Even though the 2013 Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series championship was all but settled before the final round at Lime Rock Park, the race on September 28 still had plenty of surprises in store. More on that in a minute.
To win the team championship, Rum Bum Racing’s #13 Porsche only needed to take the green flag, while drivers Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi each had to drive 30 minutes. Knowing that, the rest of the teams competing at the northwestern Connecticut racetrack wanted to end the season on a high note.
The 1.5-mile track wasn’t the only thing that was short for the final event: the schedule was also brief. With no test day scheduled, teams only had one practice session on Friday morning to dial in their cars before qualifying that afternoon. The race started Saturday morning.
Jim Norman and Spencer Pumpelly were quickest in practice driving their #38 BGB Motorsports Porsche, followed by Jack Roush Jr. and Billy Johnson in the #61 ROUSH Performance Mustang BOSS 302R, and Al Carter and Hugh Plumb in the Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3.
In qualifying, Trend Hindman became the youngest driver to ever score a pole position: his age being 18 years and seven days! He piloted the #48 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW around Lime Rock Park’s undulating circuit in 57.407 seconds. The young driver commented after securing first spot on the grid for the following day’s race, “For me to be on the pole in only my fifth race is a testament to the work of the Fall-Line team. They make me look good. It’s a bit unreal to be on the pole in only my fifth race, after coming to GRAND-AM after running in open-wheel cars.”
The 18-year old’s mirrors were to be filled with Aston Martins at the start, with the #71 of Tonis Kasemets and the #55 of Jade Buford taking second and third on the grid, respectively.
Saturday morning dawned foggy, but the moisture burned off moments before the cars took the green flag. Hindman and his Fall-Line Motorsports M3 lost the lead to Kasemets in the #71 Aston Martin. Hindman recaptured the lead three laps later, and by lap ten had built up a one-second lead.
Championship leader Nick Longhi in the #13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche sat contently in 8th place, waiting for the race to come to him. Ominously, trackside observers noticed smoke coming from the exhaust pipes of the #13 Rum Bum Porsche, but the pace of the car seemed unaffected.
By lap 21, the 18-year-old Hindman extended the gap between himself and Kasements to 1.3 seconds before Kasements’s Aston Martin started reeling in the young man’s BMW. Eleven laps later, Kasemets overtook Hindman, as Hindman’s pace was obviously slowing. Hindman initially thought the left rear tire’s grip had given up, but it was actually a broken rear shock. With the left rear suspension completely undamped, Hindman lacked the rear grip necessary to power out of the turns.
As the race neared the 30-minute mark, Tonis Kasemets in the #71 Aston Martin led John Edwards’s #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro, by 1.926 seconds. Jade Buford (#55 Aston) held down third ahead of Trent Hindman (#48 BMW), who had fallen back to 4th position. Hindman’s teammate Hugh Plumb (#45 BMW) was fifth. With the required time for each driver to earn points, teams started “fishing for a caution” during which they could bring their cars in for service and a driver change and lose as little time as possible. (Because Lime Rock is only a mile-and-a-half long, it’s easy to go one lap down if pitting during a green flag.)
With no caution flags in sight and the cars running on fumes, the teams prepared to bring their cars in for green-flag pit stops. The first to blink was the #35 Phoenix Performance Racing Mustang, as Dr. Preston Calvert brought his BOSS 302R to the pits. Fuel and co-driver Andrew Aquilante went in, and fresh tires were installed. Over the next few laps, most of the field followed suit and called their drivers to pit lane.
After pit stops, Matt Bell, now driving the #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro, led Charles Espenlaub (#48 BMW), with Michael Marsal third (#71 Aston Martin). Over the following laps, Bell began to extend his lead over Espenlaub. While the rest of the field began to stretch out, two drivers were on the move: Billy Johnson in the #61 Roush Performance Mustang BOSS 302R, and championship leader Matt Plumb (#13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche). Johnson and Plumb picked off positions one by one.
Surprisingly, the race was yet to have its first caution period when Johnson was up to third, and Plumb fourth. Again, most cars in the field needed to pit for a splash of fuel. The #7 of James Davison stayed out for another twenty laps before ducking into the pits for fuel. (Not surprisingly, the #7 Aston Martin was found in post-race inspection to have an oversized fuel tank).
With Davison in the pits, Matt Bell (#9 Camaro) was back in the lead, with Billy Johnson (#61 Mustang) closing the gap and pressuring Bell for the lead. Dramatically, on the last lap, Johnson passed Bell held it to the checkered flag. Matt Plumb came across the line third.
The win for ROUSH Performance’s #61 Mustang BOSS 302 marks the second time drivers Jack Roush Jr. and Billy Johnson visited victory lane this season. Their win at Daytona and Lime Rock were victorious bookends to a frustrating season for the red Mustangs. Matt Bell and John Edwards capped off a strong season for the #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro, as they finished second in both the series finale and the championship standings.
Rum Bum Racing’s third place finish was only icing on the cake for an impressive season in which they only finished outside the top 10 once. Drivers Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi earned three victories and three second-place finishes on their way to claiming the drivers’ championship, the team championship, and the manufacturers’ championship for Porsche.
Lime Rock was also the last race for the Grand-Am series, as next year it is joining forces with the American LeMans Series to form the United SportsCar Racing Series. The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge will again be a supporting act for most of the series’ main events, including Daytona in January, and Sebring in March. 2014 will undoubtedly be a wild ride!