Gustavo Rafols was set to celebrate his 23rd birthday in style, having qualified on pole and driving to a Race 10 podium on Saturday during Round 4 of the Blue Marble Radical Cup North America at New Jersey Motorsports Park with Road To Indy.
Instead a technical infraction by his team, WISKO Racing, spoilt his party.
On Sunday the young-gun showed his mettle and recovered with two strong wins to extend his lead in the PRO 1500 class championship. It was a similar story in the Platinum and PRO 1340 classes, where respective points leaders Indy Al Miller and Mike Anzaldi secured victories to increase their points advantage.
A move to SR10 machinery immediately paid off for former American Le Mans Series champion Jon Field (Scott Wagner Racing). He shared the top of the time charts with Louis Schriber (Shorewood Development Group) throughout Friday’s test sessions and Saturday’s official practice. However, in qualifying it was Schriber who clinched the Motul Pole Award with a 1:18.955, his third in a row.
After leading Indy Al Miller (Blue Marble/ONE Motorsports) into Turn 1, Schriber appeared to have Race 1 under control, but just before the mid-point of the race, a back-marker baulked the leader through the final turns allowing Miller to take a daring pass on the outside of the start-finish straight.
Miller’s good work soon unraveled on the approach to Turn 1, and he out-braking himself on the dirty side of the track before running wide, which allowed Schriber back through.
Schriber then made his own mistake into the Turn 3 chicane, regifting Miller the lead and eventually the Race 10 win. Schriber fell back through the pack, elevating Jon Field into second and Judd Miller (ESSES Racing / Radical Texas) to third. For his efforts Field was also awarded the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
With the fastest lap of the race, Indy Al Miller started Race 11 from pole and led Schriber through the open laps. Field and Judd Miller soon created a train of Platinum cars at the front before light rain began to fall.
Schriber then got run down the front straight, with Miller squeezing him to the curb and the pair trading paint, allowing Field past. Relishing the conditions Field set the fastest lap of the race and built a commanding lead.
Meanwhile Schriber got back past Indy Al Miller, however as the conditions deteriorated an off filled his radiators with grass. On the verge of overheating, Schriber limped around until the race was neutralized to allow teams to swap onto grooved Hankook rubber.
Upon resumption Judd Miller found himself in third but a spin saw Louis Schriber close in and he pipped Judd Miller on the line for the final step on the podium behind Indy Al Miller and John Field.
Field may have been on the pole for Race 12, but Schriber took the lead on the opening lap and led until the pit window opened. However, Indy Al Miller churned out stunning in and out laps to leapfrog his way to the win, and the Sunoco Hard Charger award. Schriber had to settle for second, with Field third, while Judd Miller finished fourth and Jim Booth (McDonald’s / WISKO Racing) was fifth.
The result has given Indy Al Miller a commanding lead in the Platinum championship, while Schriber has moved to third in the standings and is now targeting Booth whose consistency has him currently sitting second in points.
A new track brought in new drivers to the Blue Marble Radical Cup. Mark Calzaretta (WISKO Racing) and Robert Torres (Radical New York/Group-A) both made their series debuts at NJMP, while Ryan Bjerke (Bjerke Motorsport) returned for the first time since last year’s Road Atlanta finale.
However, the pace was set by the series regulars, in particularly Gustavo Rafols. He dominated practice and amazingly even out qualified the more powerful Platinum class cars to take the Motul Pole Award.
At the start of Race 10, Rafols couldn’t keep the Platinum cars at bay and tucked in behind Judd Miller’s SR8. While initially keeping championship rival Gregg Gorski (smokebuddy/ONE Motorsports) at bay, commencing lap 3 Rafols’s SR3 simply wasn’t wide enough and Gorski moved into the lead.
Momentarily it seemed Rafols couldn’t find his qualifying rhythm, and he fell back into the clutches of Palmer Miller (ESSES Racing / Radical Texas), who himself was under pressure from Steve Jenks (Audien Hearing / Group-A). But soon Rafols was back on Gorski’s gearbox. Gorski sustained the attack, however, to take his second win of the 2021 season.
While Rafols celebrated on the podium, he was soon informed his car didn’t comply and Jenks was promoted to second place, with Palmer Miller now third. The best of the newcomers, Ryan Bjerke finished fourth.
Starting from the back of the grid in Race 11, Rafols quickly moved to ninth outright, but his progression stuttered when Bjerke put up the fight of his life to fend of Rafols for seven laps. Meanwhile Palmer Miller had made stellar start and led the PRO 1500 class for the first half of the race, with Steve Jenks in second and Gorski third.
Rafols continued his move forward and when the full course caution came out was second only to outright leader Field. After the change to wets and a single file restart, a spin for Jenks took him out of contention, and Rafols secured the win from Gregg Gorski and a well-deserved Ryan Bjerke. Rafols was further recognized with the Sunoco Hard Charger award, and the class pole for Race 12.
Rafols then put on a master class during the final race of the weekend, effectively leading the from start to finish and setting the outright fastest lap of the race. The only time the number 28 wasn’t in P1 was when he made his mandatory stop.
Behind him Steve Jenks was solid in second place until the stops, when he dropped behind Gregg Gorski and Palmer Miller, who went on to complete the podium. Bjerke was then promoted to fourth after it was deemed Jenks’s stop was short, and he was classified in fifth. Robert Torres rounded out the top six.
Sunday’s two victories were a belated birthday present for Rafols and have extended his points lead over nearest rival Gorski, who also increased his buffer over Palmer Miller.
After the opening rounds of the championship saw strong grids in the PRO 1340 class– including a 10 car field at COTA just last month– a number of unrelated circumstances, including competitors testing positive for COVID, resulted in just one car at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Without direct competition, Mike Anzaldi (Anzald GP) tested himself against the greater field on his way to a hattrick of victories. He now sits well clear of Jeff Ping (Comprent Motor Sports), who was a late withdrawal, and Christian Weir (Team Stradale), who made his Road To Indy debut this weekend after taking wins at both Road America and COTA in the PRO 1340 class.
The Blue Marble Radical Cup now commences preparations for Round 5 at Road Atlanta, Sept. 23-26, where the series will join the HSR Fall Historics weekend for a four-day festival of speed.