2017 SVRA Open-Wheel Challenge

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Four years ago, SVRA brought vintage racing to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it’s proven quite popular for drivers and fans alike. This year, SVRA doubled the fun, adding an open-wheel-only event held the week before the Brickyard Invitational.

The addition of the Open Wheel World Challenge provides a little flexibility for some of the entrants to come to one or the other weekend, but it also allowed the addition of some great supporting events to both weekends. For the Open Wheel weekend, SVRA partnered with SAAC (Shelby American Automobile Club), USAC’s F1600 and F2000 Championships, and the F4 United States Championship. SAAC wrapped up its events on Friday, but the F1600 and F2000 Championships campaigned as Groups 6 and 7, and the F4 Championship slotted into the weekend schedule as Group 8.

This being the first year for the Open Wheel World Challenge, spectator attendance was pretty light, but participant attendance was strong. In all, over 300 entrants lined the paddock for their chance to take to the fabled Indianapolis road course. Competitors and spectators were treated to sunny skies and breezy conditions. The warm winds remained brisk all weekend, swirling through Indy’s big grandstands and along the main straight.

Four years ago, SVRA brought vintage racing to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it’s proven quite popular for drivers and fans alike. This year, SVRA doubled the fun, adding an open-wheel-only event held the week before the Brickyard Invitational.

The addition of the Open Wheel World Challenge provides a little flexibility for some of the entrants to come to one or the other weekend, but it also allowed the addition of some great supporting events to both weekends. For the Open Wheel weekend, SVRA partnered with SAAC (Shelby American Automobile Club), USAC’s F1600 and F2000 Championships, and the F4 United States Championship. SAAC wrapped up its events on Friday, but the F1600 and F2000 Championships campaigned as Groups 6 and 7, and the F4 Championship slotted into the weekend schedule as Group 8.

This being the first year for the Open Wheel World Challenge, spectator attendance was pretty light, but participant attendance was strong. In all, over 300 entrants lined the paddock for their chance to take to the fabled Indianapolis road course. Competitors and spectators were treated to sunny skies and breezy conditions. The warm winds remained brisk all weekend, swirling through Indy’s big grandstands and along the main straight.

One of the benefits of the exclusively open-wheel format was that SVRA was able to really tailor race groups to keep entries even. Saturday morning’s qualifying events gave us a good look at the fast-runners in each of the weekend’s race groups. Group 4 for this event was 1973-1981 Club Fords, and they took to the track first, with John Hill (#94) notching fast time in a 1979 Crossle 35F. Geoff Brabham (#6) led Group 5, qualifying next in a 1971 Brabham BT35. Next up, Group 6 took to the track in 2-liter F2000 cars. John LaRue (#17) was quickest in this group at a 1:29.696.

Group 7 was one of the larger contingents of the weekend in slick-tired Formula Fords,along with SCCA Formula F and Pro Formula 1600 cars. Zach Holden (#96) led the session in a 2017 Mygale at 1:35.095. The F4 Championship cars (Group 8) qualified next, led by Kyle Kirkwood at 1:30.563, and followed by Braden Eves and Jacob Loomis. All the F4 Championship cars were spec racers with identical cars and sealed motors.

The Group 9 qualifying event showed off 20 Formula Continental, Formula SCCA, and Star Formula Mazdas. Tom Fraelich clocked a session-best 1:32.994 in his 1979 March Super Vee. Group 10 was the “wings and slicks” group — these are all formula cars complying with SVRA Group 9 regulations. The stars of the show in this group were James French and his father Brian – both in 1997 Formula 1 cars. James blistered Indy’s road course at 1:14.629 in his Jordan 197.

Next up, group 11 brought us a look at some Formula Atlantic, Pro Mazda, and SCCA formula 1000 racers. Peter Portante paced the field at 1:21.721 in his 2006 Mazda Swift 016. Group 1 was another popular group with 37 entrants, but James Weida had the measure of them. He paced the group of SVRA Formula Vee 1200cc, SCAA Formula Vee, SVRA Super Vee 1600cc, F500 and 600 SCCA, and Formula First cars in his 2006 Scorpion W1 with a time of 1:38.276 – a full six seconds faster than second-place Mario Jacobellis.

