HPD Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Honda Drivers Continue 2010 SCCA Season Winning Streak

March 20-21, 2010

Team Honda Research and Team Honda Research-West continued their pursuit of 2010 SCCA national championship and SoPac divisional titles last weekend with four more victories at the Gathering of Champions Double National event held at Thunderhill Park in Willows, California.

Sage Marie claimed the T3 class checkered flag in each of the two races in his Honda Racing/HPD BFGoodrich Honda S2000, earning qualifying and race track records in the process. Lee Niffenegger finished the weekend with two SSB class wins in his Honda Racing/HPD BFGoodrich Honda Civic Si and also set a new qualifying lap record. Matthew Staal piloted his SSB class Honda Racing/HPD BFGoodrich Honda Civic Si to a third place finish on the Saturday race and a second place finish on Sunday in heated battles with Oregon-based Civic Si driver, Eddie Nakato. Nakato finished second and then third in each of the races, respectively, and posted SSB track record on Sunday.

Although fast all weekend, an exhaust sound issue threatened to disqualify Marie every session. With a great deal of help from Civic Si driver Eddie Nakato, he was able to fashion a make-shift exhaust silencer from scrap sheet metal. Although it had to be rebuilt for each time on track, it was enough to reduce the S2000’s sound output below the 103db sound limit, allowing Marie to qualify and pole and take victory both days.

Staal was the fast man in SSB qualifying on Saturday, setting an SSB qualifying record, but a setup issue pushed him to third in the race behind Niffenegger and Nakato as his Civic’s balance went away. Niffenegger was able to overcome traffic congestion after the start to work his way past his teammate for the win.

Not to be outdone, Niffenegger reclaimed the SSB qualifying record on Sunday, putting his Civic Si on pole. Nakato qualified second and Staal started third. With his setup issue resolved, Staal was able pass and hold off constant challenges from Nakato and take home second, while Niffenegger lead from flag to flag.

“A lot of credit for another great result once again has to go to the BFGoodrich tires,” said Marie. “I drove on the same set all weekend, and they just seemed to get faster every time on track.” “Many thanks to the guys at Team Honda Research-West who helped us change a clutch and a differential after the last race.”

The trio of Marie, Staal and Niffenegger head to their next race, a double national, at Buttonwillow Raceway on April 24 & 25.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RealTime Acuras Sweep St. Pete (x2)

Cunningham, Davis, Esayian Double Up

29 March 2010—St. Petersburg, Florida

The RealTime Racing Acura TSXs claimed the top three spots in their GTS category debut in the SCCA World Challenge season opener at the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday morning, they delivered the exact same result in Round 2 of the 12-event 2010 season.

Coming into the weekend, each of the World Challenge teams faced a difficult mission: Two practice sessions and qualifying on Friday, preceding races on each of the next two days—all within the confines of the concrete-lined streets, with two other classes of production-based sports cars competing at the same time! With few exceptions, everyone made it through in one piece.

Qualifying couldn’t have gone any better for the two-car Acura Motorsports team. Peter Cunningham, in the No. 43 TSX, scored his 33rd World Challenge career pole position, with Nick Esayian, in the matching No. 34, close behind in second.


How does a two-car team manager to take all three podium positions, you ask? Here’s the story: Hours before the first race was ready to start, Esayian was having lunch with friend and former teammate Brandon Davis in town. Brandon was lamenting the fact that he was in Florida and had nothing to drive. Nick says, “Why don’t you drive our spare TSX? It’s just sitting there in the paddock ready to go…”

The next thing you know, the expert RealTime crew was commissioned to prep the third TSX for competition. Following tech inspection and the addition of a few new decals, the team added the No. 1-plated (as defending World Challenge GT champion, Brandon earned that honor) Acura to the tail end of the 31-car field. The band was getting back together.

As the start lights were extinguished to begin Round 1, three classes of cars drag-raced down the temporarily inactive airport runway and into the tight Turn 1. Miraculously, only two (GT) cars were eliminated in the melee that followed, and the race unfolded almost without further incident.

Cunningham led from the start and took the win without drama, but in his rearview mirror, a battle for second was unfolding. Esayian fell to third during the race to the first turn, but pushed the third-quickest qualifying Honda lap after lap before sneaking by on Lap 6. Meanwhile, Davis was re-learning the tricky 14-turn, 1.8-mile labyrinth, cleanly picking his way through the field. As the checkers flew, the GTS running order was Cunningham, Davis and Esayian; RealTime Acura’s sixth-ever podium sweep!


