In front of a sellout crowd at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Round 1 of the Blue Marble Radical Cup North America series exceeded all expectations, as did a number of newcomers.
With over 30 cars taking to the track, the competition in each of the three classes reached new heights. Gustavo Rafols continued his reign in Pro 1500, but Reece Everard put everyone on notice with a win in his debut weekend. The Platinum class welcomed Steve Jenks to the winners’ club, while Judd Miller and Louis Schriber also gained victories. Canadian Austin Riley broke through for his first win on US soil after Chris McMurry took the top step of the podium twice in Pro 1340.
After winning all three races last year, Vince Switzer (CROWN Concepts) could only manage fifth fastest in qualifying, but he wasn’t the only one caught out by the increase in competition. Reigning champ Mike Anzaldi (RYNO Racing) was relegated to seventh after David Alban (WISKO Racing), Austin Riley (Racing with Autism) and Reid Stewart (Group-A) impressed behind Motul Pole Award winner Chris McMurry (CROWN Concepts, 1.27.636).
While Riley, Switzer and Anzaldi’s weekend was immediately ambushed after being collected in the opening corner during Race 1, Chris McMurry opened his 2022 account with a victory. Reid Stewart’s last lap spin nearly unraveled an otherwise deserved second place, while Vince Switzer recovered well and overtook David Alban for the final step of the podium. Stewart’s efforts were further rewarded with the class pole for Race 2 and the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
Everything then unraveled for Stewart in Race 2, with a spin after the start, which left McMurry to duke it out with teammate Switzer, while Riley passed fifteen cars to earn the Sunoco Hard Charger and finish fourth. Chris McMurry kept Vince Switzer at bay to take his second win of the weekend, while David Alban claimed his first Radical Cup podium with third. Stewart and Anzaldi finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Starting from pole, it appeared as if McMurry was set for a hattrick, and while he remained in front after the mandatory Race 3 pitstop, he came under immense pressure from Riley, which led McMurry to make two significant unforced errors on the final two tours. With both involving contact in yellow flag sectors he was stripped of his win, with Austin Riley elevated to the top step of the podium, from Reid Stewart and Mike Anzaldi.
Following the pre-season test and practice, it was clear Reece Everard (Group-A) would be a contender this weekend, however it was champion Gustavo Rafols (WISKO Racing) who took first blood, claiming the Motul Pole Award (1:24.224). The pace of both, meant they spent Race 1 in the middle of the Platinum class pack, with Rafols finishing an impressive fifth outright to clinch the Pro 1500 victory, while Everard finished seventh overall to take second in class. Palmer Miller (ESSES Racing) fended off Gregg Gorski (ONE Motorsport) for third, while RYNO racing teammates Nate Smith and Pius Eigenmann rounded out the top six.
Palmer Miller, 2022
An outstanding lap from Everard in Race 1 saw him start from pole in Race 2, but an opportunistic Rafols made an outside move stick around turns two and three on the opening lap. After the safety car period, Everard returned the favor heading into the museum chicane to win in his series debut. Nate Smith finished third after a race long battle with Gregg Gorski and Palmer Miller, until Gorski hit the wall in the final sector with one to go. Eigenmann finished fifth and Thomas Palladino (RYNO Racing) sixth.
Everard was again due to start from the class pole in Race 3, but struggled to get away from the false grid and started at the back of the pack. An outstanding drive resulted with Everard setting the fastest PRO 1500 lap of the race while carving his way back up through the field to finish second behind Gustavo Rafols. Gregg Gorski made his first trip to the podium with third, while Palmer Miller was fourth, followed by Smith– who had a late race spin– and Eigenmann.
After an issue in practice forced Esses Racing to swap Judd Miller out of his favored SR10 to his SR8, the Texan driver set his concerns aside to take the Motul Pole award (1:23.135). This was over Louis Schriber (RYNO Racing), who was on a lap good enough for pole when he was instructed to serve a penalty.
Judd Miller seemly converted his pole to victory in Race 1, while rookie Robert Rossi (WISKO Racing)– who had impressed in qualifying, passed Louis Schriber in the opening laps, setting himself up for the second step of the podium. Steve Jenks (Group-A) elevated himself to third, in part thanks to off track excursions for Indy Al Miller (ONE Motorsports), who finished fourth, and a backwards shuffle for Schriber, who finished sixth behind Jon Field (Scott Wagner Racing).
Jenks started from pole in Race 2, with Rossi taking second place away from Judd Miller during the opening lap, before Field fired it down the inside of Miller at the start of lap 2 - resulting in contact. With a broken upright, Miller was left stranded in the gravel inducing a safety car, while Field was given a drive through for his actions. Upon the restart, Indy Al Miller was on a mission, dispatching Rossi on the outside of Turn 2, before taking Jenks into the Charlotte’s Web hairpin. However, Jenks found a way back past and withstood the pressure to take his first Platinum class victory over Indy Al Miller and Louis Schriber. Rossi finished fourth, Jim Booth (WISKO Racing) fifth and Field in sixth.
Indy Al Miller started the final race of the weekend from pole and was in the lead, from Schriber and Jenks until the mandatory pitstop, which saw Schirber emerge in front, and Rossi leapfrogging up the order into second. Upon a late-race restart, Rossi ran wide at Turn 1, but Al Miller couldn’t quite capitalize, before a final push on the second to last lap left Miller in the gravel trap at the hairpin. There were no such issues for Louis Schriber, who took his first win of 2022 from Robert Rossi and Judd Miller, who earned the title of Sunoco Hard Charger after working his way up from twenty-third on the grid. Steve Jenks, Scott Wagner and Jim Booth rounded out the top 6.
The Blue Marble Radical Cup now heads to Road America to once again join IndyCar for the NTT INDYCAR Series Soniso Grand Prix Presented by AMR, June 9-12.