Race Recap: Rounds 5 & 6 of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing

Rounds 5 & 6 of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing brought the series back to the infield road course of Homestead-Miami Speedway deep in the everglades of South Florida. The summer weather of Florida has been moving in lately, and luckily the weekend of May 22nd-23rd was not as hot as expected. Temperatures were in the mid to high 80’s during the day, so track surface temps were hot, but the nice covered NASCAR garages kept everyone cool enough to enjoy themselves in the designated Spec Miata racers paddock area.  We had several racers come back and race with us from the previous race at PBIR in April, the support for our new series has been great and it seems like everyone that has raced with us so far has had a great time. We hope that everyone who had raced with us in the previous rounds will let their friends know how good of a time they have at NASA FL SMC races; we could always use more fun loving, good natured grassroots racers to get our car counts higher and ensure that we earn all of the contingency that is available to us. Although we want to get our car counts higher, we also want to keep the integrity of the series by NOT recruiting racers that are: looking to “win at all costs” by using rough driving techniques, obvious cheaters, erratic or dangerous drivers, temperamental or whiny, or the type of person that is too focused on the competition aspect of Spec Miata rather than having a good time and making friends. Everyone in our series is now friends with each other and we want to keep this trend going, so if you have a racing friend that meets our criteria please direct him towards our series!

We had a nice comfortable car count of 10 cars for Rounds 5 & 6; this allowed plenty of space for safe starts and contact free racing all weekend. There were plenty of enough cars to qualify for Toyo Bucks contingency as the top 5 finishers in each race would be awarded credit towards the purchase of their next set of Toyo tires! But the big news of the weekend would be young Michael Lliteras Jr in his quest to earn his racing license to gain passage into the NASA/Mazda Teen Spec Miata Championship. Mike has been working his way up through the HPDE ranks within NASA FL for the past couple of months, and this race weekend would be the last HPDE requirement for Mike before he started racing in the Spec Miata class. All Mike had to do was show the race director that he was track safe in his Spec Miata while in HPDE and pass a written test to ensure he knew the rules, after completion of these required things he would be racing with us in Round 6 on Sunday! The entire Spec Miata paddock was helping Mike all weekend to ensure he was ready to start racing with us, although we didn’t tell him, we all knew he was ready!

With the NASA FL race weekend format catering to the Lightning group which includes the SMC class, the first race session of the day would be a 15 minute practice to “get the cobwebs out”. There is not a racer out there that can say they prefer NOT to have a practice session before qualifying, as not having the pressure of posting a fast qualifying lap in your first session on the track is a BIG relief. Although the practice session was timed, it is never a good indication of what to expect as far as results go for the weekend. Most racers are just feeling out the track for the first time, warming up old tires, bedding in new brake pads, or experimenting with race lines, or set-ups and tire pressures. The standouts in practice were the veterans of Homestead Speedway that had a feel for the track layout and had worked on their setup in previous races. John Adamczyk, CP Denis, Eric Gebhardt, Carey Atkinson, and Jim Blaisdell all looked strong in practice, but qualifying would be the real gauge on how fast everyone really was.

The 11am qualifying time was perfect for posting fast laps, the track was dry and the temps were still cool. Everyone had a feel for their cars and made the necessary adjustments to their racecars in an effort to qualify on the top of the time sheets. Turn 10 at Homestead Speedways “short” configuration would be the variable that separated the top couple of cars in terms of lap times. Turn 10 is one of those famous “pucker factor” turns that is taken flat out by only the bravest of racers, if it is not taken flat out there is considerable lap time to be lost by not doing so. The top 3 cars in qualifying would land themselves on the top end of the timesheets by hanging it all out through turn 10 in this session, as the lap times were separated by about two seconds a lap from 3rd to 4th place. After the 20 minute qualifying session drew to a close, the start of Round 5 of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge would look like this:

  1. John Adamczyk - 1.6 Miata (1:50.591)
  2. CP Denis - 99 Miata
  3. Eric Gebhardt - 1.6 Miata
  4. Carey Atkinson – 1.6 Miata
  5. Jim Blaisdell – 1.8 Miata
  6. Paul McLester – 1.6 Miata
  7. Mitch Taylor – 1.6 Miata
  8. Manny Ferro – 1.8 Miata
  9. Rick Adamczyk – 1.8 Miata

