ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Marshall Mast sped to victory in the Touring 3 portion of the 57th SCCA National Championship Runoffs on Friday at Road America.
Mast put in a record-breaking qualifying lap of 2:29.757, a full half-second faster than his nearest competitor, to earn the pole for the event. Even so, the top three qualifiers were all under the existing qualifying track record for the class.
As the field came to the green, third-place starter Derek Kulach took a look to the inside, but Mast had plenty of power to make it into the fast right-hand turn one in the lead, with second-place starter Jason Ott right behind him. From the start, Mast and Ott pulled away, opening a substantial gap in the first minutes of the race. Kulach took up third position, leading Broderick Bauguess and Runoffs veteran Rob Hines.
During the second lap, a fence-damaging hit required track workers to perform some repairs, and that put the field under caution, and then under an extended pause in the pit lane. All Runoffs races are scheduled for 13 laps to cover a racing distance of 52.624 miles, or a maximum of 40 minutes. After losing about 10 minutes in the pits, the SCCA stewards stopped the clock with 20 minutes, 37 seconds left in the race.
“It wasn’t fun [waiting in the pits], that’s for sure,” Mast said after the race.
The field left the pits at 10:55 a.m. for a single-file warmup lap, followed by a restart with almost exactly 16 minutes left to race. Ott pulled alongside Mast on the front straight, working at what would be his only chance to grab the lead, but Mast went deep in turn one and reclaimed his advantage. For the rest of the race, Mast was consistent and made no mistakes, extending his lead a little bit every lap. Behind Mast, Ott also ran out ahead of the pack.
The battle for third place was the story of this race, with past champions Bauguess and Kulach trading positions, and then Hines coming up from his sixth-place grid position. In the sixth lap, Kulach began to fall back as Hines challenged Bauguess for the last spot on the podium. Hines took over third place in turn five on the seventh lap, with Bauguess filling his mirrors and looking for a way back around. The three contenders went nose-to-tail in a three-car drift through several corners in the ensuing laps.
As the white flag waved, Mast maintained his perfect composure, driving a clean lap ahead of Ott. Bauguess made a heroic move through turn two and into turn three, making it past Hines to briefly claim third, but Hines drove two wheels into the grass on the way down to turn five to reclaim his place. The two went side-by-side again out of turn five, but Hines held the lead into turn six. Bauguess was all over Hines through the Hurry Downs and Carousel, but put two wheels in the dirt at the Kink, allowing Hines to pull out about a car length.
Mast took the checker with almost 8 seconds to spare in front of Ott, and another five seconds back to Hines. Bauguess finished fourth and Kulach held on for fifth place.
“We had an awesome race today. We just had a knock-down, drag-out fight,” Hines said. “In the early laps I tried to make my way forward. It was great racing, and he [Bauguess] was very courteous. When he dropped two wheels off at the Kink, I knew I had it.”
Ott, who drove a clean race and made no mistakes, was philosophical: “I think the caution hurt us a bit,” he said. “I knew to have any chance, I had to make it on the restart. We were set up for the long run, but I’m not sure if I had anything for Marshall today.”
From Mast’s point of view, the race went as expected: “I knew Jason would be coming hard at the restart,” he said, “but I hung it out and the rest of the race went pretty well. I have to thank all the volunteers out there who make this all possible.”