Mike Skinner finished where he left off in yesterday’s practice session at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta by showing his heels to the field in SVRA’s Vintage Race of Champions (VROC) Charity Pro-Am Presented by RACER Magazine.
Not that it was a cakewalk. The former NASCAR star had to work for it in taking on one of the sport’s all-time greats, Al Unser Jr. Unser and his co-driver, Peter Klutt, led most of the race only to be clipped by Skinner with a lap and a half to go in Saturday’s 28-lap race. Both drove Corvettes, Skinner’s a ’67 and Unser Jr.’s a ’69.
Skinner was first across the line to take the A Production class, while IndyCar and sports car ace Max Papis continued his impressive string of SVRA pro-am podium finishes by scoring the B Production win in convincing fashion. Behind Papis were two more legends as Dorsey Schroeder and Geoff Brabham finished second and third in class after dicing nose-to-tail for more than half the 50m timed contest.
Papis and co-driver John Cloud drove a 1970 Boss 302 Mustang, Schroeder handled a 1965 Ford Cobra, and Brabham wheeled a 1969 Corvette.
Unser and Willy T. Ribbs, and their co-drivers, Klutt and Ed Sevadjian respectively, shared the front row and asserted before the race that theirs were the cars to beat.
Klutt led the first four laps with Sevadjian threatening and finally passing the Legendary Motor Car Corvette on lap five. Once in front, Sevadjian extended his advantage until the required driver-change pit stops to let the professionals take over and drive to the finish.
After the exchange, Ribbs charged back into action in the black Duntov Corvette with high expectations. That lasted about half a lap as the engine, which had been laboring at 8500 revs in top gear on the backstretch, broke a valve spring.
Ribbs, who has competed in every SVRA charity pro-am since the first one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway five years ago, endured yet another DNF. He has always run at the front, and has almost always been thwarted by mechanical issues.
Despite their DNF, the Ribbs/Sevadjian pairing claimed the third-place step on the AP podium as there were only three big blocks in the race.
All drivers in both classes earned points toward the three-race VROC series championship, with points awarded according to the number of cars in the race. In AP, Skinner and his co-driver, Alan Sevadjian, scored three points each while the Unser/Klutt combo picked up two and Ribbs/Sevadjian were awarded a single point.
There were 11 BP cars, so winners Papis/Cloud picked up 11 points. At the VIR season finale in September, both professional and amateur champions will be crowned for AP and BP classes.
The post-race podium celebration was classic pandemonium with champagne corks popping as the ever-competitive drivers tried to win a giant spray contest. Almost everyone in the immediate area got a taste of Glenora Wine Cellars Brut Sparkling Wine, as one of SVRA’s newest sponsors fueled the celebration for the first time.
“I really thought Al had us covered until about five laps to go,” Skinner said. “I then realized we were closing and it looked like I could catch him in two laps; but then I got off in the dirt and realized I needed three more laps.”
In the end, Skinner’s determination proved to be more than enough.
“Mike did a fantastic job,” said Unser. “My car was great, and the tires were fine. We just needed the race to be about two laps shorter. He was really eating us up at the end.”
Both Unser and Papis have won previous pro-am races and have appeared on several more SVRA podiums. They — and most of the other drivers in the Road Atlanta field — have said they want to run as many of these VROC charity pro-am races as their schedules allow.
“This is a great way to go racing,” said Papis. “My co-driver (John Cloud) more than held his own. And the Cobra Automotive team that I am pleased to drive for prepares fast cars.
“My first race win in America was here [at Road Atlanta] in 1996. It feels great to win here again.”