Saturday’s Round 5 SMC race was filled with action, thrills, and heartbreak. It would also turn out to be one of the best and hardest fought races in both John Adamczyk’s and Eric Gebhardt’s racing careers! When the green flag dropped for race one, the top 3 cars driven by: John Adamczyk, CP Denis, and Eric Gebhardt battled hard for position in the early laps. Gebhardt passed Denis for second place early in the race and set his sights on John Adamczyk in first, and before long Gebhardt had reeled in the #25 first place car of Adamczyk and began putting the pressure on. With both cars on very old and brittle tires, the cars were loose and both drivers seemed like they were driving over their heads, but were very much in control of their cars. Eventually the #37 car driven by Eric Gebhardt made the pass for first place, only to have the position taken back in the hairpin the following lap when he made an error and oversteered on corner exit. Adamczyk resumed the lead followed closely by Gebhardt as they closed in on traffic. The first group to be passed by the leaders was the BMW E30’s, which are not an easy task for the small Miata. The E30’s are faster in the straits and slower in the turns, which make passing a calculated tactical affair. As Adamczyk and Gebhardt battled for the lead and CP Denis comfortably in 3rd, the race for 4th was heating up. Jim Blaisdell and Carey Atkinson battled closely for the position for most of the race, and eventually Atkinson took the position for good when Blaisdell got a bit too loose around the turn 4 bowl area. CP Denis and Manny Ferro were running good races but unfortunately miscalculated their fuel mileage and had to park their cars in the garage. Homestead is notorious for excessive fuel consumption; many racers have had podium finishes given to the guy behind them because they were too low on fuel. CP and Manny were just more names to add to the list, which includes: John Adamczyk, Rick Adamczyk, Jim Blaisdell, and more who have previously ran out and had to retire. Meanwhile, the battle for 1st between Adamczyk and Gebhardt was settling down only to get heated again, as they were working together and gaining ground on the Porsche 944 cars. The duo came up to a very lonely pink Porsche 944 that felt as if he had a grudge match with the leaders of Spec Miata. While severely interfering with the battle for the lead in Spec Miata, the 944 got passed in the turns and then fought back to pass the Miata’s again on the back strait, which really made strategy an important part in how the SM race was to turn out. About ¾’s of the way through the race John Adamczyk passed the pink 944, which trapped Gebhardt into fighting with the 944 directly. Although the 944 should have let the leaders fight their own battle, Adamczyk used this act of ignorance by the 944 driver as an escape plan and put a little bit of distance between himself and Gebhardt. When Gebhardt finally outsmarted the 944 it was too late to catch up and the checkered flag flew shortly after. Another incident free Spec Miata Challenge race and one of the best races this club has ever witnessed! After the results were in, this is how the Spec Miata field turned out:

  1. John Adamczyk
  2. Eric Gebhardt (fastest SM lap 1:50.491)
  3. Carey Atkinson
  4. Jim Blaisdell
  5. Paul McLester
  6. Mitch Taylor
  7. Rick Adamczyk
  8. CP Denis
  9. Manny Ferro

After the racing concluded for the day everyone headed over to the awards ceremony and party. This events party was sponsored by NASA FL SMC racer Lindsey Jarrell and his company Jarrell and Associates. Unfortunately Lindsey had a last minute work requirement that made him unable to attend the races, but his generosity was greatly appreciated by all of the racers and event organizers. As usual, all of the Spec Miata Challenge racers grouped together for pizza and some beers to laugh and rehash the days on track activities. The NASA awards ceremony is a gratifying experience for all involved in the racing and time trials, as the podium finishers are awarded their trophies by the event staff and applauded by their fellow racers. It always feels good to be rewarded for all of your hard work and preparation, and sometimes just being handed a plaque doesn’t cut it. NASA FL makes sure the racers are happy when they are on track as well as off track with presented awards and a fun social event. SMC racer Carey Atkinson was especially pleased to take home a 3rd place trophy, his hard work and experience paid off for him in Round 5 and he also netted a cool $75 towards new Toyo Tires!

Sunday brought another sunny day and an addition to the Spec Miata Challenge in the name of Michael Lliteras Jr, the 13 year old kart racer turned 2010 NASA Spec Miata Mazda Teen Challenge driver. Michaels racing career is moving from karts to Spec Miata racing, and NASA’s Teen Challenge is the perfect series for young kart racers to move onto the next racing step in the world of sportscar racing. Michael was instructed to “keep it clean and take it easy” by Pat the race director and Spec Miata Director John Adamczyk. The most important task for Mike was to not get involved in any incidents, as well as show everyone he is a standout driver and ready for wheel to wheel action in Spec Miata, one of the most competitive classes in the world!

