NASA's American Iron series returned to Buttonwillow Raceway October 12-13 for Round 9 of the 2002 series. Saturday's qualifying session saw Ryan Flaherty take the AI pole position in his Maximum Motorsports equipped Mustang.
When the green flag dropped, Guy Cunningham managed to head the lead pack of four cars, which also included Ryan Flaherty, Vageli Karas, and Kevin Chambers. They set a blistering pace as they pulled away from the rest of the field. Karas fell back after a few laps when his power steering rack lost a seal, which produced a large cloud of blue smoke that hindered the visibility of those immediately behind him. Karas rejoined the fray after a brief pit stop.
While trying to set up Cunningham for a pass, Flaherty's MM-sponsored Mustang went off track at the exit of Magic Mountain. The ensuing wild ride started with a launch off a berm that sent the car airborne, followed by a nose-down landing in the dirt. The damage to the car prevented Flaherty from continuing the race. The AI win went to Cunningham, while Chambers took second place.
After working well into the night, the MM pit crew had Flaherty's Mustang repaired well enough to soldier on for Sunday's race. The car had suffered, with the radiator core support moved back to the front crankshaft pulley, and the radiator, fan, oil cooler, and front splitter destroyed. Even though the car sailed a couple of feet off the ground and landed hard, there was no damage to the MM suspension.
Sunday's qualifying session ended early for Flaherty, as the car's damaged nose reduced airflow to the radiator and caused overheating. Distracted by the car's overheating, Flaherty forgot to report to impound at the end of the qualifying session. The officials disallowed his time, which would have placed him second on the grid.
With ducting to the radiator added, Flaherty started the race from the back of the pack due to his lack of a qualifying time. He charged towards the front at the green flag, and stayed with the lead pack throughout the race. Guy Cunningham held off a hard-charging Vageli Karas for the AI win, with Ryan Flaherty finishing a respectable third with his damaged car.
Click here to view a movie of the race. (10.3M)