This weekend sees one of ChumpCar World Series’ occasional two-race weekends, where Chump teams in two different regions take the low-buck endurance-racing challenge. Northern (and some Central) Region teams will tackle Michigan International Speedway’s “roval” course while the Western Region heads to ChumpCar’s Pacific Northwest stronghold to tackle The Ridge Motorsports Park (above). MIS racers will run a standard Double-7 weekend with a seven-hour endurance race on Saturday and Sunday. The Western Region adjusts their schedule to run a 10-hour race Saturday and a “short” six-hour Sunday race.
“Wreckless Wroval” at Michigan International Speedway
Like most speedway infield courses, the MIS road course features a long oval section with banking and a long straight. This section is long enough to favor high-horsepower cars, but the fact that three of the weekend’s six podiums in 2012 were occupied by four-cylinder cars indicates that there’s a bit more to winning than just being the fastest car. The narrow infield section can present some tricky overtaking obstacles, especially with 32 entries registered, so slower cars may be able to use the relative lack of space to maintain track position. Early-week weather forecasts call for sunny and mild temperatures, so weather should not be a major factor in the outcome.
The favorite for this race is, unsurprisingly, a well-traveled BMW E30. Bucksnort Racing (above) has logged a few thousand race miles in 2013, winning a 24 Hours of LeMons weekend at Gingerman Raceway, taking half of a Double-7 at Gingerman, and nabbing a podium at VIRginia International Raceway two weekends ago. They’ll likely be one of the fastest two or three cars, so the real test will be finding out how well the car holds up the shortly after running 24 hours at one of America’s most demanding racetracks.
Mopar 4 Life should present the biggest challenge to Bucksnort with their well-prepared, veteran Dodge Neon. This squad has always shown well in Northern Region races and won the Saturday race at MIS last year. They’ve struggled a bit in 2013, but the team’s last race at Shannonville netted a second-place finish, by far their best of the year. They’ll hope to equal or better that at MIS.
In a similar vein, Kentucky Spirits have struggled since a dominant weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park in June 2012. In the time since, they’ve managed a couple of Top 10s with their Nissan 300ZX, but have come up short of the podium. However, their less-than-stellar 2013 should not be considered a real indicator of the car’s potential.
Bavarian Mustache Werks (above) finished runners up to Mopar 4 Life in the Saturday 2012 race at MIS, marking another near-miss for the E30 team. In two ChumpCar races at Watkins Glen, these chaps finished third and fourth in an extremely deep field. Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot by saying this, but I’d be very surprised if this team doesn’t come away from the weekend with a win.
If this were a discussion of teams that most deserved a win, few could argue against TFE Racing’s claims. The team struggled for several years with a Subaru Impreza, coming close to a win a few times, but they ultimately fell victim several times to the trappings of the complicated Scooby. They’ve ditched the Impreza for a BMW E36 and have developed the car steadily, turning in two Top 10 finishes at Gingerman. This could be a chance for TFE to demonstrate the team’s true capability.
Forget everything I just said about Subarus’ fickle nature in crapcan racing. Blueberry Fields Forever, an Impreza powered by the flat-6 engine from the quirky SVX. The team have wisely ditched the SVX’s funky shell, but the six-cylinder motor provides plenty of grunt and the team has improved its reliability to a frightening degree. I don’t know if they can outrun most Chumps, but they should be able to turn in a Top 10 performance or two.
Few will doubt Holy Rollers (above) ability to push the limits of their heap, but pace has never been the team’s issue. Reliability issues have plagued their Integra and kept them from exploiting the team’s quickness. Seven-hour races generally require less time for the car to stay together, but they also mean that an issue that sidelines a car for three or four minutes can be the team’s undoing. If their Acura remains intact, they just might be to pick up another MIS podium for the four-cylinder crowd.
My handpicked longshot is maybe the longest shot I’ve ever taken. Actually, it’s more of a hat-tip to a team that has repeatedly brought the broken-off handle of a plastic knife to Omaha Beach. This is, of course, Team Phoenix, who have previously campaigned a Chevrolet Camaro, a Dodge Shadow, a Ford Thunderbird, and a Chevrolet Chevette. They have had even less success than one might imagine, yet they return with three entries at MIS. I don’t know which terrible cars they will have, but rest assured, they will be terrible. Therefore, you should cheer for them via live timing if you can.
