June brought vintage racers to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the 37th straight year — the longest continuously-running event at this storied track. The last several years, this event followed immediately on the heels of SVRA’s Brickyard event, but with that event moving to August this year, Mid-Ohio hosted SVRA’s only June event once again, and the entrant list was well-stocked with cars ranging from the mid-1950’s to GT’s and formula cars just a few years old.
The hills outside Lexington, OH had been a bit soggy this spring, but SVRA President and CEO Tony Parella brought three straight days of sunny skies for what felt like the first time in months (Monday’s forecast, incidentally: thunderstorms).
Friday morning’s practice sessions gave drivers a much-anticipated dry track. For drivers returning to the circuit, it was a chance to re-familiarize themselves, and for those new to the track, the dry running was a great chance to learn the challenging 13-turn layout (omitting the notch this year).
Just before lunch on Friday, the International GT group kicked off qualifying. Although prior year’s IGT fields had a decidedly single-make feel, the IGT group this year showed a lot more variety in the healthy 23-car field, with a strong showing from Maranello and an Audi R8 for good measure. Despite the variety of entries, the top of the leaderboard was stuck on #58 all weekend. The 2015 Porsche GT3 R Cup car of Mark Sandridge and Joe Varde turned its fastest lap at the end of the session at a 1:25.973, gapping second-place Tom Pank by better than a second.
Vintage qualifying began after lunch on Friday, beginning with Groups 1, 3, and 4. This field brought quantity and quality, with 42 small-bore sports cars putting in times in the first qualifying session. George F. Balbach (#0) was quickest in a 1960 Porsche 356B, lapping in 1:45.341 and Jonathan DeGaynor (#11) was a whisker behind at 1:45.420 in a 1959 Devin JM Mk1 Special. These two drivers would get to know one another really well by the end of the weekend, and were an absolute hoot to watch.
Keeping the close racing rolling, the Mazda Heritage cup qualified next, with the top two positions (Jonathan Davis, Joey Selmants) separated by 5 thousandths of a second at the timing line. Five drivers qualified under 1:43, demonstrating the reputation this class has for tight racing.
In groups 8 and 12b qualifying, David Huber kicked off a strong weekend by setting fast time in the #60 — a well-prepared 1979 Datsun 280 ZX. Huber’s 1:40.179 led second-place Ron Pawley (#04) in a 2004 Lexus IS300 at 1:41.792. This was one of the weekends more diverse groups, including several Corvairs — the featured marque for this event.
Up next were the noisy big-bore cars of groups 6 and 12a. Jody O’Donnell’s 1969 Chevy Corvette (#46) was unstoppable all weekend, and he led the session with a 1:34.346, besting Scott Graham (#196) in a 1969 Pontiac Firebird and a great looking (and sounding) 1964 Ford Falcon fielded by Frank Marcum. This 20-car field featured some of the rides we’ll look forward to seeing again in the Pro-Am race in Indianapolis in August.
Group 2 was a fair bit quieter and less-crowded, with just eight open-wheel cars putting down qualifying times in the low-to-mid 1:40’s. Mike Winebrenner (#45) just cracked the 1:40 mark in his 1981 Crossle 45F Formula Ford with a best time of 1:39.827, and Gregory Stamm (#3) followed with a 1:40.075 in a 1985 Swift DB1.
S2000’s qualified next in another close-fought session. Brent Gernert and John Thompson led the session as the only cars in the 1:30 range. Gernert managed a 1:30.103 in his 1991 Swift DB5 and Thompson was almost as quick in a 1988 Lola 88/90, clocking in at 1:30.250.
Group 10 saw a lot of the IGT cars laying down some fast times. Mark Sandridge (#58) paced the session at 1:26.884, but couldn’t quite match his morning time. Jonathan DeGaynor (#4) was next-fastest in his 1992 Ford Mustang at 1:28.338.
