Road Shagger Racing has taken TCR victory at a dramatic Alan Jay 120 at Sebring after disaster eliminated two of the early leaders.
Brian Henderson, who started from pole position, looked to have the race in the palm of his hand aboard the #84 Atlanta Speedwerks Honda Civic TCR during the opening stages. 45 minutes later though, a soft brake pedal quickly dropped Henderson back into the clutches of 2nd-placed Gavin Ernstone, and the #61 Road Shagger Racing Audi had already snatched the lead when a full course caution was thrown to pick-up the remnants of the GT Division’s PF Racing Mustang’s exploded front right tyre.
An extended pit stop to top up the brake fluid dropped the erstwhile leader to the tail of the field. More woes would follow however as the #84 Civic was eventually retired altogether due to a split brake line.
Atlanta Speedwerks’ demise, plus the full course caution, elevated the #19 VAN DER STEUR RACING Hyundai Veloster N TCR (Rory van der Steur / Denis Dupont) into the lead ahead of the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai (Ryan Norman / Parker Chase) and the #17 Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi (Chris Miller / Mikey Taylor), all three having made their mandatory pit stops early.
Prior to that, the #19 Hyundai had already been engaged in an electric fight with the #88 VGMC Racing LLC Honda, Victor Gonzalez eventually pulling off a sensational slingshot move around the outside of turn nine to take 7th place from Rory van der Steur (admittedly van der Steur had already received a slap on the knuckles from race control for blocking). A few laps later, the #19 Hyundai was punted into a half spin by an ‘ambitious’ move down the inside of turn one by AJ Muss in the #51 Copelands Motorsport Veloster. Both managed to continue with only superficial damage.
When the race went green, Denis Dupont, now at the wheel of the #19 Hyundai, was immediately rebuking attacks from Mikey Taylor and Jon Morley in the #17 JDC and #61 Road Shagger Racing Audis respectively. Not long after, the season-opener winner at Daytona pulled a sensational move to sweep around the outside of turn one to take the lead.
As Taylor pulled away, an incredible battle began between Dupont (#16), Morley (#61) and the hard-charging Mat Pombo in the #73 LA Honda World Racing Civic, Pombo first taking 3rd from Morley through Bishop before the #61 Audi repaid the favour down the Ullman Straight. The momentum then put the #61 Audi alongside the #19 Hyundai down the start-finish stretch as the GT division’s Winward Racing Mercedes attempted to lap both TCR machines down the inside. In the middle, Dupont gave Morley on the outside the lightest of brushes, Pombo reacting by throwing the Honda at the now open gap on the inside. Cue more contact and a half-spin for the Honda.
Somehow, all three managed to continue, the #19 Veloster having survived its second incident of the afternoon at turn one.
Amazingly, just a few laps later, Taylor – by now five seconds down the road in the #17 JDC Audi – limped his way back onto pitroad with suspected wheel hub damage at the front left corner. Just like that, the second leader of the day was out of contention, and Morley, finally past Dupont, was back at the front.
With Dupont forced to pit the #19 Hyundai for a late splash and dash, the fight for victory thus went down to the wire between Morley and Pombo, the #61 Audi and #73 Honda split by barely half a second with just 10 minutes left on the clock. After a titanic fight, the #61 Road Shagger Racing Audi managed to hold on for the win at Sebring barely two seconds ahead of the #73 LA Honda World Racing Civic. 20 seconds further down the road, the #77 Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai (Michael Lewis / Taylor Hagler) completed a quiet run from 9th on the grid to round out the TCR podium.
Amazingly, despite starting at the very back of the grid, the #5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo (Tim Lewis / Roy Block) came through to finish 4th ahead of the #54 Michael Johnson Racing (Michael Johnson / Stephen Simpson) and #51 Copeland Motorsport (Mason Filippi / AJ Muss) Velosters.
A surprisingly muted weekend for the second Atlanta Speedwerks Honda (#94, Greg Strelzoff / Ryan Eversley), which finished an incredibly close 2nd last time out at Daytona but started from the back at Sebring, ended with 7th place just ahead of the #33 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai (Mark Wilkins / Harry Gottsacker). Fuel feed issues meant the latter was forced to make an additional splash and dash. Following its a brief run in 2nd place, the sister #98 Veloster slowly dropped back through the field to 10th.
The recovering #19 VAN DER STEUR Hyundai eventually claimed 9th place at the chequered flag, two spots ahead of its early sparring partner VGMC Racing, LLC. The #88 Honda (Victor Gonzalez / Ruben Iglesias) was handed a drive-through penalty for passing cars during the full course caution, and dropped to 11th as a result.
Copelands Motorsport meanwhile had a weekend to forget. Having been deprived pole position in the closing moments of qualifying one day earlier, the #27 Hyundai Veloster N TCR (Tyler Maxson / Tyler Gonzalez) failed to complete even a single lap before catastrophic ECU failure brought Gonzalez into the pits. The Hyundai, now seven laps down, returned to the track after 25 minutes had elapsed, but could only recover to 13th at the finish.