Other longshots: Chumpty Dumptys (BMW E30), S—box Racing (BMW E30), Cavette Racing (Chevy Cavalier).
“The Ridge Ride 16” at The Ridge Motorsports Park
The Pacific Northwest continues to shun the Eastern and Central regions’ high BMW counts. Sure, six 3 Series are slotted to start at The Ridge, but Volkswagen leads the field in car counts with nine entries, mostly Rabbits and Golfs. There will also be a half dozen Honda Civics and CRXs and five Mazda RX-7s, but the car we’re most excited comes from a team that has quietly run a tremendous lump of British Leyland iron for the past year. Weather forecasts indicate comfortable ambient temperatures with some clouds in the sky and maybe a slight chance of rain.
I’ll start with the glut of Volkswagens, since many of them possess a fighting chance for a win. Squirrels of Fury return with the Rabbit that won America’s longest road race. The Squirrels have performed better in long-distance races, but 10 hours of racing could be enough for them to come out on top. Similarly, Top 10 stalwarts Martini Racers have a proven Golf with the ability to compete in all race formats. Rusty Rotors (#27 above) are another advocate of the Rabbit and Shift Autosport nabbed a win earlier this year in their Jetta. As with the 36-hour race at Spokane County Raceway in July, I’d be very surprised if the podium either day is devoid of the VW badge.
The best of the Mazdas will likely be Apex of Failure, whose 13B-powered RX-7 won ChumpCar’s inaugural race at The Ridge last year. They will hope to rebound from a disappoint performance in The 36. Tachophobic Racing’s first-generation RX-7 will hang around the leaderboard’s top third, but a win may be a quantum leap for this team.
None of the Honda teams on the entry list have ever nabbed a win, but Socket Monkeys edged out Martini Racers for the final podium slot at The 36 with their Civic and have a few Top 10s historically. The Eh! Team are a Canadian squad, naturally, who occasionally land on the podium with their tough little CRX, although a win has eluded them for 18 races. Relative newcomers Draggin’ Dragons looked strong in their Civic with a pair of Top 10 finishes in the most recent weekend at Portland International Raceway.
As mentioned when the 24 Hours of LeMons visited The Ridge not so long ago, the course’s long straights and substantial elevation changes favor higher horsepower. The Son of Andre Ford Mustang (above) showed plenty of speed at Spokane this year and could be a team to watch in the shorter formats where speed can make a huge difference. If you’re a fan of Bavaria, look for veterans Chotchkie’s Racing BMW E30 and BOC Racing’s E36 to finish as the best Bimmers.
With most of the usual types remaining competitive, some may overlook a battered old Volvo 140, but experienced Chumps know General Leif campaign one of the best Volvos in crapcan racing. This squad has narrowly missed an overall victory a couple of times with their B-engined Volvo, and I expect they’ll manage a good result or two this weekend.
A few veteran teams have trailed off in the standings over the past year or two after strong initial showings and I’ll pick them all as my collective longshot. Keep an eye on The Old Lompoc Special (Mazda RX-7), Team GI SHO (Ford Taurus SHO), and Clutch on Fire Racing (Toyota MR2). They each won a race 2011 but have yet to take another.
Finally, one team at The Ridge will demonstrate true crapcan grit. British Leyland has been represented in many guises in ChumpCar and in LeMons: several MGBs, an Austin Marina, and the odd Austin Mini, among others. However, Team Odin are the only team I know to have campaigned a glorious Rover SD1, which will run its fourth ChumpCar weekend at The Ridge. Sure, the family that comprises the team have never finished higher than 31st and may not do much better in the standings this time around, but anyone bold enough to campaign a V8-powered Rover in endurance racing earns my just-made-up Motorsports Badge of Courage.
Kudos to you, Team Odin. Know that much of the crapcan world, a small part of the British isles, and myself are rooting for you this weekend.
[Photos: Marcia Blas via Flickr (Photos 1, 5, 6); Eric Rood/Redusernab (Photo 2); Alex Bellus/Alex Bellus Photography (Photos 3,4)]