ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Steve Sargis, of Frankfort, Ill., survived 13 laps and a protracted battle on Sunday at Road America to win his seventh SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
Sam Henry, of Republic, Mo., and Bill Wessel, of Madison, Wis., battled with each other to complete the F Production podium.
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Though Sargis won the race by 5.396 seconds, averaging 93.363 mph for the 13-lap, 52-mile distance, it was anything but easy. After falling back to fifth on the opening lap, Sargis followed Henry to the inside of Gumout Polesitter Eric Prill’s No. 7 Jesse Prather Motorsports/Hoosier/OS Giken/Hawk/TP7 Mazda Miata in Turn One to start the second lap.
Sargis’ No. 18 SBS Batteries/Hoosier Tire Triumph Spitfire took the lead in Turn Five on the second lap and, with a battle between Henry’s No. 37 Springfield Dyno/SafeRacer/Goodyear Mazda Miata, Charlie Campbell, and Ken Kannard in his rear view mirror, hoped to pull away.
That didn’t happen. Prill broke clear of the group and by lap six Prill’s red Mazda had closed to the rear of the blue Triumph. On lap seven, Sargis lost the lead to Prill in Turn Eight and Sargis slowly began to fade.
Sargis had admittedly resigned himself to a podium finish when Prill pulled ahead by 1.041 seconds with two laps to go. That deficit disappeared in Canada Corner when, with a master cylinder fading on his Miata, Prill locked the rear brakes and spun into the gravel trap to end his day.
From there, Sargis was able to march to the win, and turned the Hawk Hot Lap, a 2:31.818 (94.850 mph) during his battle with Prill.
“I managed to get out in front and it looked like those guys were mixing it up back there, and I’m like ‘well, that’s good, it’s like last year,'” Sargis said. “And then here comes Eric [Prill], and he’s definitely got the legs on me. I wanted him to go past and see what he’s got, but it looked like he was struggling too. My heart goes out to Eric. We were just beating the cars to death. It was a clean race; we were polite in every corner, and no blocking at all.
“This is right up there. I think the first one was probably the best, but this one is right up there. I really didn’t expect it, I really didn’t.”
Henry survived a number of charges from competitors to earn his first Runoffs podium. After briefly holding the lead on the second lap, he fell under attack from Campbell’s No. 20 Campbell Brothers Racing/Hoosier Mazda Miata and Ken Kannard’s No. 51 Northwest Cable Construction/Hoosier Mazda Miata. Kannard moved into second position before pulling off on lap four. Wessel’s No. 47 Nissan/Goodyear Datsun SPL 311 joined the battle by lap six.
When Campbell pulled to pit lane on lap seven with a mechanical issue, Henry and Wessel were left to battle for the podium. Prill’s spin elevated each of them a position, with Henry stretching his margin to a full second ahead of Wessel.
The finish is a rewarding one for Henry, who competed in the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championship early in the month, and will compete in the SCCA RallyCross National Championship in October.
“It’s like a dream come true for me,” Henry said. “I’ve been watching this thing on TV since it was back at Mid-Ohio and I always thought that would be so cool, I’d love to do that. At the time, I just had visions of getting my car on TV for three or four seconds, and now here I am on the podium at the Runoffs. It’s just terrific.
“It was very intense early on, there were cars every where and it reminded me of the days I spent in Spec Miata. Somehow I got shoved up to the front, so I took a little moment between Turn Three and Turn Five to enjoy it. The moment didn’t last very long, though, these guys came right back and it was just a fierce battle. As that battle seemed to relax just a little bit, I look in the mirror and here comes that really fast Datsun and that was Bill.”
Wessel finished third after starting the race 13th, making up a number of positions just after the green flag. Wessel had blown a motor in qualifying and reinstalled the motor he used during last year’s Runoffs in time for the race.
“I knew we had at least five seconds in the car with this engine,” Wessel said. “It showed right off the start, it really ran well. I think the third lap was the fastest lap I’ve ever turned, we were hooked up. I’m just pleased as punch to be here, it’s great.
“I was able to gap Sam [Henry] a little bit, but he hung tough and stayed with me. He tucked into my draft and I couldn’t shake him. I got lost in the [gear] box down in Turn Five, and he got up alongside and took the position. At that point, I could not get back to Sam’s draft.”
Kevin Ruck finished fourth in the No. 73 Hoosier/Honda/Cobalt Brakes Acura Integra, followed by David Strittmatter’s No. 28 Hoosier Tire Lancia Scorpion.
Mark Weber earned the GoPro Hero Move of the Race when the green flag flew. Weber’s No. 50 Goodyear/Red Line Oil/ESCP Mazda Miata carried him to a record 50th Runoffs start, where he finished eighth. It was also the 500th career SCCA Club Race for the veteran driver.