarded in the OH/IN and Midwest regions. With only one event left in each region, the titles are still undecided. Next stop is Nationals for OH/IN and Midwest and Mid-Atlantic will sneak one more in at Summit Point before then.

C'ya at Nationals

--Brian Sanders


Page last updated: 07/02/2008

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