GTWC America Acura NSX GT3 Evo
- Matt McMurry
- Rodrigo Sales
- Michael Di Meo
- Ashton Harrison
- Mario Farnbacher
Questionable call by officials caps off a forgettable weekend for C360R in the deep south
(Birmingham, Alabama) -- Compass360 Racing's #75 Honda Civic Si headed into the third round of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge with a five-point lead in the Driver and Team's championship. Hot shoes Kyle Gimple and Ryan Eversley were optimistic of a good result despite the fact that the tight, twisting and traditionally low-grip circuit isn't an ideal track for the Hondas. By the end of the weekend, they'd dropped to second place, 12 points out of first, after being thrown curve balls by a combination of heavy weather during the test and practice days, and new interpretations of long-standing rules from the tower. And of the three C360R cars in attendance, they fared best of all.
Practice was held under sodden skies, and with the race guaranteed to be dry, most teams did little running in the wet. In the two short sessions that were dry, all three C360R Hondas were strong, raising hopes that the recently-reground Alabama circuit might prove to be kinder to the front-wheel-drive cars than in years past.
Qualifying was rained out, and so the cars started based upon driver points, which was great for #75, which lead the standings, but was less so for the #76 of Ray Mason and Adam Burrows, which started dead last after being one of two cars off the track during the aborted qualifying sessions, and the #77 car of Robert Thorne and Aaron Povoledo, which also started towards the back of the pack as it was Thorne's first Grand-Am race of the year (and consequently he had zero points).
On the formation lap, Thorne reported a blown fourth gear, and the car was immediately retired. It was a tremendous disappointment given the speed that both he and team veteran Povoledo showed earlier in the weekend. Fortunately, they'll team together again at the next round at Road Atlanta, which the team expects to be a circuit more suitable to the strengths of their cars.
Despite starting at the back, Mason had a strong first stint, making up ten places in half as many laps. But contact with another car that shut the door during an aggressive pass into the turn five hairpin meant the 76 Columbus Truck entry tumbled down the leader board as the team affected repairs to the front suspension. Burrows, though, proved ever the pro, turning laps equal to the leading Hondas at the close of the race, despite managing some pretty serious toe out and alignment issues. #76 finished the race in 22nd place.
Gimple, meanwhile, had played a smart race while driving a car that was set up for the later laps. Eversley took over and looked well-placed for a strong top-five result, but race officials gave the car drive-through penalty for passing during the wave-by, which meant the #75 crossed the line in 13th. It was a big hit in the championship points, and was, in the eyes of Team Principal Karl Thomson, a bad call.
"For the past two or three years, we've had the same procedure for wave-by's under the safety car," he noted. "If a team is not paying attention or doesn't have a scanner, and they don't go when called by the tower, the cars behind are expected to drive around them. Today's call is a substantive change in the rules, and not only was it done without warning but was directly contrary to the briefing the drivers received during their instructional meeting. We will be reviewing with series officials to ensure that the rules are not only understood clearly but are delivered properly from the tower."
With eight races to go, the championship is anything but over, but the seven or eight points the tower's call made may make a real difference at the end of the year.
"Still, after the development year we had in 2012 with the new car, it's nice to be back at the front," remarked Thomson. "I think there's an expectation that we'll be there, and I'm looking for a strong result at the next round in Road Atlanta.