Above: Robeson Clay Russell (31) battles with five-time SCCA SRF national champion Mike Miserendino
With the 2019 SCCA U.S. Majors Tour already underway, we wanted to take a look back at one of the most exciting races from last year’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs. More specifically, the Spec Racer Ford Gen 3 (SRF3) race. You can watch the race coverage here, or read on for the race report that appeared in the December 2018 issue of SportsCar magazine, SCCA’s official member magazine…
Going into the Oct. 19-21, 2018, SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Sonoma Raceway, the conventional wisdom was that five-time Spec Racer Ford SCCA national champion Mike Miserendino was close to unbeatable in his MBI Racing SRF3. He had dominated the 2018 Sonoma U.S. Majors Tour, running 0.379sec faster than his teammate T.J. Acker. Other West Coast contenders, like four-time SCCA national champion John Black and 2016 SRF champion Todd Harris, were even farther back.
But when it came to qualifying at the Runoffs, Robeson Clay Russell put his Angry Llama/SVN/Comprent SRF3 on the pole position by a hair’s breadth margin of 0.002sec. Miserendino remained on the outside of the front row, with Black and Acker in the second row. Bobby Sak and Perry Richardson made up the third row.
At the green flag, the field went up into Turn 1 three and four abreast. Miserendino grabbed the lead with Russell just behind, then Acker and Black. As expected, Miserendino and Russell immediately began to pull away, and Black got around Acker in Turn 11 of the first lap.
In the second lap, Russell made a successful pass for the lead on the inside of Turn 1, allowing Black and Acker to catch up to Miserendino. With the top four now running together, Miserendino made a bold pass to retake the lead in Turn 4 of the third lap.
In the fifth lap, Black surprised almost everyone with a spectacular solo spin in Turn 3. The only people not surprised were his fellow drivers, who commented that oil on the track had made the surface treacherous.
“It was crazy,” Sak explained after the race. “It had to be gear oil or something.”
With Black out of contention, Sak moved up into third position with Rettich close behind in fourth and Acker taking up fifth. While the battle for third was intense, Miserendino and Russell were checking out, running nose-to-tail, and placing a three-second gap between themselves and third place. Russell got around Miserendino in the seventh turn of the seventh lap but couldn’t shake him.
By the halfway mark, the leaders began to run into lap traffic. On the 12th lap, Miserendino made another move, running side-by-side with Russell up to Turn 7 and retaking the lead. Russell got back around at the start line on the next lap. The battle for third continued to be challenging as Sak, Rettich, and Acker all ran close through the second half of the race.
In the closing laps, Miserendino looked for any way around Russell, briefly leading again out of Turn 11 on the 17th lap, but Russell came back around in Turn 12. Rettich continued to press Sak for the third spot on the podium. Then on the last lap, Miserendino made probing attempts in every corner, even locking up his brakes in a last-ditch move in Turn 11 – but it wasn’t going to happen. Russell took the checker with a 0.931sec margin of victory over Miserendino, with Sak another 7sec back in third. Acker finished fourth, and Rettich in fifth place.
“I was probably the most nervous I’d ever been before a race,” Russell explains of his run from the pole. “This was my first time one-on-one with Mike [Miserendino]. I’ve raced in the same race as him before, but I was farther back in the pack, so I never really had to deal with him.”
“I think I was the only one who thought there was going to be competition,” Miserendino admits. “Clay tore it up this year and I had a great year, too. People always rise to the occasion at the Runoffs. Clay drove an incredible race, and I’m happy for him.”
For his run to third in his Elite Autosport/The Grotto/Pita Pit SRF3, Sak notes his race was rough. “It seemed like the leaders weren’t getting farther ahead, and then every time I would think I was reeling them in a tiny bit, I’d look in my mirror and Scott would be all over me and I’d make a little mistake. It was a really tough battle with Scott and T.J.”