944 Cup Stands Out from the Crowd
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Photograph of the Glen's pit lane by Anthony Mascone.

Article by Patti Mascone

A chill in the air, then a scorching sun, and later, a bit (or maybe, a lot) of rain. Plus the promise of 3.4 miles of new pavement, only to have it divided up among five run groups (oh yeah, comprised of about 270 racers). This was the whirlwind of racing at Watkins Glen that enveloped the 944 Cup, under the Porsche Club of America umbrella. For the early June event, racers took in the new asphalt, during brief live sessions, while they also battled varying conditions. After clouting the wall, shredding a tire, or losing a clutch, boy, how some would have entertained a glass of wine at any of the 100+ local wineries, but they persevered.

No matter the blur of activity, the big picture continues to show that "spec" racing numbers are here to stay, including a strong semi-professional Cayman GT4 Clubsport category, introduced by PCA this year, plus popular amateur classifications for spec Boxsters and 944s.

This philosophy continues to drive PCA participation, with classes for SPB and 944 Cup (SP1, 2, 3) earning a joint Watkins Glen run group. A split start would ensure each pack, about 30+ drivers each, had their own space to race, at least for a little while. In fact, one pair of Glen drivers placed entries into both classes - Manny Martinez piloted a 1989 944 S2, and his son Manny, Jr., gridded a 1999 Boxster. Then, the Long Island duo came together to co-drive in the 944 Cup portion of the enduro. Manny, Jr. says PCA's spec racing offers "a fair and competitive racing field, while keeping costs down."

In governing the expansion of 944 Cup competition, PCA scrutineers continued their examinations of presented steeds. One such review left a competitor bounced from SP2 to SP3 before drivers headed to the track for racing.

"Two-a-Days" Highlight Sprint Action
First, the Boxsters got the signal to go green for Sprint 1, buzzing in unison past the starter stand in a neat procession. Out of earshot, the 944 Cup contingent was held to second- or third-gear behind a training Cayenne SUV. After the raggedy band of front-engine Porsches snaked out of the Glen's final bowl, a crescendo of engine noise rose again, but this time, it came a bit too early. Chicago region's Brian Weathered lunged a car-length ahead from the inside pole position, and then the grid abruptly slowed just as the green was unfurled. An accordion of back-and-forth jostling squeezed the cortege, causing some to lock up tires or take evasive maneuvers. Two competitors were relegated to the black-flag station for changing positions, in negation of solid qualifying efforts.

Meanwhile, the SP3 drivers of turbos, S2s, and 968s preyed on the SPB pack, as they fought each other for position. Ed Dunne's 968 Firehawk came out on top, climbing to fourth overall on the strength of a record 2:08.8 lap time on the updated asphalt. Using newly allowed chips to the fullest advantage, even the SP2 leaders entered the top-25 overall, regardless of the spec Boxsters having a half-mile advantage on the start. Van Svenson, representing the Hudson Champlain region, bested Randy Smith, the three-time Canada 944 Cup champion, while the latter scored a record-setting lap for the normally aspirated 944s. For those running in SP1, the front-engine category with the most restrictions, Kevin Palmer took top honors and kudos for handling all the circling traffic.

The quarters were even closer for Sprint 2, the result of a Boxster incident that necessitated a restart. This time, the overall victory was grabbed by SP3-competitor Dunne. From Svenson, who swapped the SP2 lead with Smith, through sixth-place, the finishing order replicated the first feature. Shannon McCue, a Northern Ohio member, made it a race with Palmer in SP1, with the former taking the second sprint after grabbing third in the first round.

Both outings were remarkable for the number of competitors who completed the 13-14 lap events - Every 944 Cup entrant who took the green in Sprint 1 completed the competition, and 32 of 36 competitors completed the redux.

Wait 15 Minutes and the Weather will Change
The decision to mount rain tires was an easy one for the 944 Cup/Spec Boxster enduro, at least prior to the green flag, when the doppler radar, the sky, and the falling rain unanimously argued for the conservative approach. With the conditions looking so ominous, the enduro line-up was thinned in half, but it included at least one or two brave souls on dry tires. During the first 15 laps, a drying line gave the cautious crews pause as increasing speeds put heat into the thicker rain tires and spray was kicked to the curbs.

Later in the race, a downpour (accompanied by an incident-causing yellow flag) assuaged any doubts about those treaded tires. Once the green returned, lap times fell off about 20 seconds or more per lap, confirming the conditions had significantly worsened. Nine DNFs were testament to the tough conditions, which included standing water, poor visibility, and slip-sliding competitors.

Although Weathered (SP3) held the lead for 21 laps, the Chicago-area racer was almost out of time to make the mandatory pit stop when his race apparently ended early with an on-track mishap only three laps from the end. At the same time, the father-son team of Manny Martinez and Manny, Jr. stayed in the hunt, buoyed by confidence in their Hoosier wets and the car's set-up. After dropping the second-best lap time of the day on the competition, Manny, Sr. handed the 1989 944 S2 over to his son to tackle the hardest bit of driving on their way to earning second overall and in class. But it was Dunne, starting on dries and switching to rains on his pit stop, who earned the enduro victory by almost 20 seconds after 34 laps.

In SP2, Mark Wolff, class winner, and Robbie Wilson, the 2015 944 Cup national champion, found redemption after prior weekend troubles to take the top two steps in the podium when the checkered flag flew. The pair were never more than one competitor apart for the duration, an illustration that some of the best come-back performances can be earned in the rain. As Martinez, Jr., explains, perhaps on behalf of the entire enduro grid, "In the wet, it shows who the best drivers are."