After early-race shenanigans knocked several cars out of contention at the last race, teams of the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series rolled into Homestead Miami Speedway on Wednesday, April 25th 2012 ready to put on a great race for their South Florida fans. Those caught up in the two early-race wrecks at Barber Motorsports park, such as Roush Performance Mustang racers Billy Johnson and Jack Roush Jr., were looking to get their championship charge back on track, while the Fall-Line Motorsports and Rum Bum Racing hoped to add to their points totals and keep their competition at bay.
The 2.3-mile, eleven-turn Homestead Miami Speedway track is a “roval,” which combines parts of a high-banked oval speedway and an infield road course. The layout usually favors the big-engined cars such as five-liter Mustang Boss 302R and six-liter Camaro GS.R. In fact, Mustangs have had good success at the track, most recently with Jack Roush Jr. and Billy Johnson finishing second in 2011.
Fittingly, the practice results included “the usual suspects,” with last year’s winners Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana quickest in practice in their BMW M3. The Roush/Johnson Boss 302 was third fastest behind the Fall-Line Motorsport BMW M3 of Mark Boden and Bryan Sellers.
Despite having just switched from a BMW M3 to a Porsche Carrera after the first race at Daytona, Rum Bum Racing proved they could adapt to the new platform quickly by winning the next race at Barber Motorsports Park, and setting the quickest time in qualifying at Homestead. Post-qualifying inspection uncovered a non-conforming wing mounting tab on the #13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche, which punted them to the back of the field and promoted Bret Spaude in his #35 Subaru WRX to the head of the class, and Jade Buford (#51 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R) on the outside of the front row for Saturday’s race.
Though the previous two days were sunny and dry for practice and qualifying, race day dawned wet and gloomy, with little prospect for improvement by the start of the race. A morning practice session in mixed conditions gave the teams a chance to dial in their cars to the wet conditions. Many expected that the all-wheel-drive advantage of the pole-sitting Subaru WRX would keep it ahead of the field throughout the race. Mustang drivers were hoping it would dry out and give their torque-y, traction-challenged cars a chance.
By race time the heavy rain had tapered to a sprinkle, but the track was soaked and all the teams fitted Continental rain tires to their cars. At the start, Bret Spaude in the #35 Subaru maintained the lead, and fully used the Subaru’s traction advantage to increase his gap on the field through the opening laps.
Jade Buford (#51 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R) battled with Robin Liddell (#9 Camaro) and Tonis Kasemets (#71 Aston Martin) for table scraps behind Spaude, but the biggest story was how Nick Longhi charged his Rum Bum Racing from the back of the field. Longhi passed eight cars in just the first lap, and 32 minutes and 17 laps later, Longhi moved up 23 positions to fourth!
By that time the track had dried out, and the leaders headed to the pits during a caution period for a set of fresh slick tires, a driver change, and a full load of fuel. The Rum Bum Racing squad performed an incredible stop and gained two positions in the pits to re-take the green flag in second position. Now with Matt Plumb at the controls, the Rum Bum Racing Porsche passed George Richardson’s #6 Camaro for the lead, and never looked back. Billy Johnson, who took the #61 Mustang over from Jack Roush Jr., made a valiant effort to get a Mustang on the podium, but was passed by Bill Auberlen (#96 BMW) and David Epringham (#83 Porsche) in the latter stages of the race to finish the best of the Mustangs, in fifth.
Rum Bum Racing drivers Nick Longhi and Matt Plumb not only won the Homestead race in dominant fashion, but also moved to the top the series championship standings. Despite only winning the first race at Daytona and being absent from the podium ever since, Ford still leads the manufacturer’s champhionship.
Next up on the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series schedule is New Jersey Motorsports Park the weekend of May 12th. After enduring sweltering heat there last July, a springtime visit to the south Jersey track will hopefully bring more comfortable temperatures…though the on-track action should still be hot!