Kearby kicked off the Formula Atlantic race with a tremendous start, moving his No. 56 GK Motorsports Swift 016a Mazda from sixth on the grid to third in the opening lap.
“I really didn’t anticipate any of it,” Kerby said of the start. “I went with the green and I saw Sedat take off and thought I could follow him. I went in with him on the inside because I was starting on the outside and this isn’t a good track to start on the outside. I followed Sedat in there, got a good move, didn’t hit anyone and it was a pretty clean start for all of us. I ran my race, set a pace and went with it.”
By lap five Kearby was into second and chasing down the leader and Tire Rack Pole winner, Michael Mallinen, of Liberty Lake, Washington. What started as a 2.5-second gap was quickly eroded when Mallinen began to slow with a gearbox issue. Kearby was around Mallinen and into the lead on lap 7.
“I passed him in Turn 11,” Kearby recalled. “I took the inside. I knew right away something was wrong with his car. I just made the pass and didn’t see anyone in my mirrors again until the yellow.”
That yellow, on lap 16, was the only full course caution of the race. It erased a sizeable lead of more than 12 seconds that Kearby had built, but the 17-year-old was fortunate to have some slower cars as a buffer between him and Yelkin.
“When the yellow came out, I was thinking ‘I went this far, I’ve got to finish it out,’” Kearby said. “I had a little buffer with two slower cars before Sedat. I still had to watch out. I just set off and ran my pace.”
Kearby’s pace earned him his first Runoffs victory in only his second appearance, by 2.836 seconds over Yelkin.
“Honestly, this is crazy,” Kearby smiled. “I had the pole and then a lot of stuff went down and then I was P6. I figured I’d just make the best out of it. I never thought I’d be up here, but I tried my best.”
Kearby’s drive from sixth on the grid to victory also earned him the Sunoco Hard Charger Award, the GoPro Hero Move of the Race Award and he is now eligible for the Mazda SportsCar Racing Academy Club Racer Shootout and a $75,000 ride in the 2015 SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup.
Save for one attempted pass at the hands of Fabio Castellani, from Streamwood, Illinois, Yelkin’s race was pretty tame after Kearby went by. The defending Formula Atlantic Champion finished second in the No. 75 EVERCLEAR LUBRICANTS Swift 014a Mazda.
“We did get to P2, which I thought was good enough, but we didn’t have the pace to chase Mike Mallinen,” Yelkin said. “Fortunately, I saw Conner coming through at one point and I knew he had incredible speed. When he went by, I was just hoping that he and Mallinen would start slowing each other down. It didn’t quite work out that way, but it was nonetheless a great race. I can’t imagine anyone else I’d rather lose to than Connor.”
Starting eighth in his No. 36 Team K-Hill Swift 016a Mazda, Hamilton used patience to pick his way through the Formula Atlantic field.
“I started on the outside and for me, that’s not where I like to be,” Hamilton said. “I just made sure I got through that turn and it worked out pretty well. I dropped back a couple of spots and just got some heat in the tires and started to work my way up. I let those who were racing each other do their thing and I just had patience.”
Hamilton was running in sixth when he came through Turn 11 and saw the disabled cars of Richard Zober, from Croydon, Pennsylvania, and Lewis Cooper, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, who had been battling for third. That incident brought out the lone full course caution.
“I knew they were racing each other and usually it’s just a matter of time, especially as the race starts to close,” Hamilton said. “I made sure I had enough room, so if something happened, that I wasn’t in the middle of it and that’s exactly what happened. It was fortunate for me.”
He picked up one more spot on after the restart to claim his first Runoffs podium.
“It’s my first Runoffs podium and this makes up for my first Runoffs in 2011 when I was in third on the last lap and spun in the rain,” Hamilton said. “This really means a lot to me, to bring it home.”
Local driver, Robert Corliss, of Monterey, California, and William Goldkind, of Holbrook, New York, completed the top five.