944 Cup National Champs
When Potomac, the Founders’ region of the Porsche Club of America (PCA), hosted the 944 Cup Nationals at Summit Point for the first time, a roller coaster of a weekend unfolded – both on track and inside the hearts and minds of racers. After all, this was the venue where the 944 Cup series had its start.
With double regional points and a national championship on the line, the racers managed goals and expectations, while keeping an eagle eye on tires and weather as 2015 waned. Honors were bestowed in two categories – Cup, for drivers of normally aspirated front-engine Porsches, and Super Cup, for those having higher horsepower S2s, Turbos, and the next-generation 968s. A record 15 competitors entered in the Super Cup category.
Getting up to Speed
Drivers were initially buoyed by a northeasterly storm wind that pushed rear wings down the front straight; lap times were posted at record-setting levels, at least according to PCA’s recordbooks, which have held comprehensive statistics for the companion categories of SP2 and SP3 since 2006. It was hard to believe many of the experienced racers were first-timers at the hilltop circuit! Confidence was sky-high as the two North/Midwest regional sprints offered preludes to one final, national shoot-out.
Karl Poeltl, looking to score the fourth national title for his Racer’s Edge company and Performance Racing Oils/Miller Oils Nanotech, dropped a 1:21.8 in car-owner Henry King’s 968 to set the new SP3 record on his first qualifying session at the Point, while local racer Steve Wilson nipped at his heels.
And Wilson brought his 18-year-old son Robbie along, just as he has since the lad was eight years old. But this time, Robbie was at the helm of a Cup/SP2 entry, a rookie with only a handful of Cup races under his belt. Both Robbie and veteran David Mann took aim at the normally-aspirated 944 record (1:26.03), falling just short by mere tenths of a second.
Going for North/Midwest Awards
With Mann suffering a spin at the bottom of the Chute, Robbie Wilson easily drove his 1986 944 to two Cup wins, almost cracking the overall top-10 in the process. At the same time, James Rothenberger (eventual North champion) and Nort Northam (South champion) continued their successful 2015 regional campaigns.
Perhaps Wilson, now a proud father of a national contender, had a lot on his mind, because “dad’s” 951 (944 Turbo) was disqualified after the first sprint for being underweight. Meanwhile, Poeltl ran off with both sprints, leaving Wilson, Rob Branthover (the defending national champ), and Brian Weathered to chase him through chunks of traffic that clogged the best passing zone (Turn 1) and created challenges on Summit’s twisty back portions.
Although Poeltl established himself as the clear frontrunner for the next day’s Super Cup Nationals, Damon DeCastro, with seven top-fives, and Dennis Hiffman, who podiumed in every race, maintained their strongholds on relevant regional standings. Both came out ofawards dinner, crowned as double-regional champs in North/Canada and Midwest/South, respectively.
Going for the Nationals Cup
Now, here is where things got really interesting. Although the cows were standing in the nearby pastures, an early morningrainstorm made the grid challengers skittish just in time for the 30-minute race to decide it all. Racers from Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois, New Jersey (and places in between) had decisions to make and teeth to grit. If race starts were the deciding factor for the previous day’s outcomes, would rain tires be the call for those with passes to make? Or would the racers listen to the cows and go with dry tires?
Poeltl had a long face, but he went with dry tires, their stickers flapping on the slick pavement during the warm-up lap. Meanwhile, Weathered chose rain tires to tackle the wet patches and tire spray. Accordingly, the Knoxville native tip-toed in the #137, while Weathered aggressively drove away from the field. It was a battle that was most likely foreshadowed last spring at Road Atlanta, when Weathered asked his fellow Super Cup competitor, who won the sprints, to drive the #177 in the PCA enduro. The Midwest Eurosport shop owner wanted to get some feedback on this last-gen 944 from Poeltl, a car-handling expert, yet it seems much more came out of the experience.
With the Weathered-Poeltl battle appearing to be settled, casualties to the half-wet, half-dry track mounted: First Super Cup’s Steve Wilson went off twice, smacking the wall in Turn 3; then fellow driver DeCastro was gone on lap five. Soon after, Stephan Linz was lost to the Turn 10 gravel trap.
Robbie Wilson just kept plugging away in Cup, building a class lead and moving up the overall ranks to third. Amid the flying gravel and other dangers, Cris Brady, a veteran pilot who thrives in the Point’s mixed conditions, drove from seventh in class to third (and from 14th to sixth overall). After Mann made early rim shots around the puddled turns on Hoosiers, his efforts on the regular racing line resulted in a steady top-10 overall. Derek Fawcett out of Ontario made his best showing of the weekend and took the second step on the podium.
But there was an undercurrent to the chaos – the gap between Weathered and Poeltl was falling, first from six seconds to four, then from four seconds to 0.195. “I was patient,” explains Poeltl, “and giving up is not in my DNA.” From Poeltl’s vantage point as he closed in, Weathered got slowed entering the final turn, putting the leader’s red Porsche on the bumper of a lapped car. So Poeltl whoa’ed his 968 down to allow more room between his car and the pair ahead, for acceleration purposes. On lap 17 of 19 – at the end of a 2,900-foot front straight – the Knoxville native finally passed the shop owner from Illinois.