The last two qualifying groups were Group 2 – Formula Junior cars, and Group 3 – Pre-1972 Formula Ford’s. Joseph Colasacco set fast time in Group 2 in his 1962 Stanguellini Delfino FJR, and in Group 3, Ryan Lewis put himself on pole for the qualifying race in his 1970 Caldwell FF with a time of 1:41.418.

Following lunch, qualifying races ran for all race groups, and the two pro classes ran their first feature races of the weekend.. In group 4, John Hill held onto the top spot, but couldn’t improve on his morning time. Geoff Brabham had the same experience in the Group 5 qualifying race — a trend would be the norm for the afternoon sessions, as track temperatures climbed into the afternoon.

In Saturday afternoon’s F2000 (Group 6) race, John LaRue (#17) captured the lead from Matt McDonough (#52) in an exciting last-lap move, beating McDonough’s Van Diemen across the yard of bricks by just 0.10 seconds in his Citation Snipe. Brandon Dixon (#5) rounded out the top-three.

The 1600cc F1600 / Group 7 cars were up next in an action-packed duel culminating in Yuven Sundaramoorthy’s first win in F1600. In a last-lap pass, Sundaramoorthy (#13) got around Jonathan Kotyk (#81) to win by just 0.039 seconds, with Matthew Cowley (#80) winding up third.

The F4 cars, running as Group 8, took to the track next for their first Championship Race. This series features a standing start for their races — a relative rarity for American racing. Kyle Kirkwood, running in F4’s first trip to Indy, came up to speed quickly during the course of the race, setting fast times during the race on his way to his first victory of the weekend. Unfortunately, much of this event was run under caution following an early spin by Steve Bamford. Bamford collected Blake Mount and John Andrew Entwistle in this incident, and Entwistle was extracted with care, complaining of back pain. Braden Eves followed Kirkwood in second, and Ben Waddell rounded out the podium. The results of this race set the starting grid for their second feature, but results were measured by lap time – not finishing position, and Timo Reger’s 1:31.796 edged out Kirkwood’s best and earned him pole for the next race, despite a last-lap spin that impacted his finishing position.

SVRA qualifying races resumed again with Group 9 next, and Tom Fraelich resumed the earlier pattern by claiming the top spot, but not improving on his morning time. Group 10 ran in the same order as well, and James French once again missed improving on his morning time. Group 11 fared no better, with Peter Portante about a second off his earlier mark.

The final qualifying races for the afternoon were Groups 1, 2, and 3. In Group 1, James Weida finally found the pace to beat out his morning’s time, clocking a 1:37.408 to improve his time, but not his position, as he was already on pole and well ahead of the second place time held by Mario Jacobellis. Martin Bullock had the quick time in Group 2, but he wasn’t able to improve on Joseph Colasacco’s earlier time. Finally, in Group 3, Wade Cunningham made a huge leap to set fast time, but again fell short of Ryan Lewis’ morning time.

Sunday morning began with an all-group Enduro at 8am, paced by Robert Allaer (#52) in a 2002 Van Diemen RF02. Robert made 34 laps during the 60-minute race, followed by Rick Payne (#75) in a 1999 Van Diemen RF99.and Steven Egger (#68) in a 1979 Lola T540. Benjamin Pederson took advantage of the open Enduro to get in a few laps in his F4 car, too.

The feature races for the SVRA cars kicked off just past nine with Group 3 — Pre-1972 Formula Fords. In this first Championship race of the day, Wade Cunningham (#122) took the win in his 1972 Titan Formula Ford, chased by Ryan Lewis (#111) in a 1970 Caldwell FF and Dan Cowdrey (#38) in a 1970 Titan MK6. The top three spots were closely-contested, with Lewis leading a lap and notching fast time of the race at 1:40.228.

