Friday saw the IMSA Continental SportsCar Challenge hold their season finale at Road Atlanta. The Grand Sport championship was effectively a foregone conclusion as all Multimatic Motorsports teammates Scott Maxwell and Billy Johnson had to do was complete the minimum drive time. Once that was done, it was well and truly on.
Maxwell started from the pole and promptly contradicted what he said after qualifying. Instead of hanging back and letting Pierre Kleinubing and Danny Burkett battle it out among themselves for the lead, he tried to run away with the lead himself. Meanwhile, Kleinubing was able to get past Burkett for second.
However, as the tires fell off, the Porsche came into its own. Burkett was able to get back by Kleinubing for second on lap 12, then quickly put himself in position to pass Maxwell. A lap later, Burkett was able to pull it off in ST traffic.
Shortly afterwards, Cameron Cassels crashed in turn 12 after getting nerfed off the road by Automatic Racing‘s Charles Putman. That brought out the first full course yellow of the race and brought Burkett in for tires. Maxwell stayed out and took the lead back.
For Burkett, it took only seven laps to get back to the front of the field, taking the lead from Kleinubing after Maxwell pitted the No. 15 so that Billy Johnson could get in. Once out front, Burkett continued to pull away until the second and final full course yellow flew for debris (the entire rear bumper off of the No. 92 ST-class Honda Civic Si). Driver changes took place here, putting Marc Miller into the No. 33. Automatic Racing’s No. 09, now driven by Charles Espenlaub, took the lead by staying out, but lost the advantage shortly after the restart to Miller.
Ultimately, what decided the race was tires. CJ Wilson Racing made a strategy call and took two tires on their final stop while Automatic Racing and Multimatic Motorsports took four. That strategy gave Miller a 14 second lead, but he was also more than a second a lap slower than Espenlaub and Johnson. Slowly but surely, Espenlaub and Johnson ran down Miller. With 20 laps to go, Johnson passed Espenlaub for second, only 4.5 seconds out of the lead.
Eventually, after running through a pack of ST cars, Johnson ran down Miller. A battle erupted for about half a lap, but Johnson was able to make the pass stick in turn 6 with nine laps to go. From there, Johnson pulled away to take Multimatic’s sixth win of the season.
Afterwards, Johnson thanked his team for their decision-making skills.
“I’m thankful that I drive for Multimatic [Motorsports],” Johnson said in the Media Center after the race. “Their pit calls were spot on. Their decision to [go with] four tires was the right one. We were able to have more grip and reel in the No. 33 and barely beat them for the win.”
Miller and Burkett ended up 4.668 seconds back in second in the No. 33 Porsche for CJ Wilson Racing. Automatic Racing (Espenlaub and Putman) held on for third. Compass360 Racing’s Kleinubing and Paul Holton was fourth, while the second CJ Wilson Racing Porsche of Tyler McQuarrie and Till Bechtolsheimer was fifth.
Johnson and Maxwell won the GS Championship by 34 points over CJ Wilson Racing’s Marc Miller and Burkett. Bodymotion Racing‘s Cassels and Trent Hindman were third, followed by Compass360 Racing‘s Paul Holton and Kleinubing. Team TGM’s Giovanis is fifth in points.
In Street Tuner, Freedom Autosport‘s Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee entered the race needing to finish fourth or better to win the title no matter what. For a while, it looked like they were going to be able to pull that off. However, the team’s MX-5 had other plans.
Early on, BimmerWorld Racing‘s Tyler Cooke was the man on the move. Starting sixth in class, Cooke took the class lead from pole sitter Jason Rabe just six laps into the race. ALARA Racing‘s Drake Kemper (complete with bow tie fire suit) followed past into second. Cooke was able to hold off the pack through the first full course caution and well into the second run.
Further back, McCumbee, who raced Friday with his right wrist and arm in a soft cast after suffering an injury last week, dropped back to ninth in class from third almost immediately. From there, it was a slow climb back into contention.
When the second full course yellow flew for the debris, the ST field made their one and only scheduled pit stop of the day. A superior stop saw the team put McAleer in the car, change four tires and add fuel quick enough to get McAleer out first.
Once the green flag came back out, McAleer began to pull out a big lead over the field. Meanwhile, Spencer Pumpelly inherited the 12th spot when Nick Galante pitted the No. 17 Porsche Cayman for Rennsport One. From there, Pumpelly was a man possessed. Racing at home in front of his wife and kids, Pumpelly charged as soon as the green came back out. Within two laps, he was already up to ninth in class. Nine laps after the restart, he was fourth in class and part of a pack of contenders.
After knocking off Ryan Eversley and Eric Foss, Pumpelly was fourth, about four seconds off of McAleer. Then, disaster struck for Freedom Autosport. McAleer’s No. 25 began spewing water out of the overflow. It didn’t take long for Pumpelly to run down McAleer and take the class lead. Just a few laps later, the engine started to go on the No. 25. McAleer was forced to pull out of the race, ending his championship hopes.
McAleer’s retirement boosted Eversley back up to second with a charging Mat Pombo third in the No. 73 from MINI JCW Team. From there, Pumpelly was able to all but coast to the victory and the ST championship.
Afterwards, Pumpelly was happy, but not so much with the circumstances that brought him the win.
“We came [to Road Atlanta] with the focus of trying to do the best we could,” Pumpelly said in the Media Center. “The race was a matter of being patient with the tires and letting the race come back to us. I certainly wanted to win my first championship in 20 years, but I did have mixed emotions. [Freedom Autosport] certainly put themselves in position to win, but the failure was very unfortunate.”
Pombo was able to get past Eversley for second, but with just a couple of laps to go, Pombo had to slow down with apparent fuel issues. That allowed Eversley to get back past and finish second in class at his home race. Rennsport One’s No. 19 for Connor Bloum and Greg Strelzoff claimed a well-deserved third-place finish. The No. 37 MINI of Nate Norenberg and Mark Pombo ended up fourth, while the No. 73 MINI of Mat Pombo and Derek Jones had to settle for fifth.
Points-wise, Pumpelly and Galante’s victory gave them the championship by 12 points over Murillo Racing‘s Foss and Jeff Mosing. The No. 56 recovered from Mosing’s crash in qualifying to finish sixth on Friday. Chad Gilsinger finished a solo third for HART thanks to his second-place finish with Eversley while McCumbee and McAleer slid to fourth. Bodymotion Racing’s Rabe and Devin Jones ended up fifth in points.