It was a trip to the picturesque Sonoma Raceway for the final round of the 2022 Blue Marble Radical Cup North America program. With championships on the line, racing was hard and competitive as drivers pushed their machines and themselves to the limits to gain as many positions as possible in their quest to climb to the top step of the podium. History was made throughout the weekend with Aurora Straus becoming the first female to win in Radical Cup North America competition, while Autistic driver Austin Riley not only became the US Pro 1340 Champion– doubling up on his Canadian title from 2021– but the overall series champion too.
After Friday’s test and practice sessions it was Esses Racing’s Judd Miller who topped the Platinum Class results sheets in qualifying ahead of championship point leader Steve Jenks and Scott Wagner.
Steve Jenks closed in on his quest for the Platinum Class Championship scoring the race one win by nearly three seconds over pole position winner Judd Miller. It was Jim Booth who joined Jenks and Miller on the podium after the 22-lap race disposing of Scott Wagner who qualified on the inside of the second row in the Platinum class but fell to fourth on the results sheets. Charles Finelli (Fat Boy Racing) showed speed early but was forced to retire on lap 13 in his Radical Cup debut.
After a delay for fog at the start of race two, Esses Racing driver Judd Miller would jump to the front and never look back despite a hard-charging American Le Mans Series veteran Jon Field. Miller would lead flag-to-flag to take the win by just over six-tenths of a second to Field who earned the fastest lap of the race and the hard-charger award as he drove from deep in the field to finish second in class and second overall.
Jenks crossed the line in third to put a stranglehold on the Platinum Class Championship with Jim Booth and Scott Wagner rounding out the top-five. Five different teams were represented in the top-five on the results sheets– Esses Racing, One Motorsports, Group-A Racing, Wisko Racing, and Scott Wagner Racing– while the top-four were separated by less than two seconds when the checkered flag flew.
It was a quick turnaround for the third and final race of the weekend, and the final race of the 2022 season but drivers would once again take to the track for one last opportunity. Jon Field found another level, and yet again rose to the occasion and garnered maximum points in the final wheel-to-wheel action of the Blue Marble Radical Cup North America season. Steve Jenks crossed the line second and confirmed his Platinum Class Championship as Judd Miller completed the final podium of 2022. Jim Booth and Scott Wagner both added top-five finishes.
Gregg Gorski (Smokebuddy / One Motorsports) returned to the series with a vengeance, taking the pole position in the Pro 1500 class, edging Palmer Miller who led the current 1500-point standings while Will Lin slotted into third.
Starting fourth on the grid, Aurora Straus methodically worked her way to the second before pole position winner Gregg Gorski was forced to retire on lap 17 with a mechanical issue opening the door for Aurora to take a dominating win for Group-A Racing, strengthening their grip on the Pro 1500 Team Championship. The win also marked the first victory for Straus and the first for a first female driver in the Blue Marble Radical Cup.
“I am super excited to win and to make history as the first female to win in Radical Cup competition in the United States,” explained Straus post-race. “I couldn’t have done it without everyone around me, my sponsors, and my team Group-A. It’s not the way we would have liked to win but we’ve still got two chances tomorrow to win it outright, and I know we have the speed to do it.”
Finishing second on track, Esses Racing driver Palmer Miller crucially finished ahead of the drivers he needed to beat to close in on the Pro 1500 championship. Leveling up three positions in race action, Ron Fletcher (Ryno Racing / BeachHouse858.com) improved on his P6 starting spot to nab the third and final step on the podium, just ahead of Will Lin, who narrowly beat Joe Nuxoll to the checkered flag by a scant two-thousandths of a second.
Aurora Straus stayed true to her word, scoring her second win on Sunday morning with a penultimate lap pass on Palmer Miller. Esses Racing’s Miller appeared more than content with second place – his ninth podium of the season had secured the Pro 1500 championship. Will Lin was able to find his way back to the podium in third.
Joe Nuxoll ran third for much of the race before a mechanical issue pushed him down the running order elevating Lin to third. Ron Fletcher crossed the stripe in fourth and like the Platinum class, put drivers from four different teams in the top-five with Esses Racing doubling up courtesy of Kent Myers in fifth. Gregg Gorski, who had secured the Pro 1500 class pole position thanks to the fastest lap in the first race, had his chances dashed on the pace lap due to a mechanical gremlin.
