Here’s a shot of one of the looniest on-track battles I’ve seen on a race track in a long, long time. It was from last weekend’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race at Lime Rock, and these Caymans were going at it like their lives depended on it. Neither car was going for the win. No, this was the battle for second.
The CJ Wilson MX-5 was somewhere out in the front, owning the ST-class race. The only way a Cayman team was going to end up on the top step of the podium is if the MX-5 had a race-ending screw-up. Why push it, though? Stevan McAleer just kept a comfortable, quick pace and brought it home.
Hardcore haters of Miatas, certain ball-sports personalities and/or fun might’ve tuned out at this point. “Well, it’s a given that this Mazda’s going to win. Let’s get in line early for pricey track hot dogs.”
What those haters of fun missed was some of the best racing I’d seen in person—not just for second place, but ever. If this was a television show, it’d akin to the bomb dropped on the season finale of Silicon Valley: a real cliffhanger. No one knew what was going to happen, so it’s the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the show.
Granted, I tend to be pretty laid-back with who I like to see win in CTSCC. Everyone’s so goshdarn nice in that paddock. If you want to see some cool cars stripped out in race trim, that’s the easiest one to wander through of them all. (Just don’t get in the way or touch things without asking, of course.)
The battle for second was in the hands of Eric Foss in the number 56 Murillo Racing Cayman and Spencer Pumpelly in the number 17 RS1 Cayman. Pumpelly had just a little more speed around Lime Rock than Foss, preferring to spend as much time hanging off Foss’ bumper as possible.
Foss, on the other hand, was teaching a masterclass in defending a position. Any opportunity to increase his gap in a slightly slower car, he took it. He didn’t make it easy for Pumpelly, or move over to get out of the RS1 Cayman’s way. Ultimately, this got him the win, but watching Pumpelly look for a clear chute around Foss’s back bumper was one of the nail-biting highlights of this year.
“Eric frustrated the heck out of me today – like he should have,” Pumpelly told IMSA after the race. “I tried everything I could to get by, but he was a little bit craftier than me today.”
Given another lap, the RS1 car may have won. Or they might not have. There was no way to tell until the checkered flag dropped on this pair.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of “if you’re not first, you’re last” factoring heavily into championship systems. Winning a series championship on points alone with no wins should be an unlikely outcome at best. The “everybody gets a trophy” style of handling things shouldn’t seep into motorsports. There’s a clear podium, and if you’re not on it, tough bananas.
Man, though—every single one of those points counts. Sometimes it’s the battle to merely get into the points that heats up. Other times, folks are battling just for a few extra points, or to gain that extra spot. Fourth looks better than fifth, regardless of hardware.
Sometimes the front of the pack is too good. We’ve seen that a lot this year in Formula One. In this CTSCC battle’s case, it was a battle of two extremely competitive drivers in good cars, but often, it’s the guys further back who aren’t super-experienced or in the best cars who provide the real entertainment. They’re scrappier. They want to show off more, and prove their worth. That top-ten berth means something, and they’re going to fight hard for it the entire time.
Television broadcasts tend to get too hung up on the front of the race, and we’re all worse off for it. It’s hard to find a race that’s a barely-contested processional from front all the way to the back, yet many of us have a bad habit of deeming races a parade if the first five cars or so barely show signs of life. Look past the guy in front, and it’s not hard to stay amused.
CTSCC’s epic trip to Lime Rock will be on TV Sunday at noon on FS1.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.