The fourth stop of the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series at New Jersey Motorsports Park the weekend of May 12 was another stunner. Not because #35 Subaru of America Racing Team followed up their second consecutive pole position with a win…but after winning the last two races in a row, the fickle finger of fate touched Rum Bum Racing team. After coming into New Jersey with the championship lead, Rum Bum Racing’s #13 Porsche Carrera engine gave up early in the race after running as high as third.
The weekend started off well for Jack Roush Jr. and Billy Johnson. Their #61 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R topped the practice times. The smart money was on them to win the race for a third straight time. But Bret Spaude in the #35 Subaru WRX showed his speed when it counted, out-qualifying the field by almost four tenths of a second. Jack Roush Jr. was the quickest Mustang, down in 9th position, and 1.2 seconds off of pole.
At the race start, the 59 starting cars squeezed through turn one, with Lawson Aschenbach (#01 CKS Autosport Camaro) beating Bret Spaude’s Subaru into turn one. A first-lap altercation in turn two with some slower ST-class cars put the field under full-course yellow for next few laps. On the re-start, Aschenbach held off Spaude, and by lap nine Nick Longh (#13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche) worked his way up to third.
A battle for third place in the ST class between the #74 Honda and the #25 Mazda sent both cars spinning in turn one. The Honda was damaged badly damaging the Honda badly after it hit the wall, which brought out safety car to lead the field under full-course yellow. Though it was only 20 minutes into the race, Rum Bum Racing called Nick Longhi and the #13 Porsche into the pits for fuel, tires, and to put Matt Plumb at the controls. The early pit stop was short of the thirty minutes necessary for Longhi to receive driver points for the points, but netted the team an advantage since Plumb could stay out when everyone else inevitably pitted later. Ironically, the rest of the field got their opportunity to pit in a few laps when Plumb’s #13 Porsche was stopped out on course after losing power.
Stranded, the championship points leader needed a tow back to the pits, which put the field under caution, and much of the field headed to the pits for service. Billy Johnson took over driving duties in the #61 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R from Jack Roush Jr., and Shelby Blackstock swapped with Jade Buford in the #51 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R. Andrew Aquilante, who took over the #35 Subaru from Bret Spaude, was slapped with a stop-and-go penalty for passing in pit lane, and called to the penalty box again after leaving the pits unsafely.
With a little over an hour remaining, Billy Johnson was up to second, but started falling back with engine trouble. It took a couple trips to the pits before the issue was cleared up, but Johnson’s hopes for a New Jersey three-peat were dashed. However, Roush Performance teammate Jade Buford was fourth, and pressuring those in front.
Race leader Eric Curran (#01 Camaro) ducked to the pits, handing the lead to Buford and his Mustang. When the next full-course caution came out on lap 53 (to clean up oil from an engine failure on the front straight), Buford headed to the pits for his last fuel stop. While waiting for the pace car to lead the field past, Buford’s car stalled at the pit exit. He did get it re-fired, but not before Charles Espenlaub (#48 Fall-Line BMW) took the lead. After pitting, Andrew Aquilante and his #35 Subaru were running 10th. But Aquilante and his all-wheel-drive machine were fast on the slippery New Jersey track. Fifteen laps later, Aquilante powered the #35 Subaru into the lead past Espenlaub, and never looked back.
Despite serving two stop-and-go penalties, Andrew Aquilante and his #35 Subaru were unstoppable at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The championship lead now falls into the hands of Fall-Line Motorsports’s #48 BMW M3, driven by 2010 series champions Charles Putman and Charles Espenlaub. The next stop is the ultra-competitive Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the second weekend in June. Make plans to be in Lexington, Ohio to see for yourself why the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sport Car Challenge is the most exciting racing series in the country!
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