The RTR boys were feeling pretty good about the first race’s results, but they knew they had only a precious 16 hours before it would be time to do it all over again. And the threat of thunderstorms was ramping up, which wasn’t the kind of thing anyone would look forward to in the confines of a street circuit.

“The team was feeling really confident about our chances for a similar result on Sunday morning, but we knew that anything could happen,” noted Cunningham. “I’m happy that the rains didn’t come until an hour after the race, and other than that, the two races couldn’t have been any more different from one another.”

If Saturday’s victory was never in doubt for Cunningham, Davis was certainly determined to make a point on Sunday. From the same dead-last starting spot, the former Rookie of the Year for RTR came rocketing through the field, setting the race’s fastest lap in the process. After getting by then-second place Esayian on a Lap 11 restart, he set his sights on his former boss.

As the laps wound toward the finish of what turned out to be a timed 50-minute race, Davis had the heat set on ‘high.’ Fortunately for Cunningham, the fast GT traffic continually muted the attack. Which is not to say that Cunningham got all the breaks, but the ebb and flow of traffic allowed Cunningham to secure his 34th World Challenge race win.

Once Esayian was bumped to third, he wisely bided his time in case of an additional full-course caution and crossed the stripe in third for the second consecutive day. So for Day Two, different race—same result, and RealTime’s record-seventh sweep of a World Challenge rostrum!

On the strength of their duplicate finishes, Cunningham and Esayian sit first and second in the GTS drivers’ points. It’s still early days in the battle for the 2010 title, but the two Acura drivers have to be pleased with their strong start to the year. And nary a scratch on either car!

With this tough weekend in the books, the World Challenge circus will reconvene in SoCal’s Long Beach, North America’s oldest and most renowned street circuit, on April 17-18. With a new Corvette and three supercharged Lotus Exiges added to the GTS-class entry list, the Acuras will surely be put to the test.

This weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg World Challenge doubleheader will air on Versus HD on Sunday, April 18 at 2 p.m. EDT.

RealTime Racing is sponsored by Acura Motorsports, Acura Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles, Red Line Oil, Eibach Springs, Sparco, Hawk Performance, Brembo, A-SPEC, BOSCH, Total Auto Body, and PACT.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paddock Report: Brazil 2010

- Dan Layton

As much as I was looking forward to getting back to Brazil for the first time since 2000, I also knew that an IZOD IndyCar Series race in Sao Paulo was likely to be an entirely different event from the CART “roval” races in Rio de Janeiro.

Yep – starting with the three hours-plus we were stuck in infamous Sao Paulo traffic while traveling from the airport to Honda Brazil‘s downtown HQ. Stop. Start. Repeat. Watch in awe as motorcycle couriers weave their way through said traffic with millimeters (hey, we’re in Brazil, it’s metric, baby) to spare on either side. I wonder if Brazil has universal health insurance?

Once we got to the circuit, it was time to have a look around. Walking the track, two things were apparent right away: it was FAST, and the loooooooong back straight was BUMPY. Actually, not so much bumpy as wavy – and that’s an important difference. Rather than the sharp dips and rises you normally see on a street circuit (see: Toronto) the asphalt here had a gentler, up-and-down motion, like you might experience bobbing on a lake. No doubt about it, the damper guys were going to have a busy weekend.

Of course, what I totally missed was how slick the concrete section at start/finish and through the “sambadrome” area would be. I thought the smooth concrete would just “rubber up” as more cars made laps on track. Guess I wasn’t the only one who got that one wrong. In a lot of ways, the layout reminded me of Montreal – long straights punctuated by a couple of high-speed chicanes and a couple of hairpins.

One nice touch: the hairpin at the end of the long back straight was very wide, leading into the sambadrome. It proved to be a great place for passing (and even re-passing).

I should probably explain the “sambadrome”, which is basically a viewing area for the city’s annual Carnival parades and samba-band contests. In Brazil, they take what we call “Mardi Gras” seriously. I mean, VERY seriously. The whole freakin’ country basically shuts down the week before Lent begins. There are multiple, judged parades with floats, bands and the Brazilian kick-dancing art known as “capoeira”. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of “samba schools” whose sole purpose is to prepare for each year’s Carnival festivities. Like I said, it’s a big deal down here.