One of the more eclectic race groups covered SVRA groups 5, 7, 9, and 11, with qualifying times ranging from under 1:25 up to almost 1:50. Jerome Mee led the first qualifying session in a Ferrari-inspired 2015 Dallara F2, cracking the 1:25 mark at 1:23.703. This was certainly one of the more entertaining cars to watch, marking the first time I’ve seen DRS at a vintage event! Justin Frick’s 1997 Lola T97/20 — a familiar sight at Mid-Ohio — was just behind at 1:24.872.
Friday’s action wrapped up with a second qualifying session for IGT. Ken Thwaits’ 1:27.015 was the best of this session, but nobody improved on Mark Sandridge’s time in the first qualifying session.
Saturday morning kicked off with a second qualifying session for the vintage groups, and in most cases, the leaders in the first qualifying sessions were fast again in the second sessions. Scott Borchetta was fast in the 6 and 12a session, but his 1:35.003 wouldn’t beat Jody O’Donnell’s Friday time. The same story played out in the 8 & 12b session, where Jeff Mitchell’s 1:41.521 didn’t quite improve on David Huber’s time on Friday.
In group 2, Gregory Stamm and Mike Winebrenner swapped spots, and again didn’t quite match Friday’s times. When the S2000 cars ran their second qualfying session, leaders Thompson and Gernert also swapped spots, but this time, Thompson set a new fast time at 1:29.421.
Group 10 followed suit — same drivers, slightly slower times, but Jonathan DeGaynor and George F. Balbach shaved several seconds off their first qualifying times in the group 1, 3, and 4 second qualifying heat. DeGaynor and Balbach swapped fast times back & forth during the session, eventually driving down to a best of 1:41.325 by DeGaynor.
Mazda Heritage drivers also bettered their Q1 times. Jonathan Davis (#56) posted a 1:41.884 and Mark Cefalo (#00) racked up a 1:41.910. Groups 5, 7, 9, and 11 wrapped up qualifying shortly before noon. Justtin Frick improved on his first-session time with a 1:24.119. Jerome Mee posted a second-best time before sliding to a stop in the tricky off-camber keyhole about mid-way through the session. Mee kept the Dallara on-track, winding up on the access road in front of the Holmatro safety crew — no harm, no foul, but no fire in the motor, so the session was red-flagged for a bit.
Feature racing began with the IGT’s first feature, led flag-to-flag by Mark Sandridge / Joe Varde in the #58 Porsche. Ken Thwaits yielded second place to Tom Pank (#42) in his 2010 Porsche GT3 Cup a third of the race distance in before retiring late in the race. Pank held on for second, and Robert Wisen (#27) worked his way up from an eighth-place starting spot to claim third in his 2012 Porsche GT3 Cup.
Saturday afternoon was all sprint features, starting with groups 6 and 12a. Jody O’Donnell (#46) grabbed the lead in his 1969 Chevy Corvette and never looked back. Scott Borchetta (#05) hung onto second, posting the fast lap of the race on the way, and Scott Graham (#169) cruised to third in his 1969 Pontiac Firebird.
David Huber continued his dominance of the group 8 and 12b sessions, leading from pole in the Saturday afternoon feature for this group in his 280 ZX. John Higgins (#39) climbed from eighth to grab the runner-up position in his 1975 Porsche 911. Paul Stinson (#7) settled for third after Higgins’ last-lap pass in his 1963 Lotus Super 7.
The group 2 race started out with a little drama before the drop of the flag — Gregory Stamm would’ve started on pole, but wound up waved off prior to the start with loose bodywork. With Stamm sidelined, Mike Winebrenner (#45) took the lead and the win in his 1981 Crossle 45F Formula Ford. Second-place went to Garey Guzman (#16) in a 1971 March 719 Formula Ford. Michael Spence (#73) wrapped up the podium in a 1972 Crossle 20F.
The S2000 Saturday feature started off with a bang. Fast qualifiers Brent Gernert (#70) and John Thompson (#14) approached the entry to the Keyhole on the first lap running wheel-to-wheel and inches apart, eventually bumping and sending Gernert around and to the back of the running order. Thompson (#14) held onto first in his 1988 Lola 88/90, with Rob Sherwood (#05) moving up into second in his 2002 Carbair CS2 and Edward Guenther (#2) grabbing third in his 1992 Swift DB5. Gernert clawed back from 18th after the first-lap spin to finish an impressive fifth.
