The Ford Mustang BOSS 302R ended the 2014 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) season on a high note when Billy Johnson and Ian James took the checkered flag at Road Atlanta on October 3rd. The 2.5-hour event was run the day before the 17th annual Petit Le Mans, a 10-hour sportscar race that serves as the season finale to the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar series.
The Petit Le Mans “week” started with a test day for the CTSC series on Tuesday, September 30, followed by practice on Wednesday, Qualifying on Thursday, and CTSC race on Friday.
Mustang BOSS 302R drivers Jade Buford and Scott Maxwell were fastest in practice in Mulitmatic Motorsports’s No. 15 Mustang. Anthony Mantella and Mark Wilkins were second-quickest in the No. 8 Mantella Autosport Aston Martin Vantage, followed by Brandon Davis and Matt Plumb in the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche.
The qualifying session was frustrating for many teams. Per the sanctioning body’s policy, the schedule is “time certain.” In other words, all the sessions start and end on time, even if on-track incidents stop the on-track activities. So, when the No. 07 TRG Aston Martin’s anti-lock braking system failed at the entry to turn ten and crashed, the qualifying session was red-flagged on the third lap. So, drivers only had one flying lap in order to set their qualifying time. Several drivers never had an appropriate gap in traffic to set their quickest time…including championship leader Trent Hindman, in the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3. Hindman’s slow time meant he’d start at the back of the GS-class field. Dramatically, his rival in the championship, Andrew Davis in the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R, was starting from pole. Hindman had his work cut out for him if he was to claim the 2014 Championship! Scott Maxwell qualified second in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R, followed by Eric Curran in the No. 01 Camaro Z/28.R, and Matt Bell in another Z/28.R.
The pre-race talk primarily focused on the championship battle between the team points leader No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, and the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R. With only a five-point gap between first and second place in the standings, the finishing order between the two cars could also decide the championship.
The weeks’ weather was typical fall in The South: warm and dry…except for race day. Heavy rain fell early in the morning, though the forecast called for clearing skies as race time approached. That being said, by the time the pre-race fan walk commenced, the track surface was damp. Radar pictures indicated a few scattered showers in the area. So while most cars rolled onto pit lane wearing dry tires, teams kept wets at the ready.
When the field rolled down to turn twelve and onto the front straight, the starter waved the green flag and the race was on. Maxwell, who started on the outside of the front row in the No. 15 BOSS 302R, got a great jump on the rest of the field and nosed into the lead through the high-speed turn one. Eric Curran (No. 01 Camaro) followed Maxwell, while Andrew Davis (No. 06 Camaro) fell to third.
In three laps, 19-year-old Trent Hindman had driven his BMW up six positions to 11th! On the next lap, Brandon Davis brought the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche down pit lane to hand over driving duties to Matt Plumb. The early stop meant Davis didn’t satisfy the minimum drive time required to receive points, but since the team wasn’t in the hunt for the championship, they tried to gain an advantage on the other teams by getting the driver change done early to speed their subsequent pit stops. On lap five, Curran passed Maxwell’s Mustang to take the lead. Andrew Davis held third, but Hindman improved two positions to 9th.
Eleven laps later, Curran brought the No. 01 Camaro down pit lane—a surprising move, since the stop was 25 minutes shy of the 45 required for Curran to receive championship points. The reason for the stop soon became clear, as the CKS Autosport crew pushed the Z/28.R behind the wall with a broken shifter. The Camaro’s retirement promoted Maxwell back to the lead, Davis to second, and teammate Matt Bell (No. 09 Camaro) third. Hindman was now fifth.
Bell’s time in third was short-lived, as three laps later his Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R started smoking badly. Bell limped to the pits, and was pushed behind the wall trailing what those in the pits reported as gear oil. Championship points leader Hindman and his No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 was now closing in on the rear bumper of the No. 6 Camaro, which was only five points back in the season standings! Davis and Liddel would need to keep the BMW in their rear-view mirror to have any hopes of bringing the championship to Stevenson Motorsports and Chevrolet.
With pit stops approaching, speedy tire changes, fueling, and driver changes could decide the championship outcome. Just as the required 45 minutes had expired for drivers to receive points for the race, a full-course caution came out when Mark Pombo spun on the front straight and stuffed his Mazda into the wall. He was running third in the ST-class.
Teams up and down pit lane readied for pit stops…especially the Stevenson Motorsports and Fall-Line Motorsports crews. With their drivers battling each other not only for track position, but with the championship title in the balance, these pit stops could make or break their championship hopes. Never was sportscar racing more of a team sport than at this moment!
