NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 101- Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport at Lime Rock

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. This past weekend, SPEED televised tape-delayed coverage of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge’s season finales at Lime Rock Park, which were originally run on September 28 and 29. Due to the 1.53 mile configuration of Lime Rock Park and the fact that nearly 60 cars between the two classes were entered, split races were instituted.

The Street Tuner season finale, which aired on Saturday, was run during a driving rain. It was not complete chaos on-track, but early leader Jesse Combs did get his BMW stuck in the mud after coming into contact with a lapped car. Meanwhile, the Grand Sport season finale was held on Saturday morning on a dry track. Now, since I just so happened to be at the track for this race, I will add in some of my own thoughts from that day as well, since it turned out to be one of the weirdest races I’d ever seen.

The race telecast started off with the broadcast booth previewing the race while the cars were rolling off the grid in the background. In addition, there were interviews with two of the drivers in contention for the championship, David Empringham and Matt Plumb (their teammates were starting the race, and that became a big story for Plumb).

Due to the fact that the Grand Sport cars had not been on track all weekend in the dry, Grand-Am chose to scrub qualifying and start the race on points. This put the three teams in contention for the title (No. 01 CKS Autosport Chevrolet Camaro, No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche 911 and No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 911) right up at the front.

Dorsey Schroeder mentioned the “lakes” in some of the runoff areas on the course. Due to rains before the weekend even started, track crews drained the runoff in anticipation for Friday’s on-track action. However, the heavy rains that fell on Friday thoroughly soaked the runoff and brought the ponds back. In the Street Tuner, one of the RSR Motorsports Mini Cooper S’s got off the road and went through a pond, creating a large water splash before continuing.

Since the race was aired in a two-hour timeslot, there was a fair amount of material that got cut. SPEED cut away to their first break on Lap 6 or so, then returned at Lap 18. In that time, Roger Miller spun his No. 158 Ford Mustang in Turn 3. Also, Tim Bell spun his No. 6 Chevrolet Camaro in Turn 2 and got stuck in the mud. This brought out a full course caution and resulted in some early stops. SPEED returned at the end of this yellow.

Schroeder was quite critical of Nick Longhi’s driving during his 26-minute stint in the No. 13. This was because Longhi was using a very defensive driving style. Schroeder wouldn’t exactly call it “blocking,” but said that it was borderline and quite pointless for less than a half-hour into the race.

Now, the 26 minutes that I mentioned earlier ended up being very important. On the telecast here, the booth was pretty convinced that Longhi had sacrificed his championship chances for the good of the team. During the actual race, it was not so certain. Even after the race was over, it was unclear whether or not the series was going to give Longhi credit for his time in the car. The post-race press conference made it sound like there was still deliberations going on. In contrast, the BGB Motorsports team waited for a few laps under the yellow until they were sure they were good on time before stopping. Ultimately, that move won them the title.

I was surprised that SPEED only covered the crash that took Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 01 CKS Autosport Chevrolet out of the race (and brought out the third full course yellow of the day) in an Up to Speed segment. Since Aschenbach and teammate Eric Curran were still in championship contention at the beginning of the day, you’d think it would get an added focus. I suppose not. Didn’t really like that much.

The fourth caution and the reason for it was also cut out of the broadcast. Here, Tim Fox was spun into the wall on the No Name Straight after some contact. Since Fox resumed, that wasn’t what brought out the yellow. Before Fox could get his Aston Martin back to pit road, the engine blew and the car came to a stop at West Bend (Turn 6). Later, the fifth caution was cut out as well. This saw the No. 35 Subaru of Andrew Aquilante spin into the tires at Turn 1 (Big Bend) after contact from Bill Auberlen’s Turner Motorsport BMW No. 96. Auberlen was shown taking his stop-and-go for avoidable contact.

There were also some news bites that were mentioned during the race. The schedules for both the Rolex Sports Car Series and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC) were announced. The only difference between the two is that the CTSCC will not go to Detroit, where the Rolex Series runs as the primary support to the Izod IndyCar Series. Another news bite that was announced on-air is that Rebel Rock Racing will run as a factory Scion team in the Street Tuner class next year. They’ll be running rear-wheel drive Scion FR-S’s. For driver Robert Stout, it is a return for him. Previously, Stout raced a Scion tC in World Challenge.

Post-race coverage featured interviews with winners Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi (note that Brian Till specifically mentioned about how Longhi would not get a share of the title, despite Grand-Am mentioning that it was still possible in the press conference 20 minutes after that interview). Then, the coverage cut suddenly to Leigh Diffey in the broadcast booth. Here, in a segment taped after sunset that afternoon (the race actually finished around 1pm, mind you), Diffey explained that Matt Plumb would not be getting drivers’ points because of an error by Rum Bum Racing.

As has been previously reported here at Frontstretch, Matt Plumb was entered in both the winning No. 13 Porsche and the No. 3 BMW M3 that the team entered as well (that particular car was driven by Billy Johnson and Jeff Segal to a fifth-place finish). That’s all fine and dandy. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you start one of those cars. Matt did not drive the No. 3 at all, and let Longhi start the No. 13. As a result, he was ineligible for driver points and had to surrender all purse money.

SPEED then showed the revised drivers’ points, showing that Empringham and John Farano won the title by 29 points over Matt Bell. Matt Plumb and Longhi ended in a joint third, 32 points back. This situation resulted in the commentators having to do their post-race analysis in post-production, possibly back in Charlotte while the screen showed a slow motion image of Matt Plumb celebrating his win. There was an additional interview with actual factual champions Empringham and Farano on the frontstretch, but this was done something like 45 minutes after the race ended and they seemed more bummed out than anything else. Of note, Empringham and Farano did not get a champion’s press conference, as that was given to Matt Plumb earlier that afternoon.

This race contained quite a bit of action for position on track and SPEED did a pretty good in showing it. There was a lot of instances of contact as well. SPEED did not do such a great job of showing that, as I’ve mentioned above. The commentary was spot on with plenty of enthusiasm. The team of Diffey, Fish and Schroeder definitely love to cover this type of racing and it shows both with the commentary you see during the race, and the somewhat dejected feeling afterwards. You could tell that they didn’t want the championship to be decided by “paperwork,” in Schroeder’s own words. But, it is true that the rule is in black and white. Grand-Am, unlike NASCAR, puts all their rules right out there on their website. On page 13 of the “General Sporting Regulations”:http://www.grand-am.com/Portals/0/Images/PDF/2012%20Sporting%20Regulationsnew.pdf, Section 5.2 puts the rule in question in writing. Man, I wish we had this at our disposal for Sprint Cup, but I digress.

Now, the conduct in the telecast was most definitely not a form of favoritism towards Matt Plumb or Rum Bum Racing, but more of a personal opinion. Matt Plumb won the championship on the track by winning the race. It’s not his fault that his team screwed up, for lack of better words. However, they screwed up the paperwork, and lost the title for their driver. With this in play, they still would have lost the title even if Longhi did the minimum 30 minutes in the car. Rum Bum Racing will have to be content with the team championship for 2012, but they’ll be back as strong as ever in January at Daytona.

I hope you liked this look at the Grand Sport season finale from Lime Rock Park. Next week, I’ll cover the American Le Mans Series season finale, the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda from Road Atlanta. Until then, enjoy the racing this weekend from Kansas and Braselton, GA.

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