Michael Lewis opened the 55th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Sonoma Raceway on Friday morning with his ninth career championship, and sixth in the GT-1 class.
Preston Calvert closed the gap to 2.254 seconds at the end of the 20-lap race with a late charge to finish second. Michele Abbate finished on the podium in her Runoffs debut.
Lewis’ ninth title was boosted by a strong early run in his No. 12 Goodyear Jaguar XKR, with Lewis jumping to a 14-second lead by lap four. From there, the winner of the Tire Rack Pole Award managed his gap to the finish.
The event-opening win means that only four drivers have captured more titles than Lewis.
“It’s gratifying,” Lewis said of his title, his first since Daytona in 2015. “The last couple of years we’ve been so close and haven’t quite got it done. We’ve been stuck on eight for a while.”
Lewis needed all of that early lead to bring home the title.
“I probably took too much out of the car the first few laps, because right around lap eight it started to show the effects,” Lewis admitted. “At that point and time, I just started listening to the gap and was counting it down. There came a time with six or seven laps to go where Preston got held up, otherwise he was going to be there at the end. I was getting everything it had to give, it just didn’t have much left.”
The only question to settle at the end was a fight between the thundering but fragile power of the traditional tube frame GT-1 cars like Lewis’ Jaguar, and the sleek but more reliable No. 77 Calvert Dynamics/Phoenix Porsche GT3 Cup of Calvert.
Michael Fine’s No. 66 AGS Chevrolet Camaro fell out in just the second corner, while Kenneth Davis (No. 64 Davis Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) and David Fershtand (No. 05 Fershtand Race Prepared Chevrolet Corvette) both fell out mid-race with mechanical issues – all while in podium positions.
“My car is somewhere between three and four hundred horsepower down on the traditional GT-1 cars, so it depends on handling and braking,” Calvert said. “Michael did a wonderful job taking out a big lead when his tires were good, there was no way I could keep up with him. I had to hope that the ‘little engine that could,’ turtle approach would reel him in and it started to work a little bit. The race wasn’t quite long enough. That’s the nature of sprint racing.”
Abbate’s No. 30 Cybersight/Craig Ruadman Racing/GRR Chevrolet Monte Carlo was one of those traditional GT-1 machines, and she brought it to the finish in third at her first Runoffs.
The strong finish came after troubles in qualifying, where the car only ran for two laps on Tuesday, and was parked for the rest of the week.
The podium finish also earned Abbate the Sunoco Hard Charger Award after starting sixth.
“This is pretty unreal,” Abbate said. “I kind of dreamed to see the podium, but I really just dreamed to see the checkered flag. That was the big accomplishment. To go out and only do one lap for qualifying, it was killing me to see those guys out there with more track time. I’m still kind of absorbing it all.”
Kenneth Davis and Rob Davis completed the top five in GT-1.
The 55th SCCA National Championship Runoffs crowns Sports Car Club of America’s Road Racing National Champions this year at Sonoma Raceway in California Friday, Oct. 19 through Sunday, Oct 21.
Live, online video coverage of Runoffs races, presented by Mazda, is available throughout the three days of competition at SCCA.com/live. An audio race call, supplied by the Super Tour Radio broadcast team, is also available, as well as live timing and scoring for each National Championship race.
Provisional results for Friday’s GT-1 race at the 55th SCCA National Championship Runoffs from Sonoma Raceway, with finish position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car and laps completed.
1, (1), Michael Lewis, Poway, CA, Jaguar XKR, 20.
2, (2), Preston Calvert, Potomac, MD, Porsche 991.2 GT3 Cup, 20.
3, (6), Michele Abbate, Henderson, NV, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 19.
4, (7), Rob Davis, Sonora, CA, Pontiac Trans-Am, 19.
5, (8), Don Noe, Arlington, TX, Ford Mustang, 14.
6, (4), Kenneth Davis, Escondido, CA, Chevrolet Corvette, 11.
7, (5), David Fershtand, Fort Worth, TX, Chevrolet Corvette, 10.
8, (3), Michael Fine, West Sacramento, CA, Chevrolet Camaro, 0.
Length of Race: 50 Miles
Overall Time of Race: 33:06.415 (91.340 mph)
Margin of Victory: 2.254 seconds
Fastest Race Lap: #12 Lewis, 1:37.516 (93.031 mph)
Lap Leaders: #12 laps 1-20
Sunoco Hard Charger: #30 Michell Abbate