ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Rob Warkocki earned his second Sports Car Club of America GT-3 class national championship Friday at the 50th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America.
Joe Kristensen finished second, followed by Mike Henderson.
Driving the No. 78 TRO Manufacturing/Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-7, Warkocki started third but moved to the point on the first lap of the 12-lap, 48-mile race. His lead did not last long, though, as Kristensen put his No. 4 Acura RSX up front in turn five on the second lap.
The pivotal moment of the race came on the sixth lap as the GT-3 leaders worked through the back part of the GT-2 field. Running second, Warkocki and the GT-2 class Nissan 300ZX of Robert Lentz made contact entering turn 13, with Lentz ending up in the barriers, necessitating a caution period two laps later to clean up the incident.
“We were side-by-side in the corner (turn 12], but I was on the damp part of the track on the inside,” Warkocki recalled. “He got a better run out of the corner and I let off the gas to give him a little breathing room and he can scoot away. I don’t know if he missed a shift. I’m not sure. Because, when I went back to the throttle after I lifted, I’m right on him; right on him to the point that I lifted his rear up and he was gone.
“It was really bad. It’s not something that I do. The car looked pretty bad and I hope he’s OK. We can fix cars, but fixing people is more difficult.”
Lentz was not injured in the incident.
When racing resumed, just two laps remained, and Warkocki hounded Kristensen, making his move for the lead under braking in Turn Eight. With that pass, Warkocki earned the GoPro HERO Move of the Race, and he held Kristensen off for the final lap around the four-mile circuit.
“In turn eight, in 2009, we lost a very good friend of ours named Tom Thrash. He was a fellow GT3 competitor and E Production champion. We were very close friends, and it still hurts. Every time I go through turn eight, I think of him. Believe it or not, under hard braking there pulling in next to Joe, all I could think about was Tom. He was probably riding with me, it’s very emotional.
“The last lap, there was a gamble,” Warkocki said. “I really, really had to push extremely hard to stay ahead of Joe, because he was coming. Again, you have that mindset where you’re charging in there and hope there’s not enough grip. And you’re throwing cares to the wind because, if there’s not, it’s going to be bad. But if it is, I could win this whole thing. Obviously it paid off for us.”
Warkocki won his first vhampionship in 2010, but admitted he was better prepared to enjoy the second one.
“This time, I understand a little bit more about what happens,” Warkocki said. “I focused almost 25 years on winning the first one, and I never realized what happens after you win. I sat in this (interview) room almost three years ago, and I didn’t even know about this. I didn’t know what to expect. And I thought, if I ever win again, if I’m ever blessed enough to do that, I’m really going to enjoy this. I’ve experienced it now, and I can take a step back and really, really enjoy it. So this time is probably even sweeter than the first time, because I understand. Before, it was such a faraway dream and I didn’t ever think I could do this. Now that I’ve done it twice, it’s amazing.”