After a frustrating Friday, when torrential rain made practice unproductive and qualifying was cancelled, race day dawned sunny and crisp and the final practice saw Scott Maxwell set the fastest lap of the week in his #55 Aston on a new set-up that had been sorted during the previous day's single dry session. However, the race grid was set by driver points and so the #55 started from ninth spot while Multimatic filled the second row with the #71 and #15 and the #16 lined up thirteenth; a tough location to start a Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC) race.
After starting the first three races of the season from the front row, Jade Buford was not willing to languish back in the pack when the green flag flew and so immediately started to tear through the field making a pass per lap until he reached the #13 Rum Bum entry of Nick Longhi, who attempted to make it difficult for Multimatic's young gun.
Not to be intimated by the ultra-wide Porsche, Buford tapped it out of his way to take the lead of the race.
However, the officials deemed the move to be overly aggressive and assessed a penalty that dropped the #55 way down the leader board. But it was a day when the Multimatic bench was strong and as Buford dropped out of contention, Nick Mancuso came through in the #16 to pick-up the torch, passing Longhi's Porsche without incident and grabbing the lead as his teammate served the penalty. The #16 then led the entire middle section of the race pulling out a solid margin on the field as Mancuso proved that he completely belongs in the Aston in only his fourth race with the car.
Team principal Larry Holt directed three alternative strategies with the #16 running a risky single stop approach while the #71 pitted early and the #55 and #16 came in at the 48 minute mark with the majority of the field as the second yellow of the race was thrown. Ultimately any of these approaches could have worked but it was the outright speed of Frankie Montecalvo and Mancuso in the #16 that prevailed as only a pair of late race yellows impeded their relentless drive for the front, resulting in the car's first podium.
Again, Scott Maxwell drove the #55 back from adversity; this time of his co-driver's doing, and ended up tucked behind the #16 in fourth place at the end. Tonis Kasemets took over a challenging race car from Michael Marsal to complete a difficult day in a highly credible fifth place while John Farano and David Empringham fought similar handling challenges to #71 to come home 11th in the highly competitive field.
Highlights of the weekend were as follows:
Wet and cold weather conditions limited practice time and made Multimatic's fall testing visit to Atlanta all the more important as the drivers spent more time sitting around waiting than pedaling their Aston Vantages. A wide range of set-ups were ultimately utilized with Maxwell and Buford making major changes all the way until Saturday morning when their work proved highly worthwhile as Maxwell dominated the last practice session in the #55.
Buford and Mancuso had to start back in the pack while Farano and Marsal inherited the second row based on driver's points. But it was Buford that put on the early race passing lesson as he carved his way to the front, followed closely by Mancuso in the #16. Marsal and Farano held their own with cars that were certainly not in the league of their teammates.Ultimately all of the early strategy calls were equalized by a lack of yellow at the very point it was needed and the field opted for green flag stops as the cars came into their finishing fuel windows. The stops were led by the #16 of Mancuso as he had controlled the race to the mid-point with the benefit of not having made a previous visit to the box. The rest of the field then followed, streaming in to make their final visits to the lane which normalized the order for the final run to the finish.
All of the Multimatic cars then started a convincing drive to the front, but a pair of caution periods halted the team's impressive progress and with the race ending under yellow any hope of a first win for the Astons was destroyed.
Although the top step of the podium was not realized, the team did tie up the majority of the top spots with third, fourth and fifth going to the #16, #55 and #71 respectively. David Empringham brought the #15 home a credible eleventh on a tough day for the Tower Events car.
Multimatic Motorsports Team Principal, Larry Holt, commented: "Once again, I am pretty disappointed that we did not grab our first win but third, fourth and fifth is a pretty good points haul on the day. I can't say enough about the kids; Jade was unbelievable at the start, Nick dominated the middle stint of the race and Frankie was all over the leaders in the last half an hour."
"But Scotty did it again, recovered from a major setback to finish fourth. I got a call from both of them during the last yellow to say that if there was one last lap of green that they would win the race... same message within a few seconds of each other. I figure that if it had gone green then Tonis would have been on the podium and Sean and Jeff would have been fixing wrecked cars. So, I'm not so disappointed with the outcome."
The fifth race of the season takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course June 14th-15th in Lexington, Ohio.