Qualifying for Round 6 went smoothly except for the unfortunate transmission failure in Micheal Lliteras’ car. While following John Adamczyk in the late stages of the qualifying session, Mike suddenly pulled off track in the horseshoe with obvious car troubles. It wasn’t until after the session when he had to be towed in that we realized his transmission had failed. Fortunately Mike Sr was able to source a replacement transmission in Pompano Beach, over an hour away. In a great display of camaraderie, all of the SMC racers joined together to remove the transmission from Mike’s car in anticipation of the replacements arrival. When the replacement transmission arrived, there was less than an hour to the start of the Round 6 SMC race. While everyone pitched in, Eric Gebhardt and Carey Atkinson sacrificed their stress free weekend by performing the bulk of the heavy work. Eric and Carey worked fast and hard to get Mike out on track for his first and important Spec Miata race. It was imperative that Mike complete this race due to the license he needed to acquire in order to race in the first round of the Mazda NASA Teen Spec Miata Challenge at Road Atlanta. In a great effort, his transmission was replaced and he was ready to race with just 10 minutes to spare! Eric and Carey deserve to be acknowledged for their hard work, as well as everyone else involved. So here’s a big THANKS to everyone that helped get Mike Jr out on track and proving the theory that the friendships and camaraderie that come with NASA FL SMC racing are far more important than any trophy or first place finish! This act of camaraderie was performed free of charge by good people just wanting everyone to have fun, and most of all not see someone’s weekend get ruined because of a parts failure. This job would have most likely cost several hundred dollars by a professional shop, but the good people of the NASA FL SMC were happy to help a fellow racer in need. Despite the transmission replacement, there was a new grid formed for Round 6 of the SMC. Here is how the timesheets looked for qualifying:

  1. John Adamczyk (1:49.960)
  2. CP Denis
  3. Eric Gebhardt
  4. Michael Lliteras (would start from the back for learning purposes)
  5. Jim Blaisdell
  6. Carey Atkinson
  7. Paul McLester
  8. Rick Adamczyk
  9. Manny Ferro
  10. Mitch Taylor

Round 6 of the NASA FL SMC presented by 5X Racing would see the Spec Miata group starting first in the Lightning group to avoid the possibility of lapped drivers interfering with the leaders, as was the case in Saturday’s race. Mike Lliteras performed well in his first qualifying session, taking the 4th spot over some very experienced drivers. Much to Mike’s dismay, it was pre-arranged that he would be starting from the back of the pack to learn how the pre race grid, pace lap, and start of the race worked. He was encouraged to “take it easy” for the first lap and let the racers ahead sort out their positions before he got involved. He did a great job and performed above and beyond our high expectations! We wish him luck in his Teen Challenge; we are proud of him and hope he represents the NASA FL SMC well! With new tires on his car, John Adamczyk built a comfortable lead because of the new found trust in his race cars handling. Eric Gebhardt battled with CP Denis for 2nd again until he lost clutch pressure in his #37 1.6 Spec Miata, Gebhardt would “rev match” shift with no clutch between 3rd and 4th gear for the rest of the race and eventually grind his car home in an impressive 5th place despite the trouble. CP Denis put enough fuel in his 99 Miata this race and cruised to an awesome 2nd place finish along with $100 Toyo Bucks, congrats to CP for this great result! Carey Atkinson would battle with Jim Blaisdell again for 3rd place, and despite Jim’s best efforts Carey would take home another 3rd place finish earning another $75 in Toyo Bucks! Jim Blaisdell drove his Black and White 5X Racing sponsored #65 car home to an honorable 4th place finish, earning $50 in Toyo Bucks for his efforts. Despite having shifting difficulties with his replacement transmission, Mike Lliteras came home in 6th place behind Eric Gebhardt who was also having trouble shifting. Paul McLester had a Porsche 944 spin directly in front of him going into the turn 4 bowl, which caused McLester to take evasive action to avoid the 944. Although he tried to avoid the spun 944, the Porsche driver did not heed to the “both feet in” philosophy when spinning and rolled right in front of Paul and light contact was made. Paul’s Miata was fine, but the 944 suffered rear suspension damage from the contact. Using caution, Paul nursed his car home to finish safely and able to drive it onto the trailer with no damage, which is the most important thing in most racers opinion. Spec Miata newcomers Mitch Taylor, Manny Ferro, and Rick Adamczyk would battle for 7th spot, with Taylor coming out on top followed by Ferro and Adamczyk. What a great job by all participants of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge, everyone should be proud to come home with a clean car and good memories of a fun race weekend. After the time sheets rolled in, here is how the final results looked for Round 6 of the SMC:

  1. John Adamczyk (fastest SM lap 1:51.040)
  2. CP Denis
  3. Carey Atkinson
  4. Jim Blaisdell
  5. Eric Gebhardt
  6. Michael Lliteras
  7. Mitch Taylor
  8. Manny Ferro
  9. Rick Adamczyk
  10. Paul McLester

We hope you join us for Rounds 7 & 8 of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing at historic Sebring International Raceway on June 19-20 2010. Thanks for reading and if you would like to race with us or help us in running the Spec Miata Challenge please contact John Adamczyk by email at: john@5xracing.com