Defending GT-Lite (GTL) National Champion Peter Shadowen was fastest in class during qualifying at the 60th running of SCCA’s National Championship Runoffs®, thus earning the Tire Rack Pole Award. But that advantage lasted all of one corner as Graham Fuller, of Summit Point, WV, powered past in Turn 2 for the GTL lead Sunday morning during the third and final Hagerty Race Day at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR).
As the opening lap continued, Shadowen fell back to third after being passed by Michael Lewis in the No. 32 Goodyear Mazda RX-7. James Gregorius, in the No. 9 Livonia Redemption Center Mazda RX-7, slotted into the fourth position and was followed by the Mazda MX-5 of Jonathan Goodale.
Over the next several laps around VIR’s 18-turn, 3.27-mile circuit, Fuller stretched out his lead to as much as 2.4sec in the No. 22 Toyota Tercel. It’s a car he’s not overly familiar with at the moment.
“Honestly, I just bought this car,” Fuller said. “This was only the second or third time I’ve been in it.”
While Fuller and Lewis checked out from the rest of the field, the fight for the last step on the podium waged on. Lap three saw Shadowen still in third, followed by Gregorius and Goodale. Chris Kopley and his Mini Cooper, however, were closing in to join that battle, and soon got by Goodale to claim the fifth position.
A third of the way through the event, Gregorius passed by Shadowen heading down the 4,000-foot Madison Avenue backstraight. Shadowen, who had been involved in a Prototype 2 incident during qualifying, admitted after Sunday’s race that both he and his Honda CRX were a little low on power.
“I don’t think the driver had any juice today as I’m still recovering from the Prototype 2 crash,” he said. “And, honestly, the car felt flat. It just didn’t seem to have the ‘go.’ And I don’t know if the driver had the ‘go’ even if the car did.”
With laps clicking away, Lewis managed to close within a half-second of Fuller. But there just weren’t enough laps remaining to mount a serious attack. So, Fuller claimed victory, his first at the Runoffs, and also earned his first Super Sweep honor after claiming the Runoffs title, the Hoosier Racing Tire point championship, a U.S. Majors Tour point championship, and a Super Tour race win – all in the same class this season.
“Drive clean, drive smooth, and stay in front,” said Fuller about his race strategy while standing atop the victory podium preparing to celebrate with some Mazza Sparkling Wine, the Official Sparkling Wine of SCCA’s National Championship Runoffs. “The track got a little slippery in places toward the end of the race, and it was really affecting my run.
“It’s been seven years of a lot of hard work,” Fuller continued. “It’s a good feeling to be on the top step.”
Indeed, Lewis closed the gap as best he could, whittling down the margin of victory to 0.316sec after the 15-lap contest. With that runner-up finish, Lewis has now appeared on the Runoffs podium a total of 23 times.
“Graham did a good job with no mistakes,” Lewis said afterwards. “We needed one more lap, but doesn’t everyone say that?”
Gregorius was never able to close in on Fuller and Lewis out front, but he was also never really challenged for the third spot. That resulted in his first visit to the Runoffs podium after five tries.
“This feels real good. I could get used to this,” Gregorius said about standing on the Runoffs podium. “I was trying to reel those front guys in, but they were just gone.”
Shadowen was able to hold on to finish fourth, and Kopley finished fifth to earn the Sunoco Hard Charger award after starting in the eighth position.
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 Sunday’s GT-Lite race at the 2023 SCCA® National Championship Runoffs, with finish position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, and laps completed.
1, (2), Graham Fuller, Summit Point, WV, Toyota Tercel, 15.
2, (3), Michael Lewis, Poway, CA, Mazda RX-7, 15.
3, (4), James Gregorius, Livonia, NY, Mazda RX-7, 15.
4, (1), Peter Shadowen, West Palm Beach, FL, Honda CRX, 15.
5, (8), Chris Kopley, Easton, CT, Mini Cooper, 15.
6, (6), Jonathan Goodale, Conifer, CO, Mazda MX-5, 15.
7, (7), Roy Lopshire, Blue Springs, MO, Toyota Tercel, 14.
8, (9), David Blain, Trent Woods, NC, Mazda Miata, 14.
9, (10), Kenneth Berdine, Arnoldsburg, WV, MG Midget, 13.
10, (11), Roger Welling, New Milford, PA, Nissan 200SX, 7.
DNF, (5), Eric Vickerman, Howell, MI, Mazda MX-3, 0.
Length of Race: 49.05 Miles
Overall Time of Race: 33:04.858 (avg. 88.964 mph)
Margin of Victory: 00.316 seconds
Fastest Race Lap: 2:11.277 (89.673 mph)
Lap Leaders: #22, Laps 1-15
Sunoco Hard Charger: #03 Chris Kopley
Photo caption: Graham Fuller (No. 22) leads Michael Lewis (No. 32) on his way to a GT-Lite victory at the ’23 Runoffs, which also earned him Super Sweep honors.
Photo by Jay Bonvouloir