Watkins Glen is famous for its weather and the heralded location met such expectations with a wide variety of conditions for the Challenge Cup season opener. Crews arriving Friday morning and were greeted by high winds and rain, but fortunately the clouds parted for the first practice session that afternoon.
28 cars had had entered as CCS Formula Vees. For this event, the series also welcomed five Formula First entries. With clear track conditions for Friday’s first practice Matt Clark showed his speed early with the fastest time of both Challenge Cup divisions.
Saturday provided an atmosphere nice enough to start working on your tan. Clark had pole by over a second while the next seven spots were within 7 tenths.
Clark got a clean start and held the point though an incident triggered a full course yellow on the first lap. After the restart Clark eventually broke away from the pack. While giving chase in 2nd, Ray Carmody let Trevor Carmody by with a plan to work together to catch Matt. Trevor completed the pass on Ray, just before his right front spindle broke under braking for turn one. Trevor came to a stop without serious incident.
After Trevor’s retirement “I rolled around in 2nd for a long time” said Ray Carmody until a pack with Dean Curtis, Jeff Filipkowski, Sam Ryan, Sherman Engler and Ray Qualls caught him on the last lap. Curtis took a chance on leading that pack on the front straight, just before he saw the white flag.
Clark kept it clean while a five car race for second was busy behind him. At the checkered Filipkowski took 2nd honors followed by Ryan, Ray Carmody and Engler. In the draft, Curtis “got freight trained on the back straight” and went from 2nd on the last lap to finishing 6th overall.
2018 Open Division champion Barrett Kingsborough started last after issues during qualifying, but moved up 14 spots taking the Hard Charger award.
Saturday evening the series hosted a dinner and awards ceremony at the historic Mechanic’s Club in Montour Falls.
Sunday brought yet another change in conditions with heavy rain and temps in the 40s. For the morning’s qualifying session, the assessment by about a third of the field had them opt to stay in the paddock. The session saw a few spins but no serious incidents. Sam Ryan bested Matt Clark for the pole and the two of them seemed to have found a much faster rain line than the remainder of the field.
The rain remained heavy at race start, and the organizers opted for a single-file start. Fortunately things got underway in very civilized fashion. Ryan and Clark had a close battle early on gapping the rest of the field until Clark got by and eventually checked out again.
Meanwhile a fair amount of sorting occurred behind with Dermot Ennis holding 3rd and about six other drivers figuring out where the grip was. Dean Curtis had a difficult first lap and lost several spots. He and Garrett Villano began moving through the field and eventually caught up with Sherman Engler.
Curtis noted that it was very challenging to set up passes with the slick conditions, “I’d go to the outside then they were on the outside.” While leading Curtis and Villano, Engler eventually spun in the toe of the boot. Meanwhile, Murillo Lattore who started last after not posting a qualifying time was proving to be a great mudder. He caught the Curtis-Villano duo and passed them both entering the heel of the boot.
Clark took the checkered followed by Ryan, Lattore, Curtis, (Dermot) Ennis, and Villano.