2020 SVRA Mid-Ohio

Old friends and racing.  We may have taken these things for granted prior to 2020, but nearly half-way through the year, we’re reminded of the value of both.  After seeing its spring season obliterated by Covid-19, SVRA resumed its 2020 schedule at Road America, and a week later, SVRA rolled into Mid-Ohio, where limited spectators were welcomed with appropriate precautions in place.

New to the Mid-Ohio event this year, TransAm raced with SVRA, and they were also joined by the Formula Regional Americas Championship and the F4 United States Championship, having just announced a relationship with SVRA the previous week.  Along with the International GT series, the weekend had a much more contemporary flavor than in years past — not to mention some other vintage events.  When I spoke to SVRA President Matt Breeden last year, he indicated that this hybrid event approach is aimed at broadening fan appeal of these events, and although in-person attendance was limited this year to promote social distancing, most of the weekend’s events were available for live streaming.

Following a test day Thursday, Friday kicked off practice for the SVRA groups, plus a qualifying session for IGT and Trans Am practice before the lunch break.  Afternoon qualifying for SVRA groups began with Groups 1, 3, 4, and Mazda.  Top times in this session were all Mazdas, with the #56A of Jonathan Davis setting the pace in his 1990 Miata, followed by #37 Dave Hechler in a 1999 Miata and #17A Brian Murdick in another 1990 Miata.

Next up, qualifying for Groups 6, 10, 12a was dominated by IGT competitors, led by the #65 Porsche GT3 Cup car of Efrin Castro, just breaking the 1:30 mark.  Two more Porches — the #45 of Charlie Luck and the #25 of Todd Sloan rounded out the fast three.  Although these cars are just a few years old, Porsche’s recent announcement to retire from the GTLM class in IMSA at the end of the year means vintage racing will soon be one of the only places fans will get to hear the ear-splitting bark of these cars grabbing gears.

Dropping the decibels a few notches, groups 5b, 8, and 12b qualified next.  Lotus 7’s of Craig Chima (#5) and Denny Wilson (#7A) were split by David Huber’s 1979 Datsun 280ZX (#60).  The Honda-powered Formula Regional Americas cars squeezed in a qualifying session between SVRA sessions, with Linus Lundqvist clocking a 1:19.273 to pace this group.  

Back to SVRA qualifying, groups 2 and 9 qualified together this weekend.  This 32-car grouping yielded lap times ranging from  James Johnston’s fast lap of 1:27.862 in his 2004 Swift O14 Atlantic (#73A) to a bakers’ dozen in the 1:40’s.  Brett Johnston (#3) and Rob Radmann (#5A) were next best in Pro Mazdas.

A strong field of 27 S2000 racers went on the clock next.  Top qualifier Ben Sinnott (#5) improved to 1:28.507 by the end of the session in his 1991 Lola T9190, followed by the #90 1989 Lola T89/90 of Henry Payne V and the #77 Lola T90/90 of Mark Coombs.

Three more qualifying sessions remained Friday afternoon.  The open-wheeled F4 series put 33 cars on track for qualifying, where Christian Bogle led a tight cluster of six cars in the 1:27’s.  The International GT cars ran their second qualification session of the day, with Fred Poordad’s 2019 Porsche GT3 3R screaming its way to a 1:24.681 result, and the thundering Trans-Am cars pounded down qualifying laps, led by Tony Ave, who managed to sneak in just under 2:02 in his Corvette. 

Skies were gray Saturday morning, but spirits were high as groups 6, 10, and 12a rumbled to the false grid for their 8:00am second qualification session.  A masked Tony Parella walked the grid to thank drivers for coming, but the feeling was clearly mutual — everyone was glad to be back to the track.  Efrin Castro (#65) was fast again, but failed to improve on his first-session time.  

In the next session, Craig Chima fared a bit better as he gapped the group 5b, 8, and 12b field with a 1:38.588 time, bettering his first-session time and clearing second-place Scott Kissinger’s 1971 Datsun 240Z by four seconds and change.  