Up next, the Mazda Heritage racers put on another great show. Marc Cefalo (#00) led from the beginning in his 1997 Miata, but never really shook second-place Jonathan Davis (#56) or third-place Joey Selmants (#59), who kept one another pretty busy swapping podium spots throughout the race.
Changing tenor a bit from the Mazdas, the big-bore Group 10 cars were next. Jonathan DeGaynor (#4) was unchallenged in his 1992 Ford Mustang. Benoit Bergeron (#127) and Zach Arnold (#55) swapped second and third a couple time before Bergeron wound up in second in his 2011 Ferrari 458 Challenge and Arnold finished third in his 2004 Chevy Corvette.
The first feature for groups 5, 7, 9, and 11 was shortened by caution, but in seven racing laps, Justin Frick (#09) hung onto the lead in his 1997 Lola T97/20. David Nikolas (#5) nabbed second in a 1988 Fabcar GTP — a former Camel Lights car and another Mid-Ohio favorite. Third place went to James Farley (#98) in a 1978 Lola 298.
The 37-car strong group 1, 3, and 4 first feature race was next, with Jonathan DeGaynor (#11) and George F. Balbach (#0) putting on an outstanding show. These two 50’s sports cars were almost identically matched on lap time, but they made time in completely different parts of the track, resulting in pass after pass as DeGaynor’s small V8 Devin pulled away on the straights and Balbach’s Porsche wound him back up under braking and through the twisties. David Burton (#20A) joined DeGaynor and Balbach on the podium, driving a 1964 Porsche 356C Coupe.
Wrapping up Saturday’s racing, the IGT group raced their second feature. Ken Twaits (#35) started this one on pole in his 2014 Audi R8 LMS, but couldn’t hold off the hard-charging Mark Sandridge / Joe Varde Porsche, which wound up on top again. Tom Pank (#42) secured another podium spot with a third-place finish.
Sunday morning kicked off with a sixty-minute Vintage / Classic enduro, with one mandatory five-minute pit stop required, though driver changes were optional. Mark Coombs started the enduro on top of the 27-car field, but the #51 Tiga SC83 of Thomas and Matt Kane moved to the front on the first lap. Debbie Cloud also had a great first lap, jumping from sixth to second. John Cloud stole second from Debbie the very next lap, and then the top runners settled in for a few laps until pit stops with Kane on top, followed by Coombs and John Cloud. Pit stops shuffled the order, but when all was said and done, Kane wound up on top, with the 1968 Camaro of Debbie Cloud and Jeb Burton in second and John Cloud’s 1970 Ford Boss 302 in third.
The first of the Sunday sprint races featured the quick cars of groups 5, 7, 9, and 11. David Nikolas (#5) held a narrow lead early in his 1988 Fabcar GTP over Justin Frick, but an early misstep by Frick had him working hard to close back up on Nikolas. Nikolas found lap traffic before half-way, and when Frick pulled into the pits without his clutch after lap 6, James Farley (#98) inherited second in his 1978 Lola 298 and David Bland (#81) took over third in his 2006 Juno SSE. Jerome Mee (#95), having started in 20th place in the 2015 Dallara F2, wound up climbing all the way into fourth.
The big-bore group 6 and 12a cars gridded 20 cars for their second feature. Jody O’Donnell (#46) grabbed the lead early in his 1969 Chevy Corvette with Scott Borchetta (#05) in his wake in his 1972 Chevy Corvette and Michael Donahue (#33) in a 1963 Chevy Corvette Roadster hanging in third. Though these cars closed up and stretched out a bit from one lap to the next, they’d finish in this order without any serious position challenges.
