ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Michael Mueller captured his second consecutive Formula 500 National Championship just a couple miles up the road from his hometown of Plymouth, Wis., on Sunday at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America.
C.J. McAbee, of Topeka, Kan., and Michael Vacek, of Itasca, Ill., survived some wild closing laps to complete the podium.
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Mueller caught a break when Gumout Polesitter Jason Knuteson pulled his No. 92 Mitchell Racing/Hoosier/Formula-X-1 Scorpion/Rotax off course on the pace lap and out of the race. Though Aaron Ellis, who started essentially on the pole after Knuteson fell out, took the lead in Turn One and held it to Turn Five. It became clear immediately after that no one had the speed to challenge the No. 24 MJ Manufacturing/Fibeco/Hoosier/HRP/Subway Red Devil 2004/Rotax, as Mueller ticked off lap after lap under the previous class record of 2:23.406 (100.414 mph).
In all, Mueller turned 12 laps better than the existing record, including a Hawk Hot Lap of 2:21.171 (102.004 mph). That series of fast laps earned Mueller the GoPro Hero Move of the Race.
“I had no idea what the lap times were because my gauge was broke all week,” Mueller said. “I had no idea what lap I was on, I was just pushing as hard as the car could go. I’ve lost a race with what I thought was a comfortable lead on the last lap, so you just go until you see a flag. That’s all that was on my mind the whole time; just push it as hard as I could go.”
It was Mueller’s second consecutive Formula 500 National Championship.
“We’ve been coming to this race track since I was a little kid, before I had a conscious memory,” the 28-year-old reflected. “We started go-kart racing at the Karting Kettle in Elkhart Lake, came here and did karting for five years, and the big track was always on the other side of that wall, where we want to be. To win one National Championship at home is amazing. To do two back-to-back, with winning the June Sprints in an undefeated National season — I can’t think of anything better.”
McAbee’s No. 15 AJ’s Import Garage/Hoosier AJ’s 2012/Rotax held his third position at the start and fell into a battle with Ellis. McAbee chased the No. 43 Carlisle/CFF/Ellis Motorsports Ellis AE06/Rotax until he pulled to pit lane on lap seven, then rode around alone in second place for several laps.
With his lap times slowing, a three-way battle began between McAbee, former champion Michael Brent, Vacek and James Weida for what was then third place. Brent and McAbee split a lapped car under braking in Turn Five on lap 11, and Brent took the lead heading up the front straight with two to go.
After getting the one to go sign and McAbee hot on the heels of Brent’s No. 47 Hoosier Tire/QRE Invader QC-1/Rotax, the pair came up on a slower car at the worst possible time – the entrance to the very fast Turn One. Brent appeared to check up so in an attempt to miss the slower car, and McAbee was caught out and hit the rear of Brent. Brent spun to the inside, McAbee and Vacek continued, and the two raced to the checkered flag.
“It all happened so quick,” McAbee said. “I know I got into him, but I didn’t think they were going to brake that much. I knew I had to get a good run coming out of the corner and I got off way early, and then got to the middle of the corner and he braked, or the car in front of him broke… I don’t know. It just went everywhere.”
It was the second consecutive podium finish for McAbee after a third-place result a season ago.
“I’ve just had a real ill handling car all week,” McAbee said. “It’s real uncharacteristic for my car, it always handles real good. I never got comfortable, I never had a good qualifying session, so I never got confidence in the car. I was on pins and needles the whole time. All I could do was just hold on.”
Vacek raced McAbee up the hill to the checkered flag, but fell just short of second-place in his first Runoffs appearance after starting the race seventh on the grid.
“Once I got past James Weida, I just set my sights on Michael Brent and concentrated on drafting with him,” Vacek said. “I could see C. J. off in the distance and I thought if I could draft with him, we could catch up to C.J. and that’s how it worked out. With one lap to go, Michael had his problem and we ended up being in third place!”
Weida crossed the line fourth in the No. 22 Weida Apartments Scorpion W1/Rotax, followed by Brent after recovering from the spin.