Editor’s Note: Matt Gessler is the marketing manager for online retail powerhouse Corvette Central. In addition to helping out media people like us with our build projects, he also gets to travel to a lot of cool events. Here’s his account of the 2012 UTCC. – Paul Huizenga
On a recent balmy, sunny Southeastern Friday, just under 50 cars competed in the Grassroots Motorsports (GRM) 2012 Ultimate Track Car Challenge (UTCC). The event happens every year at the historic, scenic and exhilarating Virginia International Raceway, between South Boston and Danville, Virginia.
By Invitation Only
Amid the impressive array of cars, hand-picked after owner submission by GRM staffers, were two Z06 Corvettes. One, a C5, looked decidedly track ready, with a menacing green on black paint scheme, roll cage, battle scars, and a stark interior. The other, a red C6, complete with a full interior and A/C (along with a pro built, 580 RWHP LSx), could literally be driven home from the event after a change to DOT tires. How they finished may surprise readers unfamiliar with the competition, which is quickly becoming a signature event for GRM.
The UTCC is a time trial event, with driver classifications established by GRM. Two primary groups of drivers (both of which need to be highly track experienced) compete on VIR’s 3.3 mile main course. Sponsor awards may be given to a variety of entrants, but the UTCC recognizes the single fastest car of the day. The entrants arrived at the track Thursday afternoon to run their cars through tech inspection. GRM staffers were on hand to distribute windshield banners, sponsor decals and briefly chat with the drivers.
Rubbing Isn’t Racing…
On Friday, the action began early as everyone completed their shakedown runs in the morning, followed by three 15 minute timed sessions per group. No average lap times were recorded, as GRM awarded the fastest lap of the day with the overall win. Drivers who had any contact with other cars, completely leave the track surface, spin out, or experience significant loss of control were disqualified for that specific session. A few gremlins affected some cars throughout the day, but mishaps were infrequent.
The formidable lineup of cars registered for the 2012 UTCC made for a thrilling afternoon, whether attendees were driving or spectating. VIR is a veritable roller coaster of a track, with an incredible downhill straight followed by high speed esses, “Horseshoe Bend”, a turn that will test the upper limits of your brakes (and eyeball sockets), to a freakish uphill double chicane.
Taking into consideration that cars ranged from a stock VW Golf R to a tube-framed Pontiac Grand Prix stock car, the span of over 30 seconds between the fastest and slowest recorded lap times is understandable. Drivers used every square inch of the berms as they exploited the lack of courtesy “point bys” that are commonplace at track day events. Speeds along the straights topped 150 MPH in the fastest cars.
The two Corvette drivers, Anne Keller (C5 Z06) and Mike Skeen (C6 Z06), ultimately recorded times that placed them in the Top 25. Anne, a Group B participant, effectively shaved almost 2 full seconds from her first session, recording an impressive 2:10.603 fastest lap. This time earned her 24th place overall, ahead of race-prepped Mustangs, BMW’s and Audis.
Mike Skeen (Group A) came away with the UTCC title, as well as the Fastest Corvette Award presented by Corvette Central Performance. His incredible 1:54.633 lap blew away the field. You can put your calculators away: that’s an average of 107 MPH per lap. He was over two seconds quicker than the second place Dodge Viper Competition Coupe driven by Franklin Lussier.
Run for Fun
The event was interspersed with club driving sessions throughout the day, and the track was inundated with Corvettes as a result. On this particular day, C5’s and C6’s were everywhere, the sole exception being an tube framed, wide-bodied C4 that looked to be having an incredible time during the club sessions.
Your humble scribe was lucky enough to experience VIR for the first time in the passenger seat of a C5Z race car, and made me want to head back someday soon as a driver. I also witnessed firsthand the brute power and finesse of the ZR1 Corvette, as a stock appearing example simply rocketed past our 500 HP race car on the straight and disappeared into the esses.
GRM and the regional NASA club did a commendable job with the 2012 UTCC. One can only hope that the event continues to gain more recognition and entrants. Especially Corvettes. As Mike Skeen demonstrated, the C6 Z06 is a world class sports car that can hold its own with anything on the track. Congratulations to Mike, owner Matt Callahan and sponsor Callahan Construction for taking home the UTCC trophy.