Homestead Miami Speedway hosted the Kia 200 race in Grand-Am’s Continental Sports Car Challenge Series on March 5th, 2011. Better known for hosting the series-ending races for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series races, Homestead Miami Speedway converts from a 1.5-mile oval to a 2.2-mile road course for Grand-Am competition. The eleven-turn configuration uses the oval’s back straight, oval turns three and four to create a track with both high-speed banked turns with a tight infield section. This track would theoretically benefit “horsepower cars” such as the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger, but Grand-Am officials have done a good job at equalizing the performance of the field, which also included Porsche 997s, and Porsche Caymans and a lone Subaru WRX-STI.
Making it to victory lane in Grand-Am’s Continental Sports Car Challenge Series takes speed, consistency, and smart pit strategy—all of which the Mustang teams would need to overcome the strong performance of the BMW’s Five teams competed with Ford’s BOSS 302R. Roush Performance driver Billy Johnson was looking to win a third consecutive Grand-Am Series race at the south Florida track. He and co-driver Jack Roush, Jr. seemed well-positioned for victory, posting some of the fastest laps in practice and qualifying second to Nick Longhi in the RumBum BMW M3. The Boss 302R teams sponsored by Multimatic Motorsports, Finlay Motorsports, and JBS Motorsports also qualified in the top eight positions, and the 302R of Racers Edge Motorsports qualified 20th.
Rehagen Racing’s Dean Martin and JBS Motorsports’ Bret Seafuse continued their partnership by sharing the familiar #37 Boss at Homestead. The duo’s teams finished 1-2 in the 2009 GS-class championship, and Rehagen Racing finished fourth in 2010 and third in 2009 at Homestead. Competing with the older Mustang FR500C were Capaldi Racing and Frederick Motorsports who qualified 13th and 19th, respectively.
Frustratingly for Ford, there was a bit of “unfinished business” coming into Homestead. While the older FR500C won its series debut and racked championships in 2005, 2006, and 2009, the new Boss 302R has yet to win a race. Last year at Homestead, RumBum Racing’s Matt Plumb was leading the race handily before his BMW speared the end of the pit lane wall (his hood came unlatched, obstructing his view) the team also had a score to settle—and Plumb’s teammate Longhi started by putting the #13 BMW on the pole for this year’s race.
Prior to the start of the race, fans flooded pit lane to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers, cars, and teams. The “Fan Walk” is a mainstay of Grand-Am weekends. Where some series keep fans away from the competitors, Grand-Am welcomes them. All the cars parked in front of their pit stalls for fans to inspect them; some children even got a driver’s eye view behind the wheel of the car. Drivers autographed cards, hats, and body parts.
After the fan walk concluded, it was time to get down to business. After a formation lap behind the Kia Optima pace car, the cars lined up double-file for the start. The green flag dropped t 4:15 PM, and polesitter Nick Longhi lead comfortably into turn one. Behind his #13 BMW, the remaining 63 cars funneled into turn one. By the end of lap one, Longhi still led. Jack Roush, Jr. in his #61 Mustang dropped several positions, but Joe Foster in the #15 Multimatic Boss 302R was up to third behind Matt Bell’s #6 Camaro.
Lap four saw the first of several full-course cautions. The race was only green for two more laps before the second caution when Tony Buffamonte’s Mustang FR500C and Bob Michaelian’s BMW collided on in the infield road course on lap fourteen. After in-garage repairs, the #68 Mustang returned to the race, but Michaelian’s BMW was too badly damaged to continue.
More importantly to the rest of the field, the caution came out as the race clock approached 30 minutes—the minimum time a driver must be in the car to receive driver points. The master strategists at Turner Motorsport called Paul Dalla Lana into the pits for fuel, fresh tires, and a driver change. BMW pro driver Bill Auberlen took the wheel of the #96 Turner BMW and stormed out of the pits. However the race leaders didn’t follow suit and stayed out.
The race was green for only another lap when Steve Cameron in the #50 Boss Mustang forced Michael Marsal’s Turner #97 Motorsport BMW off at turn five. The #15 Multimatic Motorsports Boss 302R moved up to second before the caution flags waved. The leaders took this opportunity to pit for fuel, tires, and driver changes. With their pit stop already complete, Bill Auberlen in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW was able to pass the leaders in pit lane.
When the race went back to green, Auberlen passed the remaining cars within a lap to assume the lead. As the race approached the half-way point, Hugh Plumb in the #45 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW and Billy Johnson (who took over the reins from Jack Roush Jr.) in the #61 Roush Mustang Boss 302R settled in behind Bill Auberlen’s Turner Motorsport BMW.
Most cars can only run about one hour on fuel, and with a race time of 2-1/2 hours, cars have to pit at least twice. With just under an hour remaining, Bill Auberlen ducked into the pits for fuel, but he resumed the lead over the next few laps as the rest of the leaders had to pit for fuel. Billy Johnson moved up to second ahead of Hugh Plumb. The final caution came on lap 77 when Todd Snyder’s Mustang FR500C stopped at turn three. Unfortunately, Johnson couldn’t snatch the lead from a very quick Auberlen on the restart. At the checkered flag, it was Auberlin, Johnson, and Plumb for a BMW, Mustang, BMW finish.
The race ended Billy Johnson’s personal three-race winning streak beginning in 2009 when he piloted his Porsche 997 to victory at Homestead. His teammate Jack Roush Jr. commented after the race, “Our Ford Mustang Boss 302R has a smaller fuel take than the Mustang GT we raced last year, so our fuel range is not as good. I pitted early because of our new fuel strategy, which changed a number of things for us this year.”
Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park is the next race on the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series calendar. It’s a tight, natural-terrain road course where Mustangs have had surprisingly good success, including last year when Dean Martin and Bob Michaelian emerged victorious in their Rehagen Racing Mustang FR500C. Will a Mustang Boss 302R finally reach the winner’s circle in Birmingham? There will be a lot of pony car fans in attendance doing their best to cheer them on.