Fandozzi Scores First SCCA National Championship After Thrilling Touring 3 Finish
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (September 24, 2011) - Kevin Fandozzi, of St. Joseph, Mich., started from the Gumout Pole Position and led the entire Touring 3 race at the 48th SCCA National Championship Runoffs, but he nearly saw his first National Championship gold medal get away on the final lap. Chris Puskar, of Charlotte, N.C., finished second and Rob Hines, of Arlington, Va., was third.
In a race that saw wet track conditions throughout the 13-lap distance, Fandozzi managed a reasonably comfortable lead for the first 12 laps despite running on dry tires in his No. 34 Insight Driven/Carbotech/Hoosier Chevrolet Cobalt SS. However, Puskar - who was using rain tires - closed the gap to 1.8 seconds at the stripe to begin the final lap and got all the way to Fandozzi's bumper in the 14th and final turn for the run up the long front straightaway to the checkered flag.
With seconds remaining in the race, Puskar pulled out to attempt a pass but momentarily lost traction on the wet pavement. That bobble was just enough to allow Fandozzi to get away and win by 1.278 seconds. It was Fandozzi's first National Championship and his second Runoffs medal, following a second-place run in Touring 3 last year.
"I was concerned, because if I went to, let's say, 60 percent of what I thought was a reasonable line through there, I was loose and out of control," said Fandozzi of his final-lap challenge from Puskar. "I knew he'd push me to that point, and he did. I just prayed that, as my car was drifting sideways, that when I hit the paint it wouldn't go off track. He pushed me that far. I was able to keep it on track and once I did that, I was able to just power up the hill.
"I'll be honest with you, I struggled so much out there that I can't even comprehend winning a national championship. What I just went through, every turn was, basically, you weren't sure what was going to happen, but you still had to get on that hairy edge every entry and every exit. I'm a little overwhelmed with everything, but it's great."
Puskar started 11th in the No. 26 Old Dominion Metal/Hoosier/Red Line Oil Honda S2000 and took advantage of the wet conditions to quickly work his way up to a podium spot. He worked his way to second and to within five seconds of Fandozzi on Lap 7 before a spin dropped him back to third. But he battled back once more to earn his first SCCA National Championship Runoffs medal with the second-place result. He posted the Hawk Hot Lap at 2:57.216 (81.257 mph) and also earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for gaining the most positions in the race.
"Kevin drove a great race," Puskar said. "If I hadn't looped it, I think I could have gotten that step. We made the right choice on tires. We went with the full rains. We had two wets on one side and two drys on the other and we were waiting, waiting, waiting until the last second and made the call. In the past, I've always made the wrong call. I've always picked the wrong tire. This was the one time that I actually made the right choice. The conditions were a little challenging. I ran here in the wet about 10 years ago and learned quite a bit then, and it's still pretty much the same. If you stay on the normal dry line, it's pretty slick.
"Honestly, the only way I would have won was if I'd drilled him and knocked him off the track, because his car is so fast on the straightaway. There was no way I was going to catch him on the straightaway. I tried to cross over on him and we did touch a little bit, but I kept on going. I had to get him back in the back section. If I was going to get any kind of a gap on him, I would have had to have gotten him back there and gotten enough of a gap that he wouldn't catch me heading towards the start/finish."
Hines came home third in the No. 44 Nissan/Goodyear/Carbotech/Red Line Nissan 350Z to score his fourth Runoffs medal and his first since a second-place performance in Touring 2 at Mid-Ohio in 2004. Hines is the 1999 Touring 2 National Champion.
"It feels good to break the dry spell," Hines said. "Of course, I wish I had been on one of the other podium steps, but it was great to be back up here on the podium.
"The really difficult part was trying to decide which tires to go out on. We had the car up on jack stands waiting until the last minute and we made the decision to go with the rains, because we believed the storm was coming from the east moving westward, which is kind of a strange weather pattern. It turns out the storm kind of blew out of the way, but I think it was the right choice because the track stayed wet the entire time. There wasn't much temperature in the track and the sun came out a little bit, but it wasn't enough to dry the track, so that was challenging. But I like racing in the rain, so that was OK."
Bill Steinhoff, of Plantation, Fla., came home fourth in the No. 87 Mangos Racing/Hoosier Nissan 350Z, and Mike Kramer, of Lewisburg, Tenn. rounded out the top five in the No. 19 BFGoodrich/Carbotech/Vette Sport/Red Line Saturn ION.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - Provisional Results from Friday's Touring 3 National Championship Race, part of the 48th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America with finish position, starting position in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car and laps complete.
1, (1), Kevin Fandozzi, Saint Joseph, MI, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, 13.
2, (11), Chris J Puskar, Charlotte, NC, Honda S2000, 13.
3, (4), Rob Hines, Arlington, VA, Nissan 350Z, 13.
4, (10), Bill Steinhoff, Plantation, FL, Nissan 350Z, 13.
5, (7), Mike Kramer, Lewisburg, TN, Saturn ION Red Line, 13.
6, (5), Chad Gilsinger, Marysville, OH, Honda S2000 CR, 13.
7, (13), James Leithauser, Westminster, CO, BMW Z4 Coupe, 13.
8, (9), Jeremy Lucas, Delaware, OH, Honda S2000 CR, 13.
9, (3), Richard Fisher, Glencoe, IL, Volkswagen GTI, 13.
10, (6), Sage Marie, Huntington Beach, CA, Honda S2000, 13.
11, (14), Cheyne Daggett, Iowa City, IA, Ford Mustang, 13.
12, (12), Tom Wickersham, San Ramon, CA, Honda S2000 CR, 12.
13, (15), Lynne Griffiths, Menlo Park, CA, Mazda RX-8, 12.
14, (8), Frank Levinson, Kettering, OH, Honda S2000 CR, 7.
DNF, (2), Brian Kleeman, Baltimore, MD, Nissan 350Z, 2.
DNS, (16), Michael Sullivan, Oakland, CA, Honda Club Racer, 0.
Overall Time of Race: 39:27.394
Average Race Speed: 70.074 mph
Margin of Victory: 1.278 seconds
Hawk Fastest Race Lap: 2:57.216
Fastest Race Lap Average Speed: 81.257 mph
Sunoco Hard Charger: #26 Chris Puskar
Lap Leaders: #34 Kevin Fandozzi - Laps 1-13.