Having never raced before at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, every Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge driver wanted to win the inaugural Brickyard Sports Car Challenge on July 27, 2012. After a race that was divided by a heavy downpour, CKS Autosport drivers Eric Curran and Lawson Aschenbach were victorious and kissed the famous yard of bricks.
Given Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s (IMS) rich history and legendary status among racers worldwide, there was a lot of hype leading up to the event. The excitement and anticipation among the teams was combined with a hectic, one-day event scheduled set for the Friday before NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
The Grand-Am series used IMS’s road course layout initially constructed to host the United States Grand Prix from 2000-2007. Because the NASCAR series practiced on Thursday, followed by a NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday, IMS workers had to convert the facility from a counter-clockwise oval to a clockwise road course Thursday night, and back to an oval again Friday night. It was the first time the speedway changed configurations during an event weekend.
Even though practice, qualifying, and the race were compressed into one day, the teams had a chance to test at the facility earlier in the month. So practice on Friday morning wasn’t their first time on the track. Right off the trailer, the two Camaros of Matt Bell/John Edwards and Curran/Aschenbach were quickest, ahead of third-fastest Billy Johnson and Jack Roush Jr. in their #61 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R. In qualifying, Brian Heikotter (#14 Doran Racing Nissan 370Z) surpassed Bell and Aschenbach for the top starting spot. Jack Roush Jr. was fastest of the Mustang drivers, set to start sixth.
At the race start, Aschenbach got a great start and drove his #01 Camaro into the lead at turn one. Pole-sitter Heikotter fell back to 30th place after spinning in turn two. By lap five, Jack Roush Jr. moved up to third, but four laps later limped to the garage with a broken left front suspension.
At the half-hour mark, Emmanuel Anassis in the #43 BTE Sport Mustang Boss 302R hit the wall entering the front stretch, bringing out the caution flag. As the leaders headed for pit lane for service and driver changes, Joey Atterbury (#51 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R) was third behind Aschenbach’s and Bell’s Camaros. Matt Bell stayed in the car and was thus quickest out of the pits to take the lead.
On lap 32, series points-leader Matt Plumb (#13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche) was up to third, behind Bell and Aschenbach. At the race’s halfway point, the sky darkened and rain began to fall on the north part of the track. Seemingly every mobile phone on pit lane checked the weather radar as teams debated a switch to rain tires.
Then the sky opened up, changing the light rain to a heavy downpour. Many drivers headed to the pits for rain tires, but, in what would seem to be a risky gamble, other teams kept their drivers out behind the pace car on slicks. As the track changed from wet to flooded, the Grand-Am officials stopped the race for twenty-five minutes while the standing water drained off the track.
With the yellow flag displayed, the cars filed from pit lane back onto the racetrack behind BJ Zacharias (now driving the #14 Nissan 370Z). Curiously, by the time the cars were back on course, not only were the large puddles gone from the track, but all the moisture as well! Zacharias and second-place Charles Espenlaub (#48 BMW) headed to the pits to change from rain tires back to slicks.
Eric Curran (who took over driving duties from Aschenbach in the #01 Camaro), who never switched to rain tires and was still on slicks, inherited the lead. He held onto the lead for the remaining eighteen minutes of the race, helped by two more caution periods for cars off course in the jumbled conditions. First-time race-winners Aschenbach and Curran were followed across the yard of bricks by the #62 Mitchum Motorsports Camaro of George Richardson and Jeff Bucknum, and the #48 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW of Charles Putman and Charles Espenlaub.
With their 12th place finish, Rum Bum Racing’s series points lead was slashed to two points ahead of BGB Motorsports, who finished fifth at Indy. CKS Autosport’s win promoted them to third in the points standings. Porsche leads the manufacturer standings, with Ford in fourth place behind BMW and Chevrolet.
The series takes the month of August off before the series’ penultimate race at Laguna Seca in September. It’s the series’ only race west of the Mississippi river in 2012, so all you west-coast race fans need to be there to cheer on your favorite drivers, teams, and cars!
Images and Captions: