Words and photos by Michael Chandler
When Miller Motorsports Park released their 2014 schedule many, many months ago, I saw the Utah Grand Prix in September. You remember Trent went to it years ago and got some very cool shots. Well, now was my turn. So I put in my application for credentials a few months in advance… And was told by John Gardener, the Marketing Communications Manager at Miller Motorsports Park, that I needed to resubmit them when the event was about a month out and that I wouldn’t have any issues getting credentials. So I waited some more, resubmitted and was granted them! I was going to my first big boy event, where there would be very serious photographers and big name manufacturers. The scale of the event didn’t really hit me until the night before, when I felt like a very small fish in a very large pond.
I’m getting ahead of myself, and side tracked. First, let’s talk about exactly what the Utah Grand Prix is. This year there was NASCAR K&N West Series racing (which you’ll see in part two of this), Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy racing (All Porsche 911s, all of the time), Miller GT and United States Touring Car Championship (Your local favorites and the USTCC field running all at once), and finally Pirelli World Challenge Championship racing. AKA SCCA World Challenge, this is the other big sports car racing series in the US. This event was also a make up for the rained out opening round, and the season finale! Championships were on the line! And for those staring blankly at the screen, wondering what World Challenge is, here’s a break down:
Ahh, Grand Touring. The Gentlemanly auto racers. Actually, it’s mostly sports cars of varying degrees. As we reported, World Challenge will let you run FIA GT3 spec cars in GT and GTA, which is why you see the Bentley Continental GT3 bearing down on the GTS class Kia Optima. GT and GTA is the home of the GT3 cars (Continental GT3, McLaren MP4-12C GT3, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, etc) along with Cadillac CTS-V.Rs, the Acura TLX GT (which was wrecked in the previous race and wasn’t repaired in time for this one), and in genreral cars that were too much for GTS (Alex Loyd’s Corvette and Louis-Phillip Montour’s Dodge Viper). GTS is home to more pedestrian entries, if you want to call them that. Mustang Boss 302S’s, Nissan 370Zs, Chevrolet Camaros, and Porsche Caymans represent the majority of the field. Also running in the class are the Kia Optimas and Aston Martin GT4s, with the Kias competing for the Manufacturer’s Title in class.
TC is short for Touring Car, and if you’ve ever watched any of European Touring Car series then you know how wild the econo boxes can be! Sorry, sport “sedans”; although, as you can see the Skullcandy Altima is a coupe. That’s neither here nor there. TC and TCA is populated by small displacement rear wheel drive cars, like the Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe and the venerable Mazda MX-5 Miata, and front wheel drive cars like Civic Si’s, Altimas and Jetta GLIs. TCB is the land of the little B Spec cars, Honda Fits, Mini Coopers and Fiat 500s. Armed with this knowledge, lets get on with this story.
I had to be at the track early. Not pre-dawn early, but early for someone who is usually ready to face the day at the crack of noon. I arrived, got my wrist band and found a seat in the media center. I chatted with Michael Wells, and finally met Chance Hales. After the meeting, Chance, myself and Shawn Pierce, who shoots for NoBraking.com, piled in to my Subaru and made our way to some corners for the practice sessions of GT/A/S TC/A/B and Miller GT.
By lunch we made our way half way around the track. We formed a plan for the qualifying sessions and races, and made our way to the paddock. I dropped them at the Media Center and made my way to RaceCo to chat with Cole Powelson and Kyle Schick, and meet up with Derrick Wolthoff of Makes and Models and TW Racing. On the way I ran into George Smith, and asked him why he suddenly disappeared from the Miller GT session. The crank sensor in his Corvette failed, and it was an all hands on deck effort to replace it.
Eventually I made it to the Makes and Models garage just in time to tag along with Derrick to talk about getting some fuel from some people. Those people happened to be Audi Customer Support Racing, Global Motorsports Group and Mike Skeen who was #2 in GT Driver’s championship. While Derrick was conducting business, I wandered about the paddock and got some photos. I would’ve stayed for more photos, but the next session was coming up quick so I had to get my car and grab Chance and Shawn.
