Ave Goes Wire To Wire For GT-3 Championship

Tony Ave, of Maiden, NC, earned his fourth SCCA road racing National Championship on Friday after leading the GT-3 field wire to wire at the SCCA® National Championship Runoffs® at VIRginia International Raceway.

It was a redemption of an up-and-down day for Ave, who was leading the GT-2 race earlier in the first of three Hagerty Race Days at the Runoffs when his car pulled off with a mechanical failure. He had no such issues in GT-3, driving his No. 44 Acura RSX from the Tire Rack Pole and leading all 15 laps on the way to a 20.725sec win.

“GT-3 is my favorite class,” Ave said. “I just love the little cars, it’s a mini Trans Am car, really. The harder you drive them, the faster they go, and I’ve never been Mr. Finesse, so it fits my style. I really enjoy it. I enjoy racing with the guys. This track is like my home track anymore, and with the Runoffs being here for the last time for a while I wanted to win one. I was disappointed this morning, and I really can’t believe how good that car handled today. It really made it easy. That car was just on rails.”

Behind Ave was a pair of former champions in a battle of their own. Jeff Dernehl used the advantages in his No. 63 ROARacing/Hoosier/Luckys Mazda RX-7 to power away from Warren Montague each lap, only to see that gap close through the twisty parts of the road course. But Dernehl held the silver medal position throughout the race to earn an emotional seventh career podium finish.

“That was great,” Dernehl said. “Tony is just an animal, and [when] you’re dealing with someone that’s a complete professional, you don’t feel too bad. We had a tremendously tough week. My wife was admitted to the emergency room a week before I left, and it was a nightmare. I have a horrendous chest cold and I didn’t even know if I could get in the car. Everyone did a fantastic job.”

Montague was making just his second appearance at the Runoffs since 2003, making back-to-back appearances at VIR for the first time in the GT-3 class. Montague raced the former GT-4 class in the 1990s, winning the 1996 National Championship at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

“It is great to be on the podium with those guys. Tony is a phenomenal driver, and anytime I can be on the podium with him it’s a real honor. Jeff is an incredible driver too, both of them have years of experience. This is my second year in GT-3. I had gotten out of racing and my beautiful wife talked me into getting back into it.”

Zachary Hollingshead and Ray Stephenson completed the top five in the race. Hollingshead, who started the race in sixth place, earned the Sunoco Hard Charger for most positions gained during the race.

The 60th running of SCCA’s National Championship Runoffs®, the Pinnacle of American Amateur Motorsports, crowns Sports Car Club of America’s Road Racing National Champions this year at VIRginia International Raceway — in Alton, VA — during Hagerty Race Days, Friday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 1.

Live, online video coverage of Runoffs races, presented by Mazda, is available throughout the three days of competition at SCCA.com/live, and at SCCA’s official YouTube and Facebook social media channels. Live timing and scoring for each race is also available at SCCA.com.

Below are official results for Friday's GT-3 race at the 2023 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, with finish position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, and laps completed.

1, (1), Tony Ave, Maiden, NC, Acura RSX, 15.

2, (2), Jeff Dernehl, Roswell, GA, Mazda RX-7, 15.

3, (3), Warren Montague, Midlothian, VA, Toyota Celica, 15.

4, (6), Zachary Hollingshead, Lake City, FL., Mazda Miata, 15.

5, (9), Ray Stephenson, Miami, FL, Mazda RX-7, 14.

6, (8), Timothy Proctor, Columbus, NJ, Nissan 240SX, 14.

7, (7), Chris Edens, Sherwood, AR, Mazda Miata, 7.

8, (4), Michael Lewis, Poway, CA, Mazda RX-7, 7.

DNS, (5), Joe Kristensen, London, ON, Honda Civic,  .

Race Stats

Length of Race: 49.05 miles
Overall Time of Race: 30:18.730 (97.090 mph)
Margin of Victory: 20.725 seconds
Fastest Race Lap: 1:59.872 (98.205 mph)
Lap Leaders: #44, Laps 1-15
Sunoco Hard Charger: #56 Zachary Hollingshead

Photo caption: Tony Ave sailed away from the GT-3 field on the way to his fourth win.

Photo by: Jay Bonvouloir