The open-wheelers took a crack at improving their times next.  Session-leader Rob Radman did improve slightly on his session-1 time at 1:30.02, with James Johnston and Brett Johnston both slightly off their session-1 times.  The S2000 field rolled off the grid at nine, and Ben Sinnott topped the leaderboard again with a time just off his first-session best.  Nathan Scigliano (#79) slotted into second in his 2000 Carbair S2, and Henry Payne V was third-fast.

In qualifying session two for groups 1, 3, 4 and Mazda, Jonathan Davis was quickest again, and almost as quick as his first-session time.  Dave Hechler was second-best again, and John Nash rounded out the top three for this session in his Lotus 7.  Although not one of the top contenders, Charles Schwimer’s 1965 Maserati TIPO 151 was a real treat to see and a reminder of why we love vintage racing.

The weekend’s first feature race came from the FR Americas open-wheel cars – sharp-looking spec chassis with Honda motors, these cars wore F1-style halos for driver protection.  Linus Lundqvist (#26) started on pole and wouldn’t relinquish it, even after Kent Vaccaro’s off in turn nine bunched up the field with a full-course yellow mid-way through the race. 

After lurking behind Fred Poordad in qualifying, Andy Pilgrim wasted little time moving into the lead in the first IGT feature race.  Pilgrim in his 2011 Ferrari 458 GT3 held Poordad’s Porsche GT3 at bay to the finish, with Charlie Luck’s Porsche in third.

The all-Triumph Kastner Cup competitors turned in their second set of qualifying laps next.  Joe Huffaker (#11) ran a best time of 1:45.172, followed by Mike Munson (#28) in his 1970 Triumph TR6 and Sam Halkais in a ‘71 TR6.

Two more sessions were scheduled before lunch, and one would make it before the gray clouds started drizzling.  Trans Am had a 30-minute practice, which ran flag-to-flag on a dry track, but by the time the F4 cars lined up for the pace lap for their first feature race, rain soaked the circuit.  The event was called after five circuits behind the pace car, with several competitors sustaining body damage in formation-lap incidents. 

Following the lunch break, Trans Am cars lined up for their feature event.  These 700HP RWD cars were ill-suited for the still-damp track, and despite most cars starting on wets, a couple cars looped coming out of turn one at the drop of the green.  Pole-sitter Tony Ave controlled the field for most of the race, but Ernie Francis Jr. put some great moves on Chris Dyson and saved enough tire to get past Ave for the lead with ten laps remaining.  Once past Ave, Francis Jr. held on for a win on the drying track.

More big-bore muscle lined up next for the SVRA groups 6, 10, and 12a feature race 1.  Todd Sloan (#25) started on pole in a 2015 Porsche GT3, but quickly ceded the lead to Scott Borchetta (#9) in a Bill Elliott-livery 2003 Dodge NASCAR entry.  Zach Arnold’s #55 2004 Corvette started third and wound up in the final podium spot, as well.

The 5b, 8, and 12b group was a lot of fun to watch all weekend.  Saturday afternoon’s feature race 1 was led to the green by the #60 Datsun 280ZX of David Huber, but Huber’s straight-line advantage wasn’t enough to keep Craig Chima’s #5 Lotus 7 bottled up.  Jim Gewinner (#33) locked up third place from flag to flag in his 1965 Lotus 23B.

Open-wheelers were next to run their first feature as groups 2 and 9 lined up.  James Johnston (#73A) led all the way in his 2004 Swift 014 Atlantic.  Rob Radmann (#5A) started third and moved up one spot to finish second in his 2004 Pro Mazda, also clocking fast lap on the white-flag lap.  Brett Johnston (#3) finished third in another 2004 Pro Mazda, and #72 James Johnston Jr held fourth in a 2004 Mazda Pro Formula.  The group 2 battle was tight and a ton of fun, led by #8 Bob Hatle in a 1989 Swift DB-3, but hard-fought among all the group 2 class contenders.

Since entering the ranks of vintage racers a few years ago, Mazda Miatas have brought us some great bumper-to-bumper battles, and the Mazda Heritage Cup’s first feature race didn’t disappoint.  Jonathan Davis (#56A) led all the way in his 1990 Miata, #17A Brian Murdick advanced from 4th to 2nd, and John Guthrie (#21) finished 3rd with the top five finishers spread by just six seconds.

