ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Patrick Gallagher, of Thornville, Ohio, admittedly “tried to lose” the Formula Enterprise race at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs on Thursday at Road America, but kept cool enough to recover from a mistake to earn his second-career National Championship.
Jason Wolfe, of Mount Vernon, Ohio, earned his second consecutive silver medal, while Denny Marklein, of Dodgeville, Wis., earned a podium finish a long time in the making.
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Though Gallagher eventually won by 3.659 seconds, averaging 105.520 mph in the 13-lap, 52-mile race at the 4-mile circuit, the race almost slipped away early.
Gallagher’s No. 91 Howard Concrete Pumping/Jay Motorsports Formula Enterprises/Mazda fell to third on the start from his second position on the grid when Wolfe drove the No. 65 Jay Motorsports/Wolfe Trucking Formula Enterprises machine to the inside of polesitter Scott Rettich.
Rettich reclaimed the lead later that lap in the No. 17 Alliance Autosport/Springboro Car Wash FE car, and led until Gallagher closed to his gear box on lap four. Gallagher poked his nose in front and took the lead for the first time on lap five, but Rettich got a run back on Gallagher through the kink and moved to the inside in Canada Corner. Gallagher ran off the left side of the track, popped four wheels up in the air, and spun back across the track.
Rettich raced away and Wolfe moved into second before Gallagher rejoined the fray, but the battle for second between the Jay Motorsports teammates became a battle for the win when Rettich pulled to pit lane on lap nine. Rettich’s crew immediately looked at the gear box of the No. 17 machine and sent him back on track, but too far behind to be a contender.
Gallagher went past Wolfe on that same lap, and stretched his lead for the final three laps to the checkered flag.
“It was a good race,” Gallagher said. “I fell to third on the start and was able to chase Scott down and I knew I was just waiting, and I think he knew it. I was six cars back, and then three cars back, and then two cars, but we had a great car all day. I made a mistake and almost cost myself a National Championship.”
Though only 19 years old, Gallagher handled the incident like a champion.
“Luckily Scott had some trouble, and as soon as I went around I knew – I’ve been around racing for a long time, believe it or not, and I knew that anything is possible,” Gallagher said. “I just put my head down and tried to get back to P2. Actually, as I was passing for P2, they came on the radio and told me I was racing for the lead. That didn’t change anything,
“We got lucky, but it’s nice to be sitting here.”
Wolfe finished as the runner-up in the class for the second year in a row, and simply didn’t have enough to keep the pace with Gallagher or Rettich on Thursday. With that in mind, he was happy with the runner-up finish.
“From the start, the car was sideways around every corner,” Wolfe said. “I didn’t have anything for Pat. He got around me, and he deserved it. He had a good race, and has been driving well this whole weekend. I thought we might have a good race going when he spun, but the car wasn’t handling right.
“It’s great, I was looking for the first but second will do.”
Marklein’s podium finish was a long time in the making. For the first time in 17 Runoffs starts, Marklein’s No. 20 Marklein Auto Body/DJMSP Formula Enterprises put him in a podium position. Marklein ran most of the race in fourth and inherited the final spot when Rettich fell out.
“I’m feeling really good,” Marklein said. “The Runoffs is always so tough, and I’m elated to be on the podium. It was probably the most relaxing session of the weekend, actually, because I did lose the leaders and I was by myself. My car was handling really good and it was actually really fun. Thank goodness for radios, because they kept me informed as the race progressed.”
Steve Grundahl, of Blue Mounds, Wis., finished fourth in the No. 5 Midwest Prototyping Formula Enterprises machine. Rettich recovered to finish fifth, but did turn the Hawk fastest race lap in 2:14.120 (107.367 mph).