The sambadrome – and I’m told all the major cities have one – is where these parades and contests are held each year. They feature permanent, concrete grandstands, VIP suites, reviewing stands, etc. For those of you in L.A., think “Rose Parade on Steroids”.

The track, then, incorporates the sambadrome as the start/finish straight, and then encircles a convention/meeting center area, which included a Holiday Inn (VERY convenient for those of us staying there), banquet facilities, meeting rooms, an auditorium (used for press conferences), and a large exhibition hall that was pressed into service as the paddock/garage area for the weekend.

The weekend kicked off with a Thursday afternoon press conference featuring all the Brazilian drivers, the mayor and other Sao Paulo dignitaries. Obviously, it drew a large media crowd with at least 100 people in attendance, including more than a dozen TV outlets/film crews. And that number would only grow as the weekend progressed. There were probably 100 or so legitimate reporters on site by race day, and perhaps another 100 photographers/videographers. It was by far the largest press turnout I’ve seen outside of the Indy 500.

A couple of differences were noticeable right away. The Brazilians, well-schooled in Formula One, Formula Three, etc., refer to our series as “Formula Indy”, rather than IndyCars. No problemo.

The fuel also smelled a bit different, truly 100 percent, sugarcane-based ethanol. In the U.S., the fuel is denatured with two percent gasoline for legal reasons. In Brazil, though, they don't have that two percent requirement, so the fuel was actually 100 percent ethanol (and drinkable – if you’re REALLY desperate….). There also is a dye added to the fuel to give it a red tint.

And because the long back straight was also a major Sao Paulo thoroughfare, and not closed down until after rush hour Friday night, this would be a two-day event. From the start of the opening practice, it was apparent that the sambadrome – rather than the bumpy backstretch – would be the center of attention.

Throughout practice, drivers were spinning their tires all the way up through the gears, keeping their foot in it, and fighting the car all the way through the concrete section. They looked like top-fuel drag cars, with the tires standing up and shaking while the rear of the car slid and shook. Cool to watch, but not at all popular among the drivers – or the mechanics at Conquest, Dreyer & Reinbold, KV and Penske after Mario Romancini, Ana Beatriz, Mario Moraes and Helio Castroneves all managed to “drop it” and find the fence.

In the end, race officials decided to postpone qualifying and diamond-grind the concrete overnight to give it some grip. In lieu of qualifying, we ran a third practice session. Will Power ended up quickest on the day (a harbinger for Sunday’s race), followed by local favorite Tony Kanaan and his new AA (hmmm, not sure THAT abbreviation is gonna work …) teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. Justin Wilson continued to impress with DRR in fourth, with defending series champ Dario Franchitti rounding out the top five on Saturday’s speed list.

The overnight track grinding worked a treat, although despite repeated hose-downs, the surface was still very dusty right up through the start of the race. Despite the severe dust, especially early, the track is vastly improved from Saturday. Going through the sambadrome in the pre-qualifying practice, the cars were staying straight and behaving in a much more acceptable manner.

As the dust settled and visibility improved, so did the lap times. In just a few minutes, 10 drivers were in the 1:30s, and at the end, Ryan Hunter-Reay was at 1:28.5 - almost three seconds better than his time in the third practice on Saturday. Even Milka Duno, who has struggled here, had picked up four seconds.

In the (now usual) exciting knockout qualifying, Franchitti once again proved dominant on a street circuit to take the pole. The pleasant surprises came from Alex Tagliani in second as he debuted with his FAZZT team, and Wilson in P3, although this is rapidly becoming NOT a surprise. Hunter-Reay, Penske’s Power and Kanaan rounded out the “Fast Six.”

I understand that the race broadcast was a bit of a train wreck (that’s the risk you take when you leave the booth announcers and most of the pit road crew at home and try to “call” the race off a 10” monitor….), but in person, it was one of the best street races I’ve ever seen – and I’ve watched a lot of them over the years.

It was the mid-race rain shower and the resulting restart on a damp-but-drying track that made the race – along with a course design that promoted passing.

The first corner craziness began when Takuma Sato made a great start, passing at least one full row of cars on the run up to Turn 1, but then arriving hot and late on the brakes (probably his first time braking hard with a full fuel load), and sliding into Scott Dixon. That started a chain reaction in TWO directions, as Dixon hit Castroneves in front of HIM, and cars behind Sato and Dixon started piling into one another, culminating in Moraes ending a perfectly miserable home race weekend by sliding into, over, and finally atop Marco Andretti.

