INDIANAPOLIS – Tire choice proved critical in the F Production race as changing track conditions continued to impact the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today.
The FP race started on a damp but rapidly drying track, and the 39 drivers in the field faced a choice between full rain tires, intermediates, hand-grooved slicks, or dry-weather slicks. Making matters more complicated, light rain began falling late in the race, tipping the balance back toward rain tires.
Cliff Ira handled the climatic change better than anyone else. Driving a Honda Del Sol, Ira gambled on slicks, and he had the fastest car when it counted — in the middle portion of the race.
He had pulled out a four-second advantage over Mason Workman — out of Canal Winchester, OH — in a Mazda Miata when the caution flag flew after 15 of 19 scheduled laps. With a 40-minute race time limit looming, the checkered flag was displayed the next time by, with Ira taking the victory over Workman and two-time FP National Champion Kevin Ruck, who rounded out the podium in third.
Ruck started on rain tires and looked comfortable for the first 10 laps. He maintained the lead through two restarts, but as he started his 11th lap, Ira got past him on the pit straight.
A couple corners later, Ruck lost second place to Workman, who ran on hand-cut slicks but spun on the first lap and had a lot of ground to make up. Workman’s eventful day also included contact with another car that caused the second of the race’s three full course cautions. Workman managed to stay relatively close to Ira as the laps wound down, but Ruck had fallen nearly 15 seconds behind the leader when the final caution flew.
Ira’s first SCCA National Championship came in the Super Touring Light at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2014.
“We’ve been on the grid before when it’s raining and we made the wrong decision,” Ira related. “I think we had the car to run with them, and it worked out. I love it when a plan comes together. It’s such an incredible feeling. The Runoffs is the pinnacle. You get on top here, it’s just a feeling like no other — especially at Indy.”
Ira called the hybrid wet-dry setup he used “a pure gamble.” This was just the fifth race for Ira in the Del Sol that he debuted at the Heartland Park road course this summer.
“It’s a choice you make at the very last minute, and this happened to be the right one,” Ira said. “I’ve been on the other side of that when it didn’t work.”
Workman achieved a career best finish in the Runoffs after twice before finishing third. “I didn’t have anything for Cliff,” he admitted. “I was backwards in Turn 1 on the first lap, watching the entire field stream by me on both sides. I just started picking them up and putting them down.
“We kind of did a ‘hero or zero’ on the tire decision, and it almost worked,” he added. “We came up a little bit short.”
Ruck earned his fourth podium finish in the National Championships, but he was visibly disappointed. “Coming in here, I would have been happy with a podium on a dry track,” he said. “I just made the wrong tire choice. Kudos to Cliff because that had to have been dicey at the start of that race. He kept it on the track. When I saw he was in third place after the first yellow, I knew we were toast.”
Rick Harris of Topeka, KS, finished fourth in an Acura Integra, while Sam Henry took fifth place after running as high as second in the early laps. The Sunoco Hard Charger Award was claimed by Larry Gallagher, who improved from 25thplace on the grid to 10th place at the finish.