The group 2 second feature began right where the first feature left off. Gregory Stamm (#3) had qualified on pole, but never got to take the green for the first feature in his 1985 Swift DB1. Stamm started out on a mission, though, jumping from seventh to the lead on the first lap, and that was that. Feature 1-winner Mike Winebrenner (#45) also started back in the field in his 1981 Crossle 45F Formula Ford and worked up into second by the mid-point of the race. Garey Guzman (#16) slipped two spots to third in his 1971 March 719 Formula Ford.
The outstanding Devin / Porsche battle in groups 1, 3, and 4 resumed the best show of the weekend when they took the track for their second feature. Thirty classic sports cars battled all the way through the order, but Jonathan DeGaynor and George F. Balbach absolutely stole the show again. Vic Skirmants (#70) worked his way up to third in a stunning 1962 Dolphin Porsche America — a car I’d not yet had the privilege to see on track prior to this weekend, and a real treat to watch. Deeper in the field, Doug Radix piloted another beautiful silver machine — his 1955 Mercedes 190 SL was the oldest machine in the field this weekend, and a great addition to this classic sports car group.
The group 10 cars brought a smaller field, but quite a bit more speed and some great action, with Benoit Bergeron (#127) working up from seventh in his 2011 Ferrari 458 Challenge. Second-place John Higgins (#39) also had to work up from a fifth-place starting position in his 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup. Rob Metka (#54) started right behind Bergeron in his 2011 Ferrari 458 Challenge and earned the last podium position by the end of the race to wrap up an entertaining feature for these contemporary racers.
The group 8 and 12b second feature was another large field of sports cars and sedans. Polesitter David Huber (#60) stayed put at the front of this field in his 280ZX, but some nice battles through the rest of the top five wound up with Scott Kissinger (#202) in another Datsun — a 1971 240Z, in this case, taking second. John Higgins (#39) started second in his 1975 Porsche 911, and battled his way to third at the conclusion of this event.
The featured marque lined up for a Corvair-only race following lunchtime parade laps and touring. The Corvairs and Yenko Stingers in this event had been split into different race groups the rest of the weekend, and the Yenko’s showed their stuff when these guys all lined up together. All three top spots were won by 1966 Yenko Stinger Corvairs: James Schardt (#17), Logan Dernoshek (#57), and Norman Latulippe (#41) respectively. The first non-Yenko Corvair was Jeff Rapp (#19), who drove his 1965 Chevy Corvair to fourth.
The contemporary IGT and GTP cars ran a 90-minute combined enduro next, with two mandatory five-minute stops and again, optional driver changes. The IGT cars were quick enough to dominate the overall results — Mark Sandridge and Joe Varde (#58) leading the way again in their Porsche and ticking off 55 laps along the way. Colin Cohen / Jason Hart (#15) took second in their 2009 Ferrari 458 Challenge with 54 laps completed, and Robert Wisen (#27) was third, with 53 laps completed in his 2012 Porsche GT3 Cup. The Historic GTP winners were Dwight Merriman (#22B), who completed 52 laps in his 2014 Radical SR3, Andrea Robertson (#40) in a Ford Doran GT — also completing 52 laps — and John Cloud (#2) who completed 48 laps in a 1993 Pontiac Grand Prix.
Two more close races remained Sunday afternoon: the S2000’s resumed their battle with John Thompson (#14) on pole. Brent Gernert (#70) still had some ground to make up from his tangle with Thompson in the first feature. He started in fifth and worked steadily up to second and a really strong finish. Gernert turned the fast lap of the race and eventually closed to pressure Thompson for the lead with the one-lap-to-go flag shown, but couldn’t quite make that last pass. Rob Sherwood (#05) slipped one spot into third in his 2002 Carbir CS2
The last race of the weekend wound up with familiar names on top again, and again, the racing was close for the duration. Mark Cefalo and Jonathan Davis started 1-2 and diced right off the bat. Davis would get by Cefalo on lap three, and held on by a few tenths for the top spot in this final feature. Cefalo wound up second, and John Guthrie (#21) battled in and out of third place, but had that position when the last lap was scored.
With the juggled SVRA schedule this summer, this series heads to Portland next, and then we’ll see them back in the Midwest again in August when they once again visit the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway. See you there!