Of course those two already have a history, dating to Indy last year, and it is not a pleasant one. As Robin Miller likes to say, “hate is good” in racing.

Other highlights from the Sao Paulo Indy 300:

- Rookie Simona De Silvestro has already marked herself as One To Watch. But anyone following Formula Atlantic these last two years could tell you she was quick and fearless. HVM’s Mike Cannon used clever strategy (pitting her at the end of the first caution so that she gained a ton of positions when nearly everyone else made their first stop), and she held onto her lead until the rains came, and she eventually dinged a LR corner. Still, it was a great debut and I think she’s a keeper.

- The fighting for the lead between Briscoe, Hunter-Reay and Power was worth the price of admission alone. But just behind them was a equally exciting fight that included Rafa Matos, Vitor Meira, Dan Wheldon, Dixon, Mike Conway and Franchitti. When Vitor finally took third at the checker, you could follow his progress around the track via the cheers of the locals. By Monday, the local media was calling Meira “the Brazilian Hero of the Sao Paulo 300”. This could be huge for his career.

- The Ganassi duo of Franchitti and Dixon dominated the early going, and one of them SHOULD have won the race – despite Dixon being caught up in the first-lap skirmish. But the TCGR braintrust inexplicably kept both cars out on rain tires for several laps too long before finally changing to slicks. Took them from 1-2 back to 6-7. Penske did the same to Castroneves, but at least they “split” their strategy, with Power and Briscoe changing tires early.

- Tagliani and the entire FAZZT team made a very impressive debut, with Tags running in the thick of the lead group until Wheldon misjudged his braking, slamming Tagliani who then punted Kanaan. The victims were done then and there, while the “perp” went on to finish fifth – something the Panther team REALLY needed, though.

In general, it was an exciting opening race and a good debut for the Sao Paulo event. Circuit chief Tony Cotman and the IRL did the right things to fix the track, and they received excellent cooperation from the promoter, the mayor and other city/state officials. Word is that the backstretch will be completely repaved before next year’s race. They put on only a top coat of asphalt this year since they were short on time. A full repave should smooth out the worst of the back straight “waves’ but, trust me, this circuit will always have character a-plenty…

Attendance was reported at 46,000, including 38,000 grandstand attendees and 8,000 suite/VIP guests – among them the mayor of Indianapolis, who was in Sao Paulo as part of a trade mission.

Now we’re off to St. Petersburg and the Honda Grand Prix, which is always a great event. So far, the IZOD IndyCar Series is off to a great start for 2010.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Paddock Report: 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Preview

- Dan Layton

Hello again, and welcome to the start of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season with this weekend’s Sao Paulo Indy 300. A total of 24 drivers and teams are making the trek south to Brazil’s largest city, a slight bump from the 22 that started last year, and that’s a very encouraging sign in light of the economy we’ve dealt with over the last couple of years.

The only pre-season Open Test took place two weeks ago at the gorgeous Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and, for the most part, it was a case of “the usual suspects” at the front of the field. The Penske trio of Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe were at the top, followed by Dixon for Ganassi.

But after that came the surprises: Justin Wilson leading a vastly improved Dreyer & Reinbold team in fifth, with DRR returnee Mike Conway in seventh. And between the two was F-1 refugee Takuma Sato in sixth, in his public debut with KV Racing.

Andretti (with Marco), Newman Haas Lanigan (now featuring Hideki Mutoh) and even Conquest (!) with Indy Lights grad Mario Romancini all posted top-10 speeds at Barber, so there are plenty of candidates for a surprise win … or two … or three, this year, if either of the “Big Dog” teams – Penske & Ganassi – stumble on any given race weekend.

The Versus guys will be back, broadcasting the majority of the races this season. Hopefully, the Comcast/DirecTV dispute will be settled shortly, and we see a bump up in the ratings this year. The Versus broadcast quality has been excellent and the team obviously cares hugely about IndyCar, so one of my biggest wishes going into this season is for them to start receiving some reward for their efforts.

