The 55th running of the SCCA National Championship RunOffs took place October 16-21st at Sonoma Raceway. Driver Michele Abbate qualified to compete in the GT-1 class in the #30 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS stock car, owned by Tim Adolphson, and built and maintained by Crew Chief Craig Raudman (former NASCAR driver).
The team headed into the week with a non-traditional plan that held one goal in mind, to finish strong and to see the checkered flag on race day. The plan consisted of completing only 1 single lap in the first of three qualifying sessions of the week, and if it went well, they would park the car until race day. “With very limited amount of seat time in the car, I always cherish when I can get behind the wheel, but as a team we agreed that I should be able to nail my best lap in the very first hot lap, and that would serve me well for my grid position for the weekend,” Abbate shares. The idea was to keep the wear and tear off of the car, and to head into the race with confidence. “And we did just that. I clicked off my personal best lap time in just 1 single lap, and pulled the car into the pits immediately after. I think we confused a lot of people with this. I drove the car back to our pit space, and we wiped it down, put it on jack stands and there she sat, under a cover, until race day. The SCCA even published in its post-race release that we had troubles, but, in fact, nothing could have went better!”, Michele laughed.
The GT-1 class was the first of the 27 classes to kick off the racing action. Abbate took her 6th place position on grid, and the field hit the track to take the first green flag for the 3 days of racing that lied ahead. As the rumbling V8’s charged to turn 1 at the drop of the green flag Abbate fearlessly charged towards the front of the pack. By turn 3 she had already made up 3 positions and was on the bumper of 2nd place. Mike Lewis, former NASPORT, TransAm, and 9 time National Runoffs Champion in the lead, and profession Pirelli World Challenge/IMSA driver Preston Calvert in his Phoenix Racing Porsche 991 cup car in 2nd place. “I came through the carousel glued to Calvert’s rear bumper thinking, ‘holy crap – is this really happening!?”, Abbate says with a smile. As the race unfolded, Abbate was over taken by the Chevy Corvette driven by Ken Davis in addition to the Corvette driven by David Fershtand. “It never feels good to get passed, but, I know better than to think a race is over before seeing the checkered flag”, Michele explains as she remembered keeping her head down and clicking off some of the most consistent lap times in the entire field. Crew Chief Craig Raudman reported that her lap time consistency resulted in her chasing down both 3rd and 4th place. Raudman said, “She was gaining on them lap after lap, and you could see it visually”.
The GT-1 machines output very high horsepower and a 40 minute race is a testament to their equipment, prep, and attention to detail. “We pride ourselves to be working with the best in the business and there was no doubt in my mind that we would make it to the checkered flag – all as long as I kept my concentration and hit my marks”, Abbate declared. It seemed their non-traditional approach had truly paid off, Abbate made her way up in to 3rd place again after Davis and Fershtrand both suffered mechanical issues.
Consistency is everything and when the checkered flag waved Abbate became the youngest female of three to ever take a podium finish in the GT-1 category, as well as earning the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for the most positions gained in the race. “A truly rewarding way to round out my first debut in the SCCA National Championship RunOffs at Sonoma and to know I am following in the footsteps of Trans Am Champion Amy Ruman really has set my personal bar high. My dream is to race in the SCCA TransAm series and because of the support from my car owner, team owner, and teammate Tim Adolphson I have been able to showcase my talent and I am so grateful to be driving this car that Craig Raudman has put so much attention of detail into to make it the reliable car that it is”, said driver Michele Abbate.
The entire race was broadcast live and will be shared once made available for viewing. Michele would like to thank all those who have contributed to her racing success and looks forward to the final SCCA regional race of the year at Buttonwillow Raceway.