Gustavo Rafols has been crowned series champion following the final round of the Blue Marble Radical Cup North America series at Sebring International Raceway.
Rafols clinched the outright prize as well as the Pro 1500 class title with two calculated races, before going all out in the season finale. Al Miller stamped his authority on the Platinum class, and Owen Clarke scored a hat-trick in Pro 1340 during his series debut.
Sebring capped off a remarkable comeback year for Rafols, who sat out 2020 due to COVID travel restrictions. More mature in his approach, 2021 saw the young Puerto Rican reign in his aggression while continuing to develop his raw pace.
These two attributes were on full display at Sebring. After blistering speed shown in practice and clinching the Motul Pole Award by four and a half tenths with a 2:06.836, he calmly collected points in Race 16 with a cautious opening lap and contently running third before being elevated to second place.
Nate Smith, who rocketed into the lead during lap 1 looked set to take the win, but on lap 10 ‘ran out of talent’ as he put it-post race.
This left Comprent’s Noah Ping to take the victory– his first since the opening round at Barber. Initially falling back to fourth after his spin, Smith made a brave move around the outside of Esses Racing’s Palmer Miller into Turn 1 to put himself back on the podium.
Rafols was equally reserved in Race 17, taking the class championship with third place. For much of the race Rafols shadowed Ping, who took his second win of the weekend, however on the final lap, Smith made a lunge on Rafols to steal away second place.
It was yet another example of Smith’s independent team, Speed du Nord, punching above its weight and no doubt contributed to chief Greg Featherstone being named one of two Crew Members’ of the Year during the awards banquet. The other was Jay Morino, who helped One Motorsport driver Gregg Gorski remain a contender for the PRO 1500 title all year.
After relishing the attention of the fan grid-walk, and with the weight of the championship off his shoulders, Rafols unleashed himself in the final Race, setting laps over 1.5 seconds faster than his rivals on his way to victory.
In doing so, he tied up the outright title and its coveted prize– a factory works drive at one of the UK’s famous circuits. Rafols’ win also clinched the teams’ championship for WISKO Racing.
Behind him a battle for runner-up in the Pro 1500 points played out with Gorski short stopping the mandatory pitstop, while Palmer Miller perfected his stop to finish second in the race and in the championship. Noah Ping completed the year with another podium, and crucially enough points to be named 2021 Rookie of the Year.
Noah’s brother Zac was also vying for the Rookie title thanks to his efforts in the Pro 1340 class until a costly mistake on the final lap of Race 16. In trying to take back the lead from Team Red Green’s Owen Clarke, Ping crashed heavily, ruling him out for following race and the Rookie title.
Clarke’s win was particularly impressive as it came not only on his series debut, but in his first visit to the Sebring circuit. Finishing second, 2021 Pro 1340 class champ Mike Anzaldi became the meat in a Canadian sandwich thanks to Racing For Autism driver Austin Riley who took third.
In Race 17 Riley– who is the 2021 Emzone Radical Cup Canada champ– went one better, passing his US counterpart to take second behind Clarke. Anzaldi finished third, with Wisko Racing’s Dan McBreen in fourth.
Even after a slow mandatory pitstop Clarke completed a perfect weekend by winning Race 18. In fact, Anzaldi looked set to leapfrog the Clarke until he stalled in the pit lane and had to settle for second. Myles Kraut, another of the Canadian contingent to join the Blue Marble Radical Cup at Sebring, finished his weekend with an impressive podium.
Austin Riley was fourth, while Zac Ping picked up the Sunoco Hard Charger award for coming from the back of the pack to fifth.
The Platinum class was equally competitive. After being disqualified in qualifying Scott Wagner Racing’s Jon Field came from the rear of the grid to win Race 16 and be named the Sunoco Hard Charger. Polesitter Louis Schirber finished second, with Judd Miller third, Scott Wagner fourth and Jim Booth fifth.
Field’s task was made slightly easier in the first race due to Al Miller retiring shortly after starting from pit lane in an abundance of caution following his turbo failure during qualifying.
However, Al Miller made amends in Race 17, stamping his authority on a stellar season with his own victory from the back of the grid to secure the Platinum class drivers’ championship and the teams’ title for One Motorsports.
Shorewood Development Group Racing’s Schriber closed in on Booth for runner-up with another second place points haul while Judd Miller again found himself on the podium.
Like Rafols, Al Miller schooled his competition in the final race of the year. A perfect pitstop resulted in his eighth win of the season– this one ahead of Jon Field and Esses Racing’s Judd Miller.
Behind them Wisko’s Jim Booth passed Louis Schriber on the final lap to take second in the championship. Schriber had to be content with fastest lap of the race, a 2:04.940, and third in the standings.
Al Miller was further recognized during the Night of Champions banquet, where he was bestowed with the Jeff Green Memorial award recognizing those who make outstanding contributions to the Blue Marble Radical Cup series. Al Miller was honored for displaying similar attributes as the late Green himself, who was the “life of the party”, a conduit between the drivers and organizers and the “social glue” of the series.
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