What to Watch for in Brazil

1, The Boys from Brazil – There are no fewer than six Brazilians in the Sao Paulo field, including two making their IndyCar debuts: Romancini for Conquest and Bia Figueiredo making a one-off start with Dreyer & Reinbold. Some of you may know her better as “Ana Beatriz”, the “Americanized” name she used in Indy Lights in 2008-09, but she’s gone back to her legal name for her home race (Note: Late Thursday came the addition of a seventh Brazilian driver, Mario Moraes, who will return to KV Racing).

2. The Circuit – In the online simulations, it looks to be challenging, a bit unforgiving, and very quick. Given the short construction schedule, I expect work there to be ongoing right up to the green flag …

3. The Weather – Right now, rain is a definite possibility for Sunday. It shouldn’t be too hot, forecast highs are in the mid-80s. But a sudden shower on a new circuit could completely upset the formbook and make things … interesting.

4. IZOD’s Presence – The new series sponsors are promising to promote, promote, promote, and so far they are living up to their word. I’ve seen ads during the NFL playoffs, on non-sports channels such as “E” and FOX. They’re making plans to take a huge “product display” on the road in major retail markets. And there’ll be more interesting things coming down the line. So far, so good.

So enjoy the weekend, and we’ll touch base again before Round 2, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Brazil Entry List:

No Driver (Nationality) Team Notes
2 Raphael Matos [BRA] Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Top ’09 rookie returns, Gil de Ferran joins
3 Helio Castroneves [BRA] Team Penske Defending Indy 500 champion
4 Dan Wheldon [GBR] Panther Racing ’05 champ back for a 2nd year with Panther
5 Takuma Sato-R [JPN] KV Racing Technology Rookie was very impressive in testing
6 Ryan Briscoe [AUS] Team Penske Pre-season title favorite
7 Danica Patrick [USA] Andretti Autosport No more NASCAR until mid-summer
8 E.J. Viso [VEN] KV Racing Technology Wants to improve on disappointing ‘09
9 Scott Dixon [NZL] Target Chip Ganassi Rcg Two-time series champion, ’03 & ‘08
10 Dario Franchitti [GBR] Target Chip Ganassi Rcg Another two time – and defending -- champ
11 Tony Kanaan [BRA] Andretti Autosport ’04 champ back for his 8th season
12 Will Power [AUS] Penske Racing Much expected in first full year with Penske
14 Vitor Meira [BRA] A.J. Foyt Racing Returning from back injury sustained at Indy
18 Milka Duno [VEN] Dale Coyne Racing Her first full year, but not much expected
19 Alex Lloyd [GBR] Dale Coyne Racing Not yet confirmed, would be first full year
22 Justin Wilson [GBR] Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Only non-Penske/Ganassi driver to win in ‘09
23 Bia Figueiredo-R [BRA] Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Raced as “Ana Beatriz” in Indy Lights
24 Mike Conway [GBR] Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Fast but inconsistent in ‘09
26 Marco Andretti [USA] Andretti Autosport Looking to rebound after two poor seasons
32 Mario Moraes [BRA] KV Racing Returns for another campaign
34 Mario Romancini-R [BRA] Conquest Racing Indy Lights graduate has been quick so far
37 Ryan Hunter-Reay [USA] Andretti Autosport Comes to Andretti from A.J. Foyt Racing
77 Alex Tagliani [CDN] Fazzt Racing Veteran driver with new Canadian team
78 Simona DeSilvestro-R[SWS] HVM Racing Another fast rookie, this one from Atlantics
06 Hideki Mutoh [JPN] Newmn Haas Lanigan Team down to one car, but quick in testing


Monday, March 8, 2010

Little Trouble in Big Willow

Team Honda Research Drivers Take Convincing Victories in the Touring 3 and Showroom Stock B Classes at Big Willow

Sage Marie leads his Team Honda Research teammates through Turn 4 in the early stages of the race

Team Honda Research (THR) drivers Sage Marie, Lee Niffenegger and Matt Staal drove brilliantly to collect maximum points for the 2010 national championship run-offs during the February 28th Sports Car Club of America National event at Willow Springs International Raceway. Marie won the Touring 3 (T3) class, while Niffenegger and Staal swept the Showroom Stock B (SSB) class with a 1-2 finish.

