Alton, Virginia (May 12, 2018) – The lead on the final lap at Virginia International Raceway isn’t always the card to hold, as drafting on the long, fast straights can leave you a sitting duck. But on Saturday during Round Three of the Spec MX-5 Challenge East Series, it was the place to be.
Contact between the Mazda MX-5s driven by Manny Martinez and Nick Bruni locked in a battle for the podium sent both off track, giving daylight to then-race leader Jason Connole in the final run to the checkered flag.
Connole’s Protech Bedliners/Trimark Digital/Atlanta Speedwerks MX-5 finished with a deceptively large 2.93 seconds ahead of runner-up Zack Month in an 11-lap race that saw three official lead changes amongst three different drivers. As many as seven drivers ran nose to tail in the lead pack early in the race, before one by one that field thinned.
With just one half of a lap to go, however, the number of contenders had shrunk to just three, though even then Connole and Martinez’ Island Motor Cars/Atlanta Speedwerks MX-5 were two car lengths ahead of Bruni.
“I wanted to push Jason and I away, so that we could settle it between us,” Martinez said later.
And while the thought process was correct, the execution didn’t go to plan.
Martinez had his chance down the long VIR back straight for the final time, as both top drivers were on the brakes late. Martinez dropped two wheels into the grass trying to make the pass for the win, losing his momentum as he reentered, still behind Connole and ahead of Bruni.
That opened the door for the trouble between Martinez and Bruni, in VIR’s “hog pen” section. With Bruni closing quickly, the two came together and were sent off track in the final corner, leaving Connole to take the checker unchallenged and Month, along with John Allen’s iRacing/Defined Autoworks/Atlanta Speedwerks MX-5, in the podium positions.
Though Bruni crossed the stripe in fourth and Martinez fifth, Bruni was demoted by the Series to ninth place on the final results – elevating the remainder of the field one position, leaving Martinez with fourth-place Championship points.
The win was the second of the season for Connole, who also took the opener. Connole led across the stripe on lap three, fell behind Bruni for two laps, and then recaptured the lead for laps six through 12.
“We’re glad to come away with the win today,” Connole said. “It was a tough race. I fell in behind Manny early, I just wanted to get away from the field. It didn’t happen just like that. I kept getting gaps, but every uphill esses and every front and back straightaway they kept getting a run back to me. I couldn’t get away, so I had to play the defender role. We came away with the win, and I’m just happy about it.”
The podium was the third in as many rounds for Month, who inherits the early point lead with his consistency, 55 to 54 over Connole.
“It was back and forth for the whole front of the pack, which is always interesting,” Month said. “We’re drafting through every corner, so it really makes for an interesting race.”
The ever-gracious Month was also appreciating his fortune at the checkered flag, including his dance partner on the podium.
“John Allen is a gentleman and an amazing racer. He held the front group the entire time. There were times where the front pack split up, and John understood that he wasn’t going to be able to finish well if he tries to make a pass rather than pushing everyone else back together and waiting for his opportunity. So that was really, really awesome. Same with Peter (Ensor) when he was in fifth behind me, it’s just great race craft. I trust all of the guys out there.”
What Month didn’t know is that gentlemanly move by Allen may not have been Allen’s full strategy.
“I actually missed the white flag entirely, or I might have been able to get Zack at the end,” Allen said. “I checked up to give Nick some room when he needed to recover after that incident, but it’s a podium. It’s moving forward from the start and my first podium for the year, so I’ll take it.”
It was a hard-fought crusade for Allen’s first podium.
“I went off in Oak Tree, and thought I lost the group,” he said of his mid-race run. “I braked in that car more than I’ve ever braked it in the roller coaster trying to close that gap, but battling I was able to get back again.”
Ensor, who entered the race as the point leader, fell out on lap eight with an issue in his transmission while he was running in the lead group and was scored eighth. Harrell spun off on lap seven in the same lead group, leaving him out of touch with the lead pack and relegating him to eighth despite a strong run.
Behind Month and Connole in the points are Ensor and Martinez, both with 52, and Allen with 49 in the race for the $100,000 scholarship for 2019.
The series returns to action at VIR for Round 4 on Sunday afternoon.
Alton, Virginia – Official Results of Saturday’s Spec MX-5 Challenge East Series Round Three, with finish position (start position), Name, sponsor.
- (2), Jason Connole, Protech Bedliners/Trimark Digital/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (3), Zack Month, Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (4), John Allen, iRacing/Defined Autoworks/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (1), Manny Martinez, Island Motor Cars/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (5), Jose Garcia, KEEM Corp./Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (6), Assen Rachev, Stable Energies/Possien-Hall Motorsports Development/BGN Racing/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (8), Tyler Harrell, JTC Racing/Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (9), Peter Ensor, Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5
- (7), Nick Bruni, Atlanta Speedwerks Mazda MX-5