After supporting IndyCar at Barber and Road America, the Blue Marble Radical Cup was the main act at Circuit of the Americas this weekend, July 17-19, and the series didn’t disappoint. Seemingly ever growing in popularity, Austin saw the highest car count yet for 2021 with 34 drivers taking to the track including an influx of local Texans. Gustavo Rafols dominated the PRO 1500 class, taking pole position and all three wins to give himself maximum points over championship rival Gregg Gorski. Fourteen-year-old Cristian Weir again showed why he’s destined to be a star of the future with two wins in PRO 1340, and it could have been three if not for a technical infraction by his team. The Platinum class spoils were shared between former ALMS champ Jon Field, points leader Indy Al Miller and home-town hero Judd Miller. However, it was another Texan, Willie Putrajaya, who turned the most heads with a standout performance earning him two podium finishes.
As they often do at COTA, track limits played a role during the weekend, and no more so than in qualifying, with numerous deleted laps. However perhaps a bigger frustration to the older generation of drivers in the 1340cc SR3 ranks was the raw pace of young Christian Weir (Power Equipment Direct / Team Stradale), who continued the dominance he displayed at Road America. He was a staggering 1.8 seconds clear of Chris McMurry– a former Sebring 12 Hour class winner and father of Weathertech star Matt McMurry– and secured his second Motul Pole Award of the season.
Weir then led Race 7 of the championship from start to finish, only to have his celebrations soured when his car failed tech. This promoted McMurry (prisma / CROWN with Apex) to the win, from Zac Ping (Revogenex / Comprent Motor Sports) and Mike Anzaldi (Emmett’s Energy / Anzaldi GP). Ping’s result was one of redemption after having to give up a position following a pass under yellow, and a drive through for multiple track limit violations.
A standout drive in Race 8 saw Weir claw his way from the back of the grid to clinch victory and the Sunoco Hard Charger Award. This time it was McMurry’s teammate and fellow Apex Country Club member Vince Swizter (CROWN with Apex) in second, with Anzaldi again securing third.
Another fastest lap of the race secured Weir the class pole for Race 9, while his team further redeemed themselves with a solid pitstop and strategy to help ensure the youngest driver in the field secured his fourth win of the season. McMurry added to his trophy cabinet with second, and Zac Ping completed the podium.
Tied in points heading into the weekend, COTA was going to be critical for both Gregg Gorski (smokebuddy / ONE Motorsports) and Gustavo Rafols (WISKO Racing). Qualifying went the Puerto-Rican’s way and he was rewarded with the Motul Pole Award, while Gorski had to settle for fourth fastest in the highly competitive class, with two more young-guns, Noah Ping and Palmer Miller increasing the gap to his championship rival. Fifth fastest was Alex Morton (Team Stradale), who was then caught out by a minor issue and the tight turn arounds between sessions, preventing him from taking the green in the first race. Rafols found himself mixing it up with the SR10 of Scott Wagner, who eventually became a convenient buffer between himself and Gorski, who worked his way to secure a solid second place. This was helped by the demise of Noah Ping (Revogenex / Comprent Motor Sports) on lap 2, who spun and then collected Blake Mycoskie while reentering the track, and a tough race for Palmer Miller, who fell to fifth in class. Alain Derzie (ONE Motorsports) capitalized on the commotion to finish third, with Steve Jenks (Audien Hearing / Group-A Racing) in fourth while Nick Pearson (Team FURY) completed the top six.
Nate Smith (Lagersmith / Speed du Nord) and David Alban (RingPower / WISKO Racing) were both scratches for Race 8, while David Flynt (WISKO Racing) spun on the opening lap, but that was only the beginning. By lap five multiple cars were stranded off track, including Steve Jenks who was running third at the time. After an initial safety car, the race was red flagged momentarily to preserve maximum running time, and racing resumed with 15 minutes left on the clock. Throughout, Rafols remained in command to take his third win of the season. It was heartache for Noah Ping, who stopped in the final turn as the white flag came out. Palmer Miller received a big cheer from his home crowd for second place, while Gorski kept himself in contention for the championship with another podium. Pearson had another solid result with fourth, with Morton fifth and Richard Durocher (OPMT.com / Team FURY) six.
Second fastest in class during the second race, Gorski found himself better placed for the final race of the weekend. He tailed Rafols in the stint before the mandatory pitstops and came out of pitlane within striking distance. He was tantalizingly close, however Rafols kept calm under pressure to clinch his third win of the weekend. On the podium, Gorski was satisfied with his second place, and Palmer Miller added to his points haul with third. It appeared to be either Derzie or Jenks on the podium until the pair banged wheels on the final lap in what was deemed a racing incident and they had to settle for fourth and fifth, respectively.
Radical Texas / Esses Racing fielded a total of eight cars at COTA, which particularly boosted the Platinum class with Todd Solomon (SR10), Willie Putrajaya (SR8 RSX) and Philip Berber (SR8) joining full season entrants Palmer Miller (SR10) and Conrad Park (RXC). As expected, the series regulars set the pace early in the weekend, but it quickly became apparent there was a dark horse amongst the Texan talent.
Louis Schriber again showed his speed and took his second pole position of the year. After dualling with Jon Field (Scott Wagner Racing) during the opening laps, Schriber settled into the lead before lady luck dealt the Shoorewood Development Group Racing driver another blow, with debris puncturing his radiator. While Field took over the lead, and Indy Al Miller (Blue Marble / One Motorsports) fended off Judd Miller, Park sent his RXC into a spin over the bumps through the esses. A moment for Indy Al late in the race, while pushing hard to pass Field, allowed Judd through, but brake fade meant Judd had to ease up, and Indy Al reclaimed second place. Yet the real eye opener was Willie Putrajaya, who had started seventh in class, had not only rocketed up the field but past Judd Miller on the final tour to take the final step of the podium. Putrajaya’s efforts were also rewarded with Race 7’s Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
While setting the fastest lap in the first race, Schriber sidelined for the second, leaving a three-way tussle between Field, Al Miller and Judd Miller for the win. Philip Berber had a big scare with a rear brake bleed nipple failure resulting in a highspeed hit with the Techpro barriers at turn 11. His car was just many that led to the red flag.
After racing resumed Indy Al Miller secured another victory the brand new 380lb-ft, 425bhp Radical SR10, from Field and Judd Miller. Jim Booth finished fourth, with Park and Putrajaya rounding out the top six.
Critically though, Putrajaya had put in a stellar lap to ensure he’d start the final race from the front row. A spin in the opening lap for polesitter Al Miller dropped him to sixteenth overall at the end of lap 1, and Judd Miller was in command from teammate Putrajaya. While Miller attempted an overcut and led the race briefly during the spate of pitstops, he conceded in parc ferme that Radical Texas were just too strong and had to settle for third place. Meanwhile, Judd Miller and Putrajaya thrilled their fans with a Radical Texas one-two, particularly Putrajaya’s standout performance. Jim Booth again finished fourth, while Todd Solomon scored an impressive fifth in his series debut. Louis Schriber salvaged some points with sixth place in a borrowed car, with his drive from 32nd to13th overall earning him the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
With close points battles in each of the three classes, the Blue Marble Radical Cup now heads to New Jersey Motorsport Park to star alongside Road to Indy, on August 27-29.
Images: Tracie Leanne/APEX ATX Media