ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Charlie James earned his first Sports Car Club of America National Championship, taking the inaugural B-Spec title at the 50th SCCA National Championship Runoffs Sunday at Road America.
Joel Lipperini and Tony Kester completed the podium.
James started third in his No. 02 SafeRacer/BFGoodrich/Sparco/FedEx/Joe Gibbs MINI Cooper and took the lead after SafeRacer Polesitter Joel Weinberger slid off and into the Turn One barrier at the start when his quick-release steering wheel reportedly came loose.
From there, James held the lead for the rest of the 12-lap, 48-mile race, beating Lipperini to the checkered flag by 2.867 seconds.
“It feels great to be a Champion,” James said. “As a longtime SCCA member, this just feels awesome. It feels good to be here and especially for the first B-Spec podium. We were happy just to be here and support the new class.
“The Turn One incident was definitely interesting at the very start. It shocked us all and we weren’t sure what to make of it. Joel was behind me and we just put our heads down and started to race and see where we all ended up.”
Lipperini, a three-time SCCA National Champion, started fourth in his No. 81 BFGoodrich Tires/Honda/Racelabz/Hawk/RedLine Honda Fit and moved to second on the opening lap.
“It was just about getting through Turn One clean,” Lipperini said. “From then on, we just ran our own race. I tried to run down Charlie, but it was actually a pretty boring race from my seat.”
A former Formula Ford Champion, Kester started 10th in the No. 99 Continental Mazda/ALM ACC Members MAZDA2, and worked his way to third in his first Runoffs appearance since 1992.
“First lap of qualifying on Tuesday, I got tapped by another car and my Mazda got put on its lid,” Kester said. “It was like an astronaut test as the car was spinning on its roof while it was sliding down the track. It ended up in the gravel and flipped back up onto its wheels. So when my mechanic Vince Fiore started putting it back together, he pulled about 50 or 60 pounds of gravel out of it. On the warmup lap, when I was weaving back and forth, I could hear the gravel somewhere in the car sliding back and forth.
“The guys worked real hard. John Doonan with Mazda helped us get some parts. Pounded out the roof. There were actually a couple of holes worn through the roof. So, it’s now the FrankenMazda. They put it together and it was pretty good, all things considered. We had a good race, and I ended up third.
“The race with Mike (Asselta) was one of the best races I’ve had with anybody.”
Asselta finished fourth in his No. 03 SafeRacer/BFG/Sparco/FedEx/Joe Gibbs MINI Cooper, followed by Shawn Young’s No. 11 Continental Mazda/STA-BIL/Castrol MAZDA2.
1, (3), Charlie James, Joplin, MO, Mini Cooper, 12.
2, (4), Joel Lipperini, Pittston, PA, Honda Fit, 12.
3, (10), Tony Kester, Joliet, IL, MAZDA2 , 12.
4, (5), Mike Asselta, Overland Park, KS, Mini Cooper, 12.
5, (2), Shawn Young, Bensenville, IL, MAZDA2 , 12.
6, (8), Derrick Ambrose, Vancouver, WA, MAZDA2 , 12.
7, (7), Roy Richards, Boron, CA, Honda Fit, 12.
DNF, (1), Joel Weinberger, Hinsdale, IL, MAZDA2 , 0.
DNF, (6), Brian Kelm, Plymouth, MI, Ford Fiesta, 0.
DNS, (9), Mark Boden, Winnetka, IL, MAZDA2.