The all-Triumph Kastner Cup fielded 31 entries ranging from the more commonly-seen TR3’s, TR6’s and Spitfires to less-frequently seen cars like Chuck Gee’s 1970 Vitesse and Jerry Barker’s 1963 Herald.  Mike Munson’s 1970 TR6 started on pole and shuffled back a couple spots — one of which was courtesy of Sam Halkais’ TR6 (#75) out-braking Munson into turn four.  Joe Huffaker was scored 2nd on L2, but neither Halkais nor Huffaker would hold onto these spots.  Munson wound up back on top at the finish, followed by #183 Alex Amys in a 1960 GT6 and #4A James Dolan in a 1962 GT6.

The first Sports 2000 feature race was an orderly affair through most of the field.  Ben Sinnott (#5), Henry Payne V (#90), and Mark Coombs (#77) lined up 1-2-3 in their Lolas and finished in the same order.

Groups 1, 3, and 4 were a lot of fun to watch.  At the pointy end of the field, we got to watch John Nash’s #7 Lotus 7 chased by Logan Dernoshek in a 1966 Yenko Stinger Corvair, with the #6 Lotus 22 of Bruce Revennaugh in third.  Deeper in the field, Doug Radix in his 1955 Mercedes 190, Charles Schwimer’s Maserati, and Paul Gelpi’s 1958 Jaguar XK150 jostled with a deep field of Porsche’s, Datsun’s, MG’s and other crowd favorites.  This group was real eye candy for vintage fans!

With afternoon giving way to evening, IGT ran its second feature rate, and up front, Andy Pilgrim and Fred Poordad were 1-2 again.  Todd Sloan (#25) worked his way up from a fifth-place start to join Pilgrim and Poordad on the podium, slipping by Tom Pank (#42) and Charlie Luck (#145).  Following the IGT feature, TA2 wrapped up the day’s on-track activities with a 20-minute qualifying session.

Sunday morning’s traditional enduro was an all-car, 90-minute event with two mandatory pit stops.  IGT cars competed with SVRA, and were scored separately, with Andy Pilgrim leading these cars in his Ferrari.  SVRA overall winners Scott Borchetta and Jade Buford in the #98 Corvette gapped second place Mark Clark (#15) by a lap, with a couple more laps back to Peter McLaughlin and Dave Handy in the #14 Carbir S2000.

Feature races on Sunday kicked off with Sports 2000 racers, led to the green by Ben Sinnott (#5).  Brent Genert (#76) started near the front of the field and survived a lap-1 incident heading into the keyhole.  He’d drop to the tail of the field and spend the rest of the race climbing back to ninth.  Behind Sinnott, Henry Payne V (#90) and Rob Sherwood (#05) held second and third places for most of the race, and is common for this class, there were lots of great close battles further into this 24-car field.

Groups 2 and 9, having run together earlier in the weekend, raced separately on Sunday, and group 2 definitely earned its moment in the spotlight.  Bob Hatle (#8) started on pole in this event and following an early full-course yellow, he led for a good portion of the event.  Eric Inkrott (#9A, 1971 Crossle Formula Ford) loomed large in Hatle’s mirror, though, and Inkrott would finally find the opening he was looking for braking into turn four late in the race.  He fought  next to Hatle through the esses before consolidating the lead  on the penultimate lap.  Todd Strong (#16) would finish third in his 1974 Titan Mk9 in one of the more entertaining events of the weekend.

The eclectic lineup of groups 1, 3, and 4 were up next, led to the green by a pair of Yenko Stingers driven by Logan Dernoshek (#57B) and James Schardt (#17).  Though these two never swapped positions, they shadowed one another throughout the race.  Cliff Murray (#72) in a 1960 Devin Porsche and Vic Skirmants (#70) in a 1961 Porsche 356B held onto the Yenkos for a bit, but then slipped back into a battle with Rob Davenport (#20) in a 1973 Datsun B-210.  At the checkers, it would be Dernoshek followed by Schardt and Murray.

