Watkins Glen gives Radical Cup a new SR8 championship leader and Kurtz his first win of 2014
Ryan Carpenter has effectively moved to the top of the SR8 title standings after taking two wins in the 2014 Radical Cup USA at Watkins Glen on the weekend (May 16-18), while John Falb's eight race winning streak finally came to an end as George Kurtz broke through for his first SR3 victory of 2014. Carpenter and Kurtz finished their weekends on the highest of highs after also claiming the track lap records.

The former Formula 1 circuit Watkins Glen provided plenty of challenges for downforce cars of a different kind on the weekend as the Radical Cup USA made its debut appearance at the 3.370 mile circuit. Nineteen Radical Cup cars were joined by over 100 other exotic competition cars and six national series for the three day NARRA Grand Prix of Watkins Glen which also featured the US GT Championship, Aston Martin GT4 Challenge North America and the SCCA PRO Formula Atlantic Championship.

Difficult conditions made the going even tougher for the drivers, many of whom had never seen the circuit before. Much of Friday was rained out meaning the evening's qualifying session for Round 7 would favour the brave. Rocketing up the timesheet late in the session it appeared Jesse Menczer's (1:53.951) form would continue. After winning three of the last four races he pipped Dave Tweedlie and Ryan Carpenter for the SR8 pole. Reigning champ Gerhard Watzinger could only manage fourth on the grid.

Falb (1:57.779) continued his perfect season, blitzing the SR3 field to be nearly 2 seconds clear of his main rival, George Kurtz. Switching from SR8 to the SR3 class for the Watkins Glen event, Jim Booth qualified third on the grid, while Todd Slusher was fourth fastest.

That order changed in the race with Slusher securing third behind Kurtz and SR3 race winner John Falb, who took his seventh consecutive trifecta of pole position, fastest lap and race win. However SR3's biggest mover was Ron Eckhardt, who went from eight on the grid to fifth.

Yet it was Ari Strauss who claimed drive of the day. The New York native missed qualifying while still in transit from the United Kingdom and without any laps started at the rear of the SR8 field. He quickly carved his way through and as the checker flag flew was only 1.4 seconds behind the winner. Watzinger had capitalized on his cautious approach to qualifying with his third win of the season.

The big story, however, was Menczer's struggle. Lapping in the 49s he fell back through the pack to fourth while everyone around him found the mid 48s, including third placed Ryan Carpenter who secured the SR8 lap record with a 1:48.546. Adam Merzon and Randy Carpenter completed the top six, while Dave Tweedlie ended the day early after a spin left him with flat spots on his tyres.

This benefitted Tweedlie for the reverse grid race, which was held on Saturday afternoon due to a change in format. Tweedlie shared the SR8 front row with Randy Carpenter, while in SR3 Ron Eckhardt and Naj Husain were thrown into the spotlight.

Upon the green Merzon leap into the lead from third on the grid as Carpenter began to make his way up through the field. By mid race Carpenter was clearly the fastest man on track and overtook Merzon for the SR8 lead. Building a solid lead Carpenter clinched his second victory for the year suggesting he could be a threat to Menczer and Watzinger for the title.

Merzon held on to second place to equal his best finish of 2014. Behind him it was a photo finish between Watzinger and Strauss, with the latter just missing out on third. Just as Carpenter had stunningly worked his way through the field so did Falb, to bring his tally of wins to eight for the season. However, it was Slusher who capitalized on the reverse grid the most, after fending off Kurtz to take second in SR3 from fifth on the grid. Booth was fourth.

Ron Eckhardt finished fifth after having a major moment with John Thompson. The pair found themselves looking into each other's eyes as Thompson spun around Eckhardt in the high-speed esses. Amazingly both men survived without touching the wall. Naj Husain completed the top six.

Watzinger's championship winning ways returned come Sunday morning as he qualified on pole for Round 9. It appeared Menczer had also found more pace, but splitting the pair was Carpenter, who again impressed. After not recording a time, Strauss found himself starting from the back of the pack once more.
So cold was it as the cars rolled out for the final race light sleet started to fall. A number of drivers slipped and slid through turn one. Both Watzinger and Menczer ran wide after big lock-ups. As Menczer lost a spot to the fast starting Randy Carpenter, Watzinger maintained his lead. Further back Ari Straus spun after momentarily making up a spot or two, but the drama wasn't over.

As the field remained somewhat cautious, Watzinger threw caution to the wind and pushed aggressively as he climbed the esses for the first time. However the conditions caught him out and he crashed into the Armco, bringing out the safety car.

Once the race resumed Ryan Carpenter was never challenged, and Merzon got back in front of Menczer. Ari Straus then climbed the leader board to take second way from Merzon, who nevertheless came away with another podium finish. However it was Carpenter who did most of the celebrating. After taking his second win of the weekend, and his third of the year, he had confirmed his status as a third championship contender along with Watzinger and Menczer.
In fact when the round drops are taken into account, as they will at the end of the year, Carpenter has effectively moved into the lead of the SR8 title fight. Yet only six points separate him from Watzinger, who is just two ahead of Menczer.

Falb led the SR3 field before the full course caution, but was timid on the restart after watching Watzinger's demise which allowed Kurtz to capitalize. Amazingly Kurtz passed Falb for the SR3 lead where his Team CrowdStrike teammate had crashed out. Seemingly spurred on to make up for Watzinger's mistake, for the first time this season Kurtz more than had Falb's match and claimed the SR3 lap record (1:53.384) in the process of taking his first win of 2014.

Slusher completed a strong weekend with third place, as did Booth with another fourth. Brother's Gary and Jay Torres rounded out the top six. Their interfamily bragging rights stand at 2:1 in Gary's favor. Kurtz's breakthrough win capped Falb's winning streak to eight races, nevertheless, Falb has increased his lead in the championship to 31 points (based on adjusted totals). Meanwhile second placed Kurtz now has a comfortable 14 point buffer to Slusher. Despite his spin, Thompson's Watkins Glen points haul has him fourth in the chase for the title.

The Radical Cup now heads west to Sonoma Raceway, June 13-15, in California's wine country before taking on the challenging Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formally Mosport), July 25-27. After heading to Autobahn Country Club, August 15-17, the series will return to New York State for the final rounds of the championship at Monticello Motor Club, September 11-13.


 

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