Group 4 took to the track next in their Club Ford cars. John Hill (#94) started from pole and never looked back, leading flag-to-flag in his 1979 Crossle 35F and setting a fast time of 1:40.301 along the way. Tom Strong (#16) fended off an early challenge from Neil Porter (#56) to hold onto second in a 1974 Titan Mk9. Tom Stephani (#98) moved up through the field from his 6th grid spot starting position to finish third in his 1978 Crossle 35F. Lawrence Webster had a great drive, too, moving up from the back of the grid to finish eighth.

Club Fords ran next in Group 5. Polesitter Geoff Brabham didn’t take the start, leaving the top spot to Travis Engen (#1) in his 1970 Chevron B17b. Ron Hornig (#10) fell out of his outside-pole starting spot early, but recovered to take second in his 1971 Brabham BT35, setting fast time along the way at 1:33.239 and closing on Engen to make the finish close. The shuffling in the pack continued through this tightly-matched field, too. Jim Victor shuffled as high as second and as low as fifth before settling in at third in his 1970 Chevron B17. Jim was followed by Bob Lima in his 1967 Brabham BT21 and Robert Burnside (#8) in his 1969 Brabham BT29.

Our morning took a sharp detour with the Group 1 race. Thirty one cars took to the track for a split start in this event, and the first group got away into turn one cleanly. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the second wave of starters — about eight of them were swept up in an incident on the front straight, well up the track from my position just past turn one. A lengthy red flag followed while bent cars were retrieved and the track was restored to safe conditions around 11:30. James Weida (#22) ran away from the field in his 2006 Scorpion W1, leaving Mario Jacobellis (#24x) to battle Robert Clark (#47) in his wake. Jacobellis fended off Clark’s attack, and went on to claim first in class, and 2nd overall in his 2004 Murray Formula First. Dave Dawson (#88) moved steadily up from fifth on the grid to claim third in his 2006 Evolution FST. This race had some great mid-pack racing, including a three-way battle for 13th among Greg Byrne (#11), Elliott Barron (#110), and Hunter Barron (#113). In an effort to recover from the schedule hit, most of the rest of the feature races were curtailed from 10 laps to 8.

The first abbreviated event was the Group 9 Championship race, which proved much less damaging to equipment, but certainly no less closely contested. Paul Schneider (#73) led early in his 2006 SCCA FE, while Tom Fraelich (#10) and Dennis Marklein (#22) battled for second. Fraelich put Marklein in his rear view mirror for good on lap 2, setting fast lap of the race in his 1979 March Super Vee on his way to the race win. Schneider slipped behind Fraelich to secure second, and Daniel Smith (#39.) moved up nicely from his seventh-place starting spot to round out the podium in a 2005 SCCA Enterprises FE. Fletcher Belt (#39) had an eventful run in this race after starting in sixth place. Turn 1 on the Indy road course is notoriously tricky, not only because it’s a great place to steal a position by late-braking after the long front straight, but because this right-hander falls away from the banked turn four on the oval layout down onto the twists that make up the interior of the road course. Belt made it past the braking zone, but his car was unsettled dropping off the banking, and he took a quick solo spin on the first lap. Belt fell to 19th place, but drove well to recover to a top-10 finish.

The Honda-powered F4 United States Championship cars followed Group 9 in the last event before a highly compressed lunch break. The second points-paying event of the weekend for this group gave us much more green-flag racing, but Kyle Kirkwood got by polesitter Timo Reger on the first lap and drove to the top step of the podium again. Flinn Lazier was fast early, but couldn’t challenge the top-runners. Reger showed us some great racing with Braden Eves and Brendon Leitch during the race. Reger and Eves would go on to finish second and third after Leitch had trouble on the last lap.

Following the quick lunch break, the Formula Ford groups joined together for the Formula Ford World Championship race. Over forty Formula Fords were entered in this event, and 35 made the start. Reid Hazelton (#01) had the measure of the field for this event, pulling out an early lead and gaining close to two seconds per lap on Bob Hatle (#8.) until a full-course yellow erased his lead late in the race. No matter, though, Hazelton got a great restart and took his 1992 Van Diemen Rf92 to victory circle. Hatle hung on to second in his 1989 Swift DB-3, and Wes Allen (#02) completed the podium in his 1994 Swift DB6. Following the race, all the crews, cars, families and friends were invited to winners’ circle to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Formula Ford.