With the championship already in his hands, Palmer Miller put an exclamation mark on the final event weekend with an outstanding win. Gregg Gorski was finally able to shake off his bad luck to stand on the podium in second after coming from the back of the pack and earned himself the Sunoco Hard Charger award. With two wins already to her credit, Aurora Straus made it three podiums over the course of two days to finish her weekend in third ahead of Joe Nuxoll and Will Lin. Straus had in fact led the race early on but fell behind on the pit stop exchange.
Austin Riley began the final leg of his championship campaign in style, earning the class pole position for the first race. Reid Stewart was second fastest, while championship contender Mike Anzaldi found himself down the order after a self-inflicted mechanical gremlin curtailed his qualifying chances.
Anzaldi, however, had a stellar opening lap, and in half a lap carved his way up through the field to pass Riley at the top end of the track. Riley then retook the Pro 1340 lead as the pair made the run from Turn 10 to Turn 11 with an inside pass, with both getting blocked by a slightly more cautious Ron Fletcher in a Pro 1500. The Pro 1340 championship then took a dramatic twist with Riley getting out of shape on the exit of Turn 11, which saw the rear of his car being tagged by Anzaldi who was already up against the wall, and the pair crashed heavily on the main straight. Despite their friendship and off-track sim battles, tension was in the air until Race Director Beaux Barfield declared the situation a racing incident. Riley would eventually be classified in the third position to extend his point lead over Anzaldi who was classified fourth.
Reid Stewart and Brandon Wright were the benefactors of the Riley and Anzaldi contact as they went uncontested to finish first and second in class. It was rookie Reid Stewart’s first Blue Marble Radical Cup North America win.
With the added confidence of a win, Reid Stewart followed in the footsteps of Pro 1500 double weekend race winner Straus as he was able to fend off the advances of Austin Riley and Mike Anzaldi who were still battling for the championship. Stewart, who has been the class of the field all weekend long, earned the fastest lap of the race on route to his second trip to the top of the podium. Riley crossed the line in second all but assuring him the title, while Anzaldi joined Stewart and Riley on the podium in third. Brendan Wright finished fourth.
Riley attained the Pro 1340 championship as the green flag flew on Race 3, but his celebrations were initially dampened with an off in Turn 2, which put his outright title hopes in jeopardy. After being stranded on a curb and falling several laps down, Riley was returned to the track to soldier on and finish fourth. Meanwhile, Mike Anzaldi finished his season in style scoring the final Pro 1340 win of the season, but as it wasn’t enough to take the class title – his focus now turns to the World Finals in Las Vegas. Reid Stewart capped off his weekend with a triple podium performance crossing the line in second, just ahead of the #888 machine of Brendan Wright.
Championships and Award
In claiming the Pro 1340 Championship, Austin Riley, who drives with Spark Power, Lincoln Electric, and Hagerty branding and is an autistic racer, had garnered enough points to tie with Pro 1500 champion Palmer Miller for the outright title. After a review of the points throughout the entire season, Riley earned the Overall Championship based on the number of wins– five to Miller’s four – and claimed the accompanying award and prize package to compete in a Radical Cup UK event in 2023. Steve Jenks earned the Platinum class title.
Along with the championships, several additional awards were handed out during the Blue Marble Radical Cup Awards banquet Sunday evening as more than 80 crew members, team owners, drivers, and family members celebrated the season in the Wine Caves of the stunning Gloria Ferrer Winery.
Mike Anzaldi of Ryno Racing received the coveted Jeff Green Memorial Award, recognizing his sportsmanship during the year, which included offering to transport rival Austin Riley’s race car to the final rounds of the championship.
Rookie of the Year – Reid Stewart, Group-A Racing
Crew Member of the Year – Mike Eyler, Wisko Racing
Platinum Team Champion – Wisko Racing
Pro 1500 Team Champion – Group-A Racing
Pro1340 Team Champion – Racing With Autism
With the 2022 Blue Marble Radical Cup North America season now complete, teams and competitors will shift their focus to the Radical World Finals Presented by Hankook at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club from November 9 – 13th.
Photo Credit: RTD Media – Jeff Walrich