Corvette, Mustang and Viper duke it out
Three iconic American muscle brands- Corvette, Mustang and Viper- duked it out during rounds 7 and 8 of the 2014 US GT Championship in front of a large crowd at Virginia International Raceway, June 6-8. The NARRA Grand Prix of Virginia event featured six national series including the new TRG run Aston Martin GT4 Challenge North America, the Whelen US TimeTrial Championship and the SCCA PRO Formula Atlantic Championship.
While Brian Faessler’s turbo charged Paul’s Automotive Engineering Ford Mustang and Jason Kennedy’s SpeedSouth Chevrolet Corvette proved their pace, it was Jim Stout’s mighty Coastal Pet Motorsport Dodge Viper which prevailed to take the outright victory in both races. Dave Moore (Comp Coupe) and Keith Prociuk (HP Tuners Viper SRT-10) shared the spoils in the ultra competitive GT1 class, while Steve Loudin (TRICEL Honeycomb Viper Comp Coupe) was unlucky not to capitalize on the speed that saw him dominate practice and set a new GT1 lap record.
From the onset it was clear the event would be a special one, and it wasn’t just the electric atmosphere created by a sea of spectators between turns three and five and an equally crowded paddock full of transporters. It quickly became clear that each lap record was under threat thanks to the grip being provided by VIR’s fresh pavement. This was confirmed during practice and qualifying for Saturday’s race as a number of drivers lapped below the official race records.
With the effective GTU championship points leader Michael Hartley (Dezigns Construction Viper Comp Coupe) watching from the sideline after heavy crash in the high-speed esses during practice, it was his GTU rival Stout who was left to fly the flag for Viper. Stout didn’t waste any time, immediately producing a pace setting 1:50.793 to take his first pole position for the year.
Yet the big surprise in qualifying was the speed out of Kennedy’s Vette. He was second quickest before Faessler (1:53.213) found the low fifty-threes. Kennedy responded with a 1:53.282 to fall just short of a front row start.
The GT1 pole for Round 7 was won by Prociuk (1:54.390) while his Archer Racing teammate Loudin- who had the upper hand in practice- spent much of the session in the pits with brake issues. In his only true flying lap Loudin salvaged third in class behind Prociuk and Moore to be sixth on the grid.
However, it was Moore who made the most of the race. He immediately passed Prociuk for the GT1 lead before impressively closing in on the Unlimited classed Kennedy for third outright.
Meanwhile Prociuk struggled. He lost second place to Loudin by the end of lap two before falling into the clutches of Russ Oasis (Parts Rack Viper Comp Coupe). Released, Loudin set about chasing down Moore. As the race progressed the likelihood of him catching the fast starting Moore increased with Loudin lapping consistently quicker.
A late race mistake by Moore at the top of the track then gave Loudin even more reason to push. In a last ditched effort Loudin produced a 1:53.837 on his final tour to set a new class lap record, but failed to find a way past Moore who took his second win of the season by less than a second. Prociuk fended off Oasis for third. Sollberger (Viper Comp Coupe) and Kathy Stout (CoolShirt Comp Coupe) completed the top six in GT1, while Joe Moholland (Corvette Z06) clinched GT2 and lowered the GT2 lap record by four seconds to 2:01.846.
At the front of the field Stout streaked away to win the GTU class and take the outright win by a comfortable nine seconds. Stout’s best lap of 1:51.178 reset his own lap record from last year’s American Le Mans Series event by over a second. Ford pilot Faessler drove a solid race to finish second and take his seventh consecutive podium finish, however again it was the pace of Kennedy’s third placed Corvette that impressed. His second to last lap of 1:51.580 all but matched Stout’s pace. Lee Saunders (KSR Performance Viper ACR-X) finished fourth in GTU.
During Sunday’s morning warm-up Kennedy’s coach, Jason Hart, then showed the SpeedSouth prepped car was capable of beating Stout, laying down a 1:49.977.
Inspired, Kennedy duked it out with Stout and Faessler in qualifying for Round 8. He set the initial benchmark before Faessler took provisional pole with a 1:51.366. Kennedy pushed on, but went for a wild ride through the upper esses tearing much of the floor and rear diffuser off his Corvette. With the session stopped to recover the car, Faessler returned to the paddock to save his Pirelli tires for the race. However Stout, who by that time had slipped passed Kennedy for second on the grid, elected to roll out of pitlane for a second attempt and it worked. With a 1:50.873 Stout took his second pole of 2014.
Nearly all of the GT1 drivers went back out too, with the order changing dramatically in the last few minutes of the session. A staggering lap of 1:52.977 saw Prociuk advanced one spot to start third outright, while Loudin cemented second in class from Oasis.
Determined not to let Stout get another clean sweep, Faessler ran side by side with the 2013 GT-U National Champion into turn one. The pair remained synchronized through turn two before Faessler finally captured the lead in turn three. Under pressure to stay in touch with Faessler on the opening lap, Stout then spun at Oak Tree and dropped back through the field.
There was plenty of action in the GT1 class too. Oasis made a stellar start and dueled with Prociuk into turn one before losing out to Loudin. A small mistake by Oasis then allowed Moore to capitalize on lap two.
As the race progressed three battles came to life. Faessler’s lead started to diminish as Stout lowered his lap record to a 1:51.154 while he stormed through the field. Loudin also began to pressure Prociuk for the GT1 win, and Oasis kept Moore’s mirrors full. While Moore eventually gapped Oasis, Faessler and Prociuk remained under attack.
After seemingly managing his lead it became apparent Faessler might in fact be nursing his car, which had been blowing smoke all weekend. His luck ran out on lap thirteen when he lost power and the lead. His Mustang had fallen just over six miles short of securing Ford its first outright US GT Championship victory.
Faessler’s heartbreak allowed Stout to take his second win of the weekend and promoted Kennedy to the second step of the podium. Faessler finished third in GTU.
On the same lap the battle for the GT1 lead also reached a crescendo. Prociuk faltered out of Oak Tree, setting up Loudin for a look into turn one. The next lap Loudin lunged again, but Prociuk had already committed to the turn and contact resulted. A spinning Loudin relinquished second place to Moore while Prociuk went on to take his fifth win of the season. Oasis and Kathy Stout completed the top five in GT1.
The checker flag also waived over the South Cup, with Jason Kennedy winning the title for GTU, Russ Oasis claiming GT1, Joe Moholland picking up the GT2 win and David Ricci winning GT3. The North Cup, which started at Watkins Glen, continues at the NARRA Grand Prix of Pittsburgh, Aug 1-3, and will be awarded at Monticello, Sept 12-14. The chase for the US GT Championship’s national titles concludes at Sebring International Raceway, Nov 21-23.
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