Not without getting a little sidetracked though. The Black Swan Racing SLS AMG GT3 is the most gorgeous car in the field, hands down. And the KPAX Racing McLaren MP4-12C GT3s have names: Reginald and Edward. Why they’re named that is beyond me, but it led me to thinking of names for the Cadillacs and the Bentleys. The Caddys are George and James, while the Bentleys are Lord Percival Umberbottom and Duke Albert Thistleton IV. I didn’t ask either team if they would consider naming or changing the names of their cars, but I think Cadillac would’ve been a bit more receptive to the idea.
Anyway, Chance and Shawn decided they wanted to skip the next session, and go grab some food. I agreed with this, and off we went.
After lunch we made our way to Witchcraft and The Attitudes for the Pirelli GT3 Cup race, which had a healthy amount of local Drivers in it who had quite a showing. David Donner, Alan and Desire Wilson, John Scarlett, Les Long and Darrell Troester all demonstrated what is meant by a home field advantage. We stayed in the attitudes for the World Challenge GT qualifier, before making our way down to turn one for the start of the TC race.
And what a start it was! In the opening lap Paul Holton in the #65 Shea Racing Honda Fit collided with, and almost drove over top of, the #58 Racing.ca Mini Cooper of Glenn Nixon. Somehow Holton’s Fit was able to continue with the race. The same could not be said for Nixon’s Mini. Both drivers received Driver Conduct penalties, $1000 fines and lost 20 points each. Holton finished 9th in class, and 22nd overall while Brian Price in the #51 Unlimited Racing/RP Performance Honda Fit finished first in TCB. Adam Poland in the Eastex Motorsports MX-5 Miata took the TC class win, and Nic Jonsson took the TCA win in Russell Smith’s #38 Kinetic Motorsports Kia Forte Koup. After the track was cleaned up, it was time for the GT race.
Before I tell you about the race itself, I need to tell you something we were told in the media meeting. We were told we couldn’t be on the pit wall for the beginning of the GT race. Why? World Challenge does a standing start, like Formula 1 does. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue but lately drivers stalling on the start has been a problem. When a driver stalls, and is in the middle or front of the grid, everyone behind him has to take evasive maneuvers. Sometimes these maneuvers result in collisions, which can send pieces of the cars flying. So for our safety, we weren’t allowed on the pit wall for the start of the race.
This was a good thing, because guess what happened. The GTS Kias got into each other, and Mike Skeen broke an axle in his Audi R8 LMS Ultra. Mike made it off track under his own power, but the Kias had to be towed off. This immediately brought out the yellow flag and the safety car. Since this was a timed race, some of the other photographers began getting worried/annoyed, which led me to cracking off a one liner. It was not well received. Anyway, the Kias were finally removed, and the green flag flew again.
After watching the calamity of turn one iron itself out (everyone is trying to get around everyone else. Remember the incident between the Fit and the Mini?), we made our way over to the Clubhouse to grab some photos of the final three turns, where more calamity ensued.
An incident occurred as soon as we got to Clubhouse turn. The #6 KPAX Racing McLaren MP4-12C of Robert Thorne got into the back of the #96 Capaldi Racing/Dat Dog Ford Mustang Boss 302S of Brad Adams, causing both cars to spin out right in front of the massive and massively fast Dyson Racing Bentley Continental GT3s and Cadillac Racing CTS-V.Rs. Thankfully nobody else was involved in the spin.
With Mike Skeen’s race over before it began the battle for the podium came down to two iconic luxury marques: Bentley and Cadillac. Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim battled the Bentleys of Guy Smith and Butch Leitzinger for two of the top three spots. When the dust settled, Guy Smith was atop the podium. His Continental beat out O’Connell’s CTS-V.R by 3.47 seconds for the top spot. It was very nearly a 1-2 finish for the Brits, but Johnny held Leitzinger off by less than 1/10 of a second!
Michael Mills in the #41 Effort Racing Porsche 911 GT3R took the GTA class win, and without the class leading Kias in his way or Driver’s Championship leader Lawson Aschenbach’s Black Dog Speed Shop Camaro ZL1 to worry about Nick Esayian cruised to victory in GTS in his TRG-AMR North America Natural Cures Aston Martin GT4.
And that wraps up the first of two days I spent at the Utah Grand Prix. Stay tuned for Day 2, which held the Pirelli World Challenge final races, the Miller GT race, and the NASCAR K&N West Series race! Below are a few galleries, neatly organized by series.
World Challenge GT/A/S
World Challenge TC/A/B
Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy
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