Memphis International Raceway is a paved 3/4-mile oval, previously used for NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. The GRC course used the entire oval, except for the Turn Three area, plus a good portion of the paved infield, including a quarter-mile section covered in dirt. With its extensive road racing experience and Braun’s Xfinity Series appearance at Memphis International Raceway in 2007, CORE was optimistic it would have an edge on its GRC Lites competition.
That looked to be the case early in practice and qualifying rounds, but the rest of the 11-car field quickly adjusted to the learning curve. Bennett and Braun were in for some stiff competition in the heat races.
Braun was able to pick up his first heat race win and after finishing third in the Semi-Final, earned a spot in the Final without having to first make it through the LCQ. Bennett was not as lucky, but was able to finish second in the LCQ, which punched his ticket to the Final as well.
Two cars were served penalties on the opening lap of the 10-lap Final, which immediately promoted Bennett to eighth and Braun to fourth.
Driving the No. 56 Composite Resources/ORECA Gear GRC Lites, Braun did an expert job reeling in the No. 44 of Cyril Brooks. Braun used his Joker Lap with two laps to go to pass Brooks for third, but Brooks did the same thing right back on the final lap to take back the final podium spot. Braun finished fourth, while Bennett picked up one additional spot in his No. 54 Composite Resources/ORECA Gear GRC Lites car to finish seventh. This matches Bennett’s best GRC finish to date.
“I want to thank everyone on the team for the hard work leading up to the race and for the long nights due to late parts delivery,” GRC Program Manager Brian Colangelo said. “We’ve made significant gains as a team and with the cars as a result of everyone’s efforts. Jon and Colin drove well and we feel confident we are close to the top step of the podium, even with the stacked GRC Lites field.”
The next stop for CORE on the GRC tour is Louisville, Kentucky, May 21. But first, Bennett and Braun will head to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas to compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, May 4 – 6.
Driver: No. 56 Composite Resources/ORECA Gear
“The track itself was a great concept, I think, but the layout made it incredibly hard to pass. The dirt section was very loose like kitty litter. That dirt ended up getting dragged all around the asphalt surface and so you had one clear lane, which is where everyone drove and that made it hard to pass. It made the starts really important. The way the Joker Lane was configured didn’t really make it a huge gain either. It was important to get a good start and from there it was all about track position.
“We had very rutted out and bumpy dirt section. There were quite a few cars, us included, who hit those bumps the wrong way and ended up bending bumpers underneath the suspension. The CORE guys had to work extra hard to fix these cars up.
“We had a good, fast car and got our first heat win. They have a new format this year for how points are accumulated and they’ve added semi-finals too. It was interesting to see how it played out. We were able to get a heat win, but we ended up lining up fifth for the Final. It wasn’t where we wanted to start considering how important track position was. We had a really fast car all weekend, we just never really had good track position in the Final. With the track being so hard to pass, it kind of kept you stuck where you were.
“For the Final, the top four cars were all nose-to-tail for the whole race. We had the Joker in our pocket. We thought we’d do it one lap ahead of Brooks and put in a good lap and put in a gap, so that when he Jokered, we’d still be in front and in third. The cars were so competitive and so close that we Jokered and popped ahead of him, but on the final lap, he Jokered and got right back to the position where he was before.
“I feel like we made some good improvements. We’ve finished on the podium and had good results before, but I feel like this time, we had better pace to the front-runners. We still have some work to do, but I feel like we’re much closer to getting our first Final win. We’ve made great strides. Jon showed good pace and had good results. I feel like as a team, we’re getting closer to where we need to be. We’ll keep working and keep our heads down.”
Driver: No. 54 Composite Resources/ORECA Gear
“I would say the layout in general was good, but there’s certain aspects of converting a race track to GRC course that can be complex. There was trouble with some of the pavement in the infield that wasn’t meant to be used as race track. Our cars and the Supercars really broke up the surface quite a bit. Parts of it were a little bit like Baja. I didn’t really mind that much, but it was really hard on equipment.
“The dirt section after the ramp was mixture of gravel and sand. For the first half of the event it got very rutted. I think from Friday to Saturday they came up with something to give that sand and gravel some more body. The dirt section wasn’t too bad Saturday.
“The LCQ went fairly smoothly. I lead every lap except the last lap, but two cars transfer, so we went to the Final. I had a great start and was moving through traffic pretty well. I’d say that our cars lacked a little bit of top speed and that hurt us a little bit. I ran a clean, mostly mistake-free race. I was able to move up a bit through attrition.
“I’d say that as a team, this was probably our best executed GRC event. Some of the work that we did in the off-season has made the cars better handling and we’ve put together a really solid crew that can get the job done in a matter of minutes. I think we’re steadily making progress, but the competition is tight and all the cars are really dialed in.”