Morgan wins first Dodge Viper Cup Race of 2011
Newcomer A.J. Morgan, a 21-year-old veteran racer from Darien, Ill., won the first Dodge Viper Cup race of the 2011 season. He averaged 28.5 mph on a drying track, passing Texan Ben Keating prior to the back straight on the final lap at Sebring International Raceway, Sebring Florida on Saturday.
That's not a misprint. The average speed is correct. The race was only four laps long; two under full course yellow after Dave Fiorelli's single-car crash right at the green flag took out the concrete wall just past the starting line. The race was finally stopped while crews repaired the wall, then the field formed for a scored lap behind the pace car leading to the re-start with Morgan at the head of the single file pack.
The starter threw the green and the white flag NASCAR style, and the race came down to one flying lap free-for-all to the checker.
Keating grabbed the lead from Morgan into the first turn, but Morgan jumped on a chance to get him back late in the lap: "I got beside him coming out of ten," said Morgan, a former go kart and midget driver. "We hit some puddles into the next turn and touched. A little rough racing, but I held him off to the end. We have a little work tonight to make sure the left front is OK for tomorrow."
Billy Gropp brought his Dodge Viper ACR-X from sixth to third during the lap while World Challenge vet Jeff Courtney came fourth in the melee.
Fiorelli was unhurt in the crash, but had to convince the rescue crew that the blood on his driving suit came from a small cut earlier in the day in the pits and not from the wall banging. His car was too damaged to run in Sunday's Race 2.
2011 Dodge Viper Cup Round 2 - Sebring
Jeff Courtney survived an event-filled race to take Dodge Viper Cup Race
Two this weekend at Sebring International Raceway. He was gridded third for
the standing start and fell in behind second fast qualifier A.J. Morgan as
pole man Ben Keating got a great start and entered the fast Turn One car
lengths ahead of the pack. Keating did not make it through as he carried
too much speed and spun off into the tire wall. He was able to back out,
taking a few tires with him, and re-joined the field in last place, his
passenger door stove in and various parts loosened in the undercarriage.
The course was under a full-course yellow for two laps and when the race
went green Courtney out-dragged Morgan, taking a short-lived lead until
Morgan got a good run on him out onto the back stretch and went by. Morgan
led easily, but for only a couple of laps before losing his clutch. He
slowed entering that same back stretch and Courtney went by again.
"At around Bishop's Bend I wanted to go from four to three and it wouldn't
go," Said Morgan. "Then I noticed that the clutch pedal was flat on the
Morgan dropped way back as he sorted out clutchless shifting and Billy
Gropp's Mopar Dodge Viper inherited second place. Gropp was black-flagged
for an alleged yellow flag violation and served a drive-through penalty
re-entering the fray in last place. That penalty is under review by race
officials, so the finishing order is not yet official.
Morgan got going again but then blew a front tire and was out of the race.
By then Courtney had a huge lead on new second place man Todd Nelson.
Keating clawed his way back up to third, dragging his undertray behind.
Back in the paddock he acted as if he had won the race after an epic drive.
Dave Fiorelli drove Keating's back-up car in the race after heavily
damaging his own Dodge Viper ACR-X at the start of Race One.
2011 Dodge Viper Cup Round 3 -- New Jersey Motorsports Park
Ben Keating, Jeff Courtney and A.J. Morgan qualified within 4 tenths of
each other this morning, setting up a very competitive Dodge Viper Cup Race
Presented by Pennzoil this afternoon at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Pole sitter Keating led from the start, closely followed by Courtney and
Morgan in a rousing fight almost to the finish. With three laps to go and
Courtney pressuring Keating, there was contact and both went off, no fault
"I feel bad for both Ben and our guys as we had a great car and we were
battling for 1st and 2nd at the time late in the race," said a disappointed
Keating was able to get going again, but had to stop to replace a cut-down
tire, putting him a lap down. Morgan managed to avoid the melee and inherit
the lead, while Courtney was done for the day.
Morgan finished nearly half a minute clear of second place man Dave
Fiorelli, who was in a fight with Michael Von Quilich. They finished three
tenths apart. Guest Driver Andy Bell was fourth, just ahead of Billy Gropp,
who was charging back from his own problems, including an off-track
"I've never sat in a Dodge Viper before," said Bell, a professional
freestyle motocross rider and holder of nine Guinness World Records. "It's
an absolute beast out there. One misstep with your foot and you're doing
360s -- there's just that much torque and horsepower. And it's so much
fun. I mean; you're just getting slammed back in your seat as you're
accelerating out of corners. I've seen people saying on my Twitter and
Facebook, 'Hey, we love Viper Cup, we're coming out to watch'."
Guest Driver Jimmy Kite, a veteran Indy Car, USAC sprint car and NASCAR
driver finished seventh, less than three tenths of a second behind Todd
Nelson. Keating recovered to eighth place just tenths of a second ahead of
David Mazyck while Courtney was tenth, three laps down.
The weekend hasn't been easy so far, according to Morgan, "We were dealing
with pretty sizable understeer, and we couldn't get it out of the car. So
we put on those stiffer springs, and that helped out a lot. We've got a lot
of work to do. We have to see what we can do to improve the car. It's not
The second Dodge Viper Cup race—the fourth of the ten-race series—is on
Sunday at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
2011 Dodge Viper Cup Round 4 -- New Jersey Motorsports Park
Ben Keating scalded the track in qualifying, and then led the race all the
way to the checker, followed by Jeff Courtney and A.J. Morgan to make up
the podium for Dodge Viper Cup Presented by Pennzoil Race 2 this afternoon
at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
"We had a lot of work to do last night after yesterday's incident," said
Keating, referring to Courtney's contact with him that cost him the lead in
Race 1. "I finished in eighth place yesterday. That put AJ Morgan and me
into a tie for the championship points lead going into this race, so it was
an important race for me."
"The first hot lap [in qualifying this morning] on sticker tires, I went
out and pushed it really hard and did a 1.23.8. We're really excited about
that. It's the only 1.23 out here this weekend," Keating added. "It was
more about having a good start, getting out front and getting enough of a
margin so I could race the margin. That way, if there were any problems out
there, there would be nobody to blame but myself. "
After four rounds, Keating leads the 2011 Dodge Viper Cup Series Presented
The field did not make a