ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Don Knowles, of Pittsboro, N.C., scored a flag-to-flag victory Sunday to take his sixth SCCA National Championship in winning the Touring 2 Runoffs race at Road America.
Marty Grand, of Manassas Park, Va., and Todd Napieralski, of Chelsea, Mich., completed the podium.
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Starting from his sixth career Runoffs Gumout Pole Position, Knowles got a big jump at the drop of the green flag, opening up a 3.3-second lead by the completion of lap two as his competitors battled behind. Knowles drove his No. 32 Phoenix/Hawk/Hoosier Ford Mustang GT to a 2.984-second victory, averaging 96.414 mph.
“Todd Napieralski’s car and Marty Grand’s car both have more speed at the start-finish line than I do, so I knew that they were going to accelerate harder at the start,” Knowles said. “I knew I needed to get a good start, which worked out for me.
“Once I got a good start, I just tried to focus on running good laps. If they catch me going into Five, that’s one kind of race, if they don’t catch me into Five, then that’s a different kind of race.
“Once I got in the lead, I started talking to myself. ‘You don’t get into this position very often! Don’t mess this up, just hit your marks. Just do your job. Just shut up and drive.’ From my point of view, I never looked in the mirror after the first lap in Turn Five.”
The battle for second was fierce early, with Grand’s No. 43 AMS/UCSPerformance/TRE/Hoosier/Carbotech Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution fending off first Steve Jenkins’ No. 28 Trim-Tex/BRM/HRE Wheels/Fall-Line Porsche 996 and, later, Napieralski’s No. 33 Chevrolet Performance/TPR/BackStreet Performance Chevrolet Camaro.
“Our game plan was to tuck up behind Don and get into second, so that went great at the start,” Grand said. “The fear was that if Todd [Napieralski] and Jenkins battled me too close that Don might get away and that’s what happened. I couldn’t shake them. I tried to get a gap on them, but they were just too fast.”
The Grand/Jenkins battle broke off on lap eight, when Jenkins went off in Turn 14 and ended his day.
“Eventually, I got into a good rhythm and actually began to close the gap a little bit,” Grand said. “But I slid sideways in Turn 14 and lost about two seconds and after that I was just trying to maintain the car.”
Grand was not safe in second, though, as a resurgent Napieralski closed on the Mitsubishi in the final two laps. After getting to his bumper a couple of times, Naperalski’s hope for a silver medal faded in Turn Five on the final lap, as he ran wide, allowing Grand to open up a gap.
“I was experiencing some brake problems in the second half of the race, like all of us were,” Napieralski said. “I started closing on Marty [Grand] late in the race and went over the hill into Turn Five and the [brake] pedal went to the floor. I just started downshifting and pumping the brakes, trying to scrub speed. I went into the sand, but had enough momentum to get out of it and get back on track and nurse it home for third.”
Napieralski earned the Hawk Hot Lap of the race, with a record-setting 2:28.248 (97.135 mph) on lap five.
John Kachadurian, of Chicago, Ill., finished fourth after starting his No. 80 Grey Fox Racing BMW M3 seventh. Alan Kossof, of Wheeling, Ill., was fifth in his No. 2 Kossof Motorsports BMW M3.