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Road Atlanta National, June 8,9, 2002

Although there was nobody QUITE as famous as P.L Newman in attendance, there was still a pretty good field of GT-1 drivers on hand for the 2002 edition of the June National at Road Atlanta. TransAm series driver Johnny Miller was there in Joe Hooker’s Pontiac to do some development work on the Turn One GTA "concept" car and get some seat time prior to the Pro event scheduled for October, SEDIV points leader Phil Simms was back with the ex-TWC Corvette to attempt to break yet another track record, plus Bob Humphries, John Finger, Chuck Piazza and former GT-4 National Champion Richard Grant were all there in various iterations of Riley/Scott chassis. Adding Mike Green’s ASA T-Bird and the Panoz GTS’s of Larry Huang, Brad Ward and David Barr to the mix gave the B.K. Racing Corvette a pretty challenging group of GT-1 drivers and cars to play with. The weather forecast called for dry, warm weather all weekend, so we were really looking forward to the action.

We ran the test day on Friday and wore out one set of front tires, so after bedding in a new set of brake pads in the 15-minute practice session on Saturday morning we went out just before lunch for the first 15-minute qualifying session. With 31 cars (GT-1, GT-2, GT-3, AS, T-1 & T-2) on the 2.54 mile course, getting a clean track was of utmost importance. I got lucky with traffic and turned a 1:31.486 on my third hot lap, so I decided to save the tires and come on in (by way of comparison, the GT-1 track record is (was) a 1:28.448 set by Claudio Burtin back in June of ’98). The track was hotter and slower in the second 15-minute session in the afternoon, so we didn’t bother going out and those that did were slower than in the morning. The final GT-1 grid:

 

CP

OA

Car #

Name

Car

Best Lap

1

1

24

Phil Simms

Corvette

1.27.280

2

2

14

John Finger

Mustang

1.30.180

3

3

4

Bob Humphries

Camaro

1.30.446

4

4

5

Chuck Piazza

Camaro

1.31.309

5

5

57

Butch Kummer

Corvette

1.31.486

6

6

30

Richard Grant

Camaro

1.31.558

7

7

9

Johnny Miller III

Pontiac

1.32.891

8

9

75

Mike Green

T-Bird

1.36.100

9

10

38

Larry Huang

Panoz GTS

1.37.920

10

14

83

Brad Ward

Panoz GTS

1.38.468

11

17

34

David Barr

Panoz GTS

1.38.729

 

It was pretty apparent that no one would have anything for Phil unless he sneezed on the start (remember that), but with less than 1.5 seconds separating second thru sixth (and Johnny Miller’s taxicab following the herd) it looked to be a heck of a battle. I mentioned to Johnny that I was looking to get as many as I could on the inside of One on the first lap and he told me I’d better NOT brake early. He was planning to head straight for the apex from the green flag and it would behoove me to not be there when he arrived!

Ends up Phil did sneeze, but he recovered quickly. His car quit as we came up to the bridge to take the green flag, so the starter correctly waved off the start as we scrambled to reassemble minus our leader. Ends up Phil had popped a circuit breaker with his new Cool Shirt and shut off the ignition system, then in his flurry of flipping switches had luckily hit the breaker and got going again. Although he shouldn’t have been able to per the GCR, he reassumed the pole position and led us around for the green.

Johnny’s and my plan to freight-train the outside line worked to perfection. I got a good jump on the green and dove inside Bob into One with Johnny hot on my bumper, so I was fourth out of the corner. I maintained the position down the hill in the esses, nailed the throttle coming up out of Five, set my sights on Chuck on the short chute going to Six, shifted from second to third at 7500 rpm - - and got first instead. Talk about going from the freight-trainer to the trainee!

Johnny, Bob, Richard and maybe a kid on a moped got by while I recovered. I was able to draft by Richard on the back straight but the engine was down on power and he got back by two laps later and pulled away. Johnny was using all the track and then some in the Pontiac, so I figured his tires and/or brakes would go away eventually if I kept the pressure on. Sure enough, he waved me by on lap 11, then parked it just past Turn Eight with what they suspect was a fuel pickup problem on the next lap. The rest of my race consisted of staying on the pavement and trying not to make any more mistakes. I still feel we might have had something for the guys had I not zinged the engine, but we’ll have to wait until next time to find out.

I obviously didn’t get to see it, but Phil pretty much checked out in the first nine laps and then put it on cruise for the second half of the race. The official results don’t reflect it, but he said his crew had him at a 1:27.9 (which would be a new track record) in the early laps. Bob & Chuck had a heck of a battle for second, swapping places (but not paint) on multiple occasions with Bob coming across the line 3.302 (officially) behind Phil, then Chuck and Richard. I’m not sure what happened to Finger, but we ended up fifth.

The final results:

 

CP

OA

Name

Car

# Laps

"Official"

Best Lap

1

1

Phil Simms

Corvette

18

1.30.120

2

2

Bob Humphries

Camaro

18

1.29.616

3

3

Chuck Piazza

Camaro

18

1.29.474

4

4

Richard Grant

Camaro

18

1.31.365

5

5

Butch Kummer

Corvette

18

1.33.651

6

6

Mike Green

T-Bird

18

1.35.339

7

13

Larry Huang

Panoz GTS

17

1.39.809

8

14

Brad Ward

Panoz GTS

17

1.39.125

9

17

David Barr

Panoz GTS

16

1.39.446

10

27

Johnny Miller III

Pontiac

11 (nr)

1.33.224

-

DNF

John Finger

Mustang

4 (nr)

1.31.314

 

Our next race is July 5-7 at Savannah for the LouElla Cook Memorial Double National. See y'all at the track...