Group 9, racing by itself, was a sveldt nine-car field.  We were definitely missing some of the faster headliners we’ve seen in this field in years gone by, but the front of the field in this race put on a great show, led by James Johnston (#73A).  He and Rob Radmann (#5A) would be inseparable during this event, swapping the lead at one point when Radmann late-braked at turn four.  Behind them, the 3rd and 4th-place cars of Brett Johnston (#3) and James Johnston Jr. (#72) would race one another closely for the duration.  At the end, Radmann ceded the lead and the win back to James Johnston, but he hung on to split up an all-Johnston podium.

A strong field of 32 group 6, 10, and 12a cars lined up behind the NASCAR Dodge of Jade Buford (#9) — a car piloted by Scott Borchetta earlier in the weekend.  The first lap got a little jumbled when several cars tangled in turn six, and shortly thereafter, Marc Sharinn brought out the safety car in turn one.  Once we got back to racing, it was Buford leading the #55 Corvette of Zach Arnold and the #9 Dodge Challenger of Harry Hinkle who settled into these positions to finish in that order..

In the last event before the lunch break, the FR America group ran their final race of the weekend.  Linus Lundqvist lined up at the front of the field for this group’s standing start.  A lap-six incident involving the #23 of Victor Franzoni and the #11 of Antonio Serravalle slowed the pace for a bit, but nothing could derail Lundqvist’s weekend sweep. 

With track temperatures climbing, the TA2 feature wrapped up the Trans Am weekend.   Rafa Matos started on pole for the 45-lap event.  Third-place starter Thomas Merrill pressured championship leader and second-place-starter Mike Skeen early in the race, the two competitors giving us some fabulous side-by-side racing through the esses.  Merrill went to work on leader Matos next, giving us another outstanding battle through the mid-laps of this race before securing the lead and checking out.  The next step of the podium shaped up as Scott Lagasse applied pressure to Matos for second, chasing for several laps and getting a nose under Matos in the keyhole with 24 to go.  A safety-car bunched up the field with nine to go and turned this into a time-certain event.  Race control allowed an eventful restart, but Trans Am would later go back and revise results to give Merrill the victory, followed by Lagasse and Skeen.

We traded V8 rumble for angry bees as SVRA was back on-track with the featured Kastner Cup Reunion.  Mike Munson started up front again, and the #11A of Kurt Johnston bolted out of seventh on the grid to move into second by the time the field entered the keyhole.  By mid-race, Joe Huffaker was working toward the front in the #11, his drive including a four-off excursion in the grass approaching the keyhole.  Back on the tarmac again, Huffaker secured third to finish on the podium with Munson and Johnston.

One more mixed-make event was left for Sunday: the medium-bore groups 5b, 8, and 12b second feature, led by Craig Chima’s Lotus, and featuring Datsuns, Alfas, Lotus, and more.  David Huber’s 280ZX jumped to an early lead, powering out of turn one on the start.  He and Chima put on one of the David & Goliath battles we see so frequently in SVRA — the Datsun driving hard out of corners and the Lotus reeling him back in under braking, but when Chima got by Huber at turn four, Huber just couldn’t stick close enough in the twisty bits to threaten for the lead again.  Jim Gewinner (#33) wound up third in his Lotus 23B.

Just two more events were left to our weekend, with the F4 US Championship running a 25-minute feature with lots of close wheel-to-wheel racing.  Christian Bogle (#7) owned this one all the way, with runner-up Hunter Yeany (#11) and third-place Nolan Siegel (#8) swapping their starting order on their way to the finish.  

Capping off our weekend, the Miata Heritage Cup rolled 34 cars past the starters’ stand Sunday afternoon.  Jonathan Davis (56A) got some pressure from Michael Bond (#123) in this race, but wound up back on top for the win.  Joining Davis and Bond on the podium was Dave Hechler (#37), who locked up third. 

With any luck at all, we’ll put facemasks and elbow-bumps in our rear-view mirror by this time next year, and the only distancing we’ll need to worry about is the gap to the cars around us.  In the middle of this surreal year, though, Mid-Ohio was a welcome return to normalcy and a great reminder of the people and experiences we hold most dear.