Matt Staal and Lee Niffenegger hustling their Honda Civic Si Coupes to second- and third- place qualifying efforts in Showroom Stock B

The race at Willow Springs, a.k.a. Big Willow, marked the second consecutive high-speed race for the Team Honda Research (THR) drivers and their vehicles. Although the roval (road course + oval = roval) at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and the big track at Willow Springs are both fast, their layouts are completely different. At Fontana, speeds of 130 miles per hour or more are reached as the cars storm down the back straightaway. While speeds at Big Willow are well over 100 mph, the shorter course length and flowing nature of the track give drivers little time to rest. Niffenegger calls it a "fun 'old-school' track" that he considers one of the bravest in North America, with Mosport in Canada being the other.

Inclement weather presented the Team Honda Research drivers with their first challenge of the weekend. The precipitation necessitated a switch to rain tires for the first practice session of the weekend. Two-thirds of the way through practice, Marie experienced trouble with the throttle body of his #4 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Tires Honda S2000. This would sideline Marie and his S2K for the rest of the day. It also meant he wasn't able to qualify, and would have to start from the rear of the field for the race. Marie and Staal would later trek down to Torrance to pick up a borrowed throttle body from Hondata’s Doug MacMillan, then back to the track in Rosamond to perform the (quick) repair on Saturday evening.

Seen here in qualifying mode, Niffenegger attacks the second part of Turn 4, home of the Budweiser Balcony

Track conditions were better for qualifying as the rain waited until the end of the session to return. Staal qualified his #53 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Tires Honda Civic Si Coupe second and Niffenegger placed his #42 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Tires Honda Civic Si Coupe third. Tom Brecht grabbed the pole in Showroom Stock B with his supercharged #25 R53 MINI Cooper S. Unlike in the race at Fontana, THR drivers would not be starting from the pole positions in their classes in Sunday's race.

Civic Si vs. Cooper S - It would only be a handful of laps before the victor would be decided

Clear, sunny skies presented themselves for the morning warm-up and the race. With the previous day's troubles (rain and a bad throttle body) behind them, the Team Honda Research drivers were poised to drive their way to the tops of their classes. The Showroom Stock B contenders would begin the race in the middle of the pack, while Marie would have to carve his way through many slower vehicles to return to the front of the field.
Staal spent the early laps of the SSB race looking for a way around Brecht's MINI. After a few more laps, Niffenegger caught and passed Staal and set after the MINI. In fewer than two laps, Niffenegger took the SSB class lead and never looked back.

Lee Niffenegger barrels down the hill from Turn 4 to Turn 5 with the class lead comfortably in-hand
In the initial stages of his race, Marie safely carved his #4 Honda S2000 through slower traffic consisting of cars in less powerful classes. His primary competition for the weekend was the Mazda RX-8s driven by Lynne Griffiths and Michael Sullivan. Marie's best lap of 1:36.461 was significantly faster than the 1:37.777 and 1:39.834 Griffiths and Sullivan could muster, respectively. (For reference, Niffenegger clicked off a 1:37.641 and Staal turned a 1:38.078 in their Honda Civic Si Coupes.) With the speed he had, Marie made it appear easy to reel in and pass his Touring 3 division competitors. He was also unaffected by the spins of third-place finisher Steve Schmidt and overall race winner Ryan Cashin in their C5 Chevrolet Corvettes.

Marie approaches Turn 5 with the class win well in- hand

Back in SSB, the highlight of the second half of the race was Staal's pass of Brecht's MINI for second place, and his defense of the position during the run to the checkered flag. Niffenegger observed that the MINI couldn't keep a consistent pace and fell off as the race progressed. When the race-leading Touring 1 (T1) class Corvettes came to lap the SSB field, Staal keenly realized he could have a great opportunity to get a big run on the MINI as Brecht would have to acknowledge the blue flag and let the faster traffic pass him. Utilizing one of the Corvettes like a fullback, Staal followed a lead block to catch and get around Brecht's Cooper S.

Because of the layout of the track, the high-speed right turns taxed the left side tires. "There was one lap when things got hairy for me in Turn Nine," Staal shared after the race. "It felt like I ran over some of the marbles." Staal successfully kept the MINI behind him for the remainder of the race to secure the SSB 1-2 sweep for THR.

Staal accelerates his #53 Honda Civic Si Coupe out of Turn 4 with Brecht's MINI Cooper S trying to keep pace
Next up for the Team Honda Research drivers is another fast track, the long straights and fast turns of Thunderhill Raceway on March 13-14. Staal considers it one of his favorite tracks and should have a strong showing there. Marie and Niffenegger are also positioned to do well and keep their winning streaks intact.

For the complete gallery of photos from the race weekend, please visit here.

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