Practically all the GS-class cars pitted, with Brian Ortiz (No. 28 Nissan) staying out, as his co-driver Tim Bell pitted immediately before the caution came out. As Davis came down pit lane, Hindman was inches from the Camaro’s rear bumper—minimizing the advantage the Camaro had to literally one car length. Davis approached his pit box first, and the Stevenson Motorsports crew went to work. Hindman ducked into his pit box moments later. Both crews worked feverishly to change tires, add a full load of fuel, and change drivers. Robin Liddell—now driving the No. 6 Camaro—sprang out of his pit box first, but as Liddell closed in on the Fall-Line pit, the No. 46 BMW launched out and was on it’s pit-lane-speed limiter just in front of Liddell. Fall-Line’s pit stop was about ONE SECOND faster than their competition, which was all that they needed for take the position from the Camaro!
At the restart, John Edwards (now behind the wheel of the No. 46 BMW) faltered, and Liddell passed Edwards for second. Edwards was getting pressured for third position as Robin Liddell passed Brian Ortiz for the lead. Billy Johnson (now driving the No. 158 Mustang BOSS 302R) took third from Edwards. If Liddell keeps two cars between himself and Edwards, Liddell and Davis would win the championship.
On lap 48, Johnson passed Ortiz for second, but a lap later the race’s second full-course caution came out for a crash on the front straight. Most of the field came to pit lane for enough fuel to make it to the end of the race. Liddell regained the lead after his fuel stop, with Johnson second. Matt Plumb (No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche) rejoined the race third, with Jade Buford (now driving the No. 15 Mustang BOSS 302R). John Edwards was fifth.
The green flag waved with 50 minutes remaining in the race. Edwards battled Buford for 4th, and the two swapped positions while Johnson pressured Liddell for the lead. Johnson had just passed Liddell for the lead when Pierre Kleinubing attempted to drive over the left rear corner of Edwards’ BMW. The contact sent Kleinubing into the wall along the back straight, bringing out the race’s third caution flag. The damage to the back of Edwards championship-leading BMW appeared to be merely cosmetic, though it doesn’t take much to knock the toe out of a car with IRS like a BMW M3…
At this point, Hindman (Edwards’ teammate) led the championship by one point at 324-323, with Edwards fourth and Liddell second. (Jade Buford in between as Multimatic Mustangs run first and third. But there were plenty of drivers breathing down their necks, as Matt Plumb (No. 13 Porsche) was in fifth, followed by Mark Wilkins (No. 8 Aston Martin), Bryan Ortiz (No. 28 Nissan), Kyle Marcelli (No. 08 Porsche), David Levine (No. 78 Mustang) and Shelby Blackstock (No. 48 BMW).
Liddell regained the lead on the restart, though Johnson subsequently passed Liddell to take the point later that lap. A few laps later, the race’s final full-course caution was called when the No. 41 Nissan was stuck on the course, and needed a tow out of harm’s way.
Green flag racing returned with just ten minutes remaining. Johnson got a good restart to maintain the lead over Robin Liddell. Matt Plumb pressured John Edwards for 4th after Edwards had a slow race restart.
Meanwhile, Mark Wilkins was battling Liddell for second place when Wilkins dove down the inside of Liddell into the left-hand turn 10A. As the track wound back right for turn 10B, Wilkins squeezed over on Liddell as the two fought for the same piece of racetrack. Wilkins’ Aston Martin’s right door contacted Liddell’s front-left corner, forcing Liddell off-track, and Wilkins spinning. Edwards took advantage of the situation and moved into second place behind Johnson. Liddell continued to fall behind with broken steering.
Johnson thundered under the checkered flag to take the first win for a Mustang BOSS 302R in the 2014 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season for he and co-driver Ian James. John Edwards came home second to claim the drivers’ title for teammate Trent Hindman, the team title for Fall-Line Motorsports, and the manufacturers’ title for BMW. Matt Plumb finished third in the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche with co-driver Brandon Davis. The final step on the podium was a high note for the defending champions, as Rum Bum Racing endured a tough season of blown engines, broken suspensions, and tossed serpentine belts.
Since John Edwards failed to meet the minimum drive time at Kansas Speedway, he finished second in the drivers’ championship standings behind teammate Hindman, and one point ahead of Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis.
With a finish like that, it’s tough to wait until the 2015 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season starts again at Daytona International Speedway on January 23rd. If not for the intense racing action, Mustang fans can also look forward to a new S550-based Mustang race car too! This author can’t wait.