How Not To End Your National Championship Race

In September, CorkSport participated in the SCCA Runoffs, the largest club race event held every year. In 2016, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course hosted the event in Lexington, Ohio. Having only raced there in a simulator, we spent two days testing at the track the weekend before and received coaching from Will Dodd, a local Spec Miata racer who has spent plenty of time getting to know the course. After trying several setup changes along with the awesome BFG rain tires for the first time on our Mazda 3, we felt pretty good about our odds of placing higher for qualifying.

SCCA Runoffs 2016 CorkSport Mazdaspeed
Credit: Melissa K Lepper

The runoffs format is made up of four qualifying days followed by a one-shot, winner-take-all championship race. For the Touring 4 group there were 34 people entered, which made for great racing no matter where you were in the field. The T4 field also shares the qualifying session with the B-Spec class, which adds excitement catching up to them on the track with the higher top speeds of the T4 cars.

SCCA Runoffs Touring Group 4
Credit: Melissa K Lepper

Qualifying session #1

On the out lap, an Rx8 blew a line off his oil cooler and laid down a puddle in turn two (aka the keyhole) and proceeded to drive down the straight before he went off in turn four. This meant heading into four you were staring at a car in the gravel, the fastest spot on the track heading into a heavy brake zone. Not a good place to go off. The session should have been called with the oil down but the stewards let us run around the track, which was a waste of time. The best time I managed was a 1:47.84 — horrible for T4.

Qualifying session #2

The bad part about qualifying poorly in the first session is you are placed in order of speed from all of the days of qualifying. This meant I was sitting in 22nd behind several drivers I knew I could beat, and I would have to get a fast clean lap. After six laps I cleared the other cars and caught up to the B-Spec cars, which made me back off a bit. This was a bummer, since the predictive lap timer in the car showed I was on path to run a low 1:42 time.

The end result from Q2: I was in 18th with a 1:43.107. After the session was over, I was pulled into tech to make sure my car was in compliance with the rules. After 60 minutes of tech fun to make sure my car didn’t have a spool, the fuel was from the track, my ECU was stock, and we were cut free. Lucky for me they didn’t find the nitrous tank hidden in the trunk. (J/k)

Qualifying session #3

I went faster and was consistently in the 1:42s, but everyone else went faster as well. I slid back from 18th to 19th. Boo!

Qualifying session #4

Last chance to make a difference on Thursday. We went over the car setup and made sure we were in the best shape for starting higher in the field. In the end it didn’t make a difference. I got caught in traffic and struggled with the car. I was going to be starting 19th. There was one bright spot though: The top speed I hit was one of the highest at 120.8 mph going into turn four, which means I was exiting the keyhole carrying more speed.

Race Day

After getting new brakes installed on the car and running a hardship lap to make sure everything was good, we were set to race. Will noted that being on the inside at the start was a good place to pick up after going through Madness (corner five) and into six due to the track line and the width of the track. Being in 19th, I was on the inside to start.

SCCA Runoff Corner Five "Madness"
Credit: Melissa K Lepper

The start went well; I got the jump on a few Rx8s and moved up a few spots heading into four with a Pontiac Solstice in tow behind me. So far so good. I got though turn nine and the Pontiac was able to carry a bit more speed than me, so he went around the outside — a pretty hairy move but I saw him and left him space so he didn’t get run off the track. We proceeded to have a drag race when it happened. We made contact, and his right rear tire hit the side of my car at the driver’s door. We got wheel-on-wheel contact that spun him across my front and took his tire bead off. He went spinning off the track towards the wall.

I had hit the brakes so I wouldn’t punch his car in the door with the front of the Mazda 3. My car was pulling hard to the left; his hit wheel had punctured my left front. In a live track with a race going on, stopping is not an option. So in an effort to not cross the track to get to pit lane, I opted to pull into the middle of the track at turn 12 and park behind the wall to wait out the race.

I had my phone in my car, which prompted me to post this video while I watched the finish.

The other driver was able to pull into pit late. I was happy to see he did not hit the wall. I was able to talk to another racer I know who caught our contact on his camera. He was willing to share it with me.

This wasn’t the way any racer likes their week to end but it is racing. You never know what is going to happen out there on the track.


Derrick Ambrose, CorkSport, Mazda

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