MX-5 MAZDASPEED Classic at Lime Rock

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

LIME ROCK PARK, Conn. – Yes, it was a non-championship event, but the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge Classic at Lime Rock Park was an exciting display of excellent racing in front of a big crowd during the traditional Memorial Day Grand-Am GT Sports Car Classic…

Practice, qualifying and race results are here

A collection of photos by Rick Roso, Greg Clark and Abhi Ghatek can be found here

Race 1: Local racer A.J. Riley was quickest in the separate qualifying sessions for the two Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge Memorial Day Classic races at Lime Rock Park, but he would start from pole only in Monday’s race. In Q1, Riley, in a backup car, nipped Peter Ludwig by .006 for fastest lap. But because he had crashed (in the Uphill) on his initial out lap, MAZDASPEED Challenge rules required that he start at the back for race one on Saturday.

With Ludwig on pole alongside Danny Steyn, soon after a clean start of the 17-car field, Ludwig went trotting off into the distance. In fact, by lap 10 of 22, Ludwig had nearly a full front-straightaway lead over P2, which was a nifty battle between Sy Aryeh, Steyn and, early on, Lee Carpentier. While those guys were duking it out, slicing up from the back was Riley…

Inside of three laps, Riley went from dead last to ninth. Making outside moves in Big Bend (T1/T2) work, by mid-race Riley was into sixth. He held steady for four laps, then took fifth away from Carpentier on lap 13. Setting his sights on fourth-place Chris Brown, Riley took that spot on lap 18. Now Riley had five laps left to snatch a podium. There was no catching Ludwig, bu third place or even second was in his grasp. And so he dispatched Aryeh for third on lap 18 then got himself behind Steyn – and got around him with three laps to go.

It was a great drive for the 21-year-old from Wilton, Conn. Riley, a former BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National presented by Mazda race-winner and current Grand-Am KONI Challenge driver.

Aryeh came home fourth, followed by Brown, Justin Piscitell, Carpentier and Ron Cohn. Rounding out the top 10 were Curt Riley – A.J.’s uncle – and Frank DeNicola.

But let’s not forget Ludwig. He has always been one of the fastest Skip Barber drivers since he began racing in its open-wheel championships a few years ago, and Ludwig proved it again in the MX-5 Miata cars. He set fastest lap of the race (1:05.054), a good half-second quicker than next-best Riley’s 1:05.554. Ludwig, 42, also competes in the Grand-Am KONI Challenge, driving a Porsche for TRG.

Peter Ludwig (51) and Danny Steyn (52) were on the front row for race one.

Left to right on the R1 podium are third place Danny Steyn, winner Peter Ludwig and P2 A.J. Riley.

Dan Moen (47) staying inside of Chris Brown (46) in Turn One.

Race 2: With Riley on pole, Steyn second and Ludwig starting third, Monday’s race held the promise of a much closer affair up front. And so it was. Ludwig is known for being super-fast right out of the box and he didn’t disappoint, grabbing the lead on the first lap, with Steyn tucked under his rear bumper and Riley relegated to third. It took Riley one lap to dispatch Steyn for second place and by lap four he put the move on Ludwig for the lead. The order from laps four to 12 was Riley, Ludwig, Steyn, Carpentier and Aryeh. with Piscitell and Cohn excitingly swapping sixth and seventh. But on lap 13 DeNicola got it wrong in the Downhill and stuffed his MX-5 Miata into the inside tire barrier.

After everything was cleaned up, it went green with three laps to go and Carpentier got a great start, leaping to second behind Riley as he put Steyn and Ludwig behind him. But that lasted just one lap as Ludwig rebounded with his own fourth-to-second move, with Carpentier now in third and Steyn fourth, where they would finish out the last lap. Aryeh, Cohn, Piscitell, Keiron O’Rourke (DNF on Saturday with a broken throttle cable), Brown and late-add Pat Daly rounded out the top 10. (Your intrepid reporter, who had not yet raced the Skip Barber MX-5 Miata, was also a last-minute add and nevertheless brought ‘er home in 17th.)

Overall it was a fine display of the wonderful ”race-ability,” equality and reliability of the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED MX-5 Miatas. Racing in front of a big Memorial Day crowd at Lime Rock was icing on the cake.

Green flag for the re-start on lap 19.

A.J. Riley had ’em covered in race two.

With second place Ludwig wimping out on the traditional champagne soaking it was left to Riley and Lee Carpentier (l.) to entertain the Winner’s Circle attendees…

Rick Roso

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