The Group 2 Formula Junior cars ran their Championship race just before two. The top spots saw some good racing between first-place Joseph Colasacco (#30) and second-place Martin Bullock (#127), and another great battle between Christopher Drake (#55) and Ed Moore (#8) for third and fourth. After swapping back & forth with Bullock, Colasacco took the win in his 1962 Stanguellini Delfino FJR, and Bullock was second in his 1963 Lotus 27. Drake secured third in his 1961 Elva 300, and Moore brought his 1962 Cooper T59 FJ home in fourth place. Jeremy Deeley (#56) and Robert Edgar (#40) had another great tussle for 8th and 9th.

In the second Group 6 / F2000 race of the weekend, John Larue and Matt McDonnough picked up right where they left off in their first race. Larue never gave up the lead, but they raced closely for the first half of the event, when a rear wing support failure caused McDonnough to slip back from second to finish fourth. Tim Paul (#35) started the race with a bold dive down toward the pit wall at the outset of the event, and made it stick to finish third in his Van Diemen. Robert Allaer (#52) also had a great start from his ninth-place start, eventually passing both McDonnough and Paul to wind up second in his Van Diemen RF02.

The French father-son team was up next in Group 10. Their screaming V10-powered F1 cars once again took off like a shot at the drop of the green flag. Polesitter James French swapped the lead with dad Brian a number of times, with Brian eventually taking the win by a scant 0.111-second margin. James’s best time of 1:15 was close to five seconds faster than Brian’s, so it’s not out of the question we saw Father’s day start a week early in the French camp. Jim Johnston (#23) led the rest of the Group 10 cars over the line in his 2002 G Force Indy car.

Group 7 kept the wings & slicks show going, albeit in relatively tamer F1600 Formula cars and a sprinkling of SVRA-spec cars. Many of the F1600 cars have switched to Honda Fit motors, but some still used the original Ford powerplants. Race one winner Yuven Sundaramoorthy failed to take the start for this race, leaving the top spot up for grabs from the start. Andy Brumbaugh looked to make a move early in his Ford-powered 1998 Van Dieman FR 98, but Zach Holden was more successful in moving through the field from his sixth-place start to lead by Lap 3. A full-course caution just past the halfway point bunched up the field, and the race would end under yellow. The conclusion of this 21-minute event saw all three top-runners in Honda-powered Mygale chassis, led by Jonathan Kotyk (#81), and followed by Zach Holden (#96) and David Osborne (#82). Brumbaugh (#26) wound up fourth, and Cowley (#80) took fifth.

Twenty-seven Group 11 cars ran in the last SVRA feature of the weekend, sharing the event with Formula Atlantic racers, and all the top finishers were driving Formula Atlantic Mazda Swifts. David Grant (#40) started on pole and battled Peter Portante (#24) closely for several laps before fading to third. Portante finally solidified the top spot by the mid-point of the race, and David’s brother Keith Grant (#40), moved up from a fourth-place start to finish second.

Kyle Kirkwood started on pole for the final race of the weekend, riding a two-win streak and looking for the weekend sweep. Kirkwood (#8) didn’t waste any time in putting daylight between him and the rest of the field, and nobody pressured him on his way to the win. Kirkwood punctuated his win with fast lap on last lap of the race. Behind Kirkwood, Braden Eves jumped into second at the end of the first lap and battled with Raphael Forcier (#62) for a number of laps. Around the midpoint of the 30-minute event, Jacob Loomis (#68) moved past Eves to take second, where he’d finish the race. Benjamin Pedersen (#24) came on strong in the second half of the race to secure third, moving Eves back to fourth and Forcier into fifth.

As I walked back to my car, past crews packing their transporters, I overheard one driver neatly sum up the unique appeal of the inaugural Open Wheel World Challenge: “How many people can say they’ve raced at Indy?” Here’s looking forward to more of the same next year!

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