A textbook-perfect weekend for the Honda of America Racing Team (HART) resulted in the first victory of 2012 for the team of Honda engineers – with a little “outside” assistance from professional racer Michael Valiante – at last weekend’s Mid-Ohio round of the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
Honda associate Chad Gilsinger qualified HART’s Honda Civic Si on the pole in the Street Tuning class, then teamed with Valiante to prevail in a race-long battle with both the Kinetic/Kia Racing entry of Matt and Mark Pombo and the Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si of Adam Burrows and Andrew Novich.
At the end of two-and-a-half hours of racing around the challenging 2.25-mile Mid-Ohio circuit, Valiante claimed the win by just four-tenths of a second over the Pombos, with Burrows just another tick of the watch back to round out the podium and give Honda a 1-3 finish at the “home” race for both HART and Honda of America Manufacturing.
“It couldn’t happen at a better place,” said Gilsinger. “This is our home track – Mid-Ohio – and we worked really hard to make sure we would get a good result here. I have to admit I don’t think we were planning on the top step (of the podium), but we were hoping for at least a top-five [result], and it couldn’t get any better than this.”
With 37 ST entries in the 62-car starting field, the action was frenetic from start to finish. Jonathan Bomarito took advantage of some car-to-car contact at the start to lead the early laps in his C.J. Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 before Gilsinger regained the lead shortly prior to the single round of scheduled pit stops.
Valiante resumed with the HART Civic Si in third place, but regained the lead on Lap 52 and held off the challenges from both the Honda-mounted Compass360 duo and the Kia Forte of the Pombos for the class victory.
“I really have to give it to these guys,” said Valiante. “It’s not a full-time effort, they’re all volunteers and they’ve been putting in so much personal time. In just a couple of races, we’ve gone from mid-pack to a front-running car, so being [at] the home race here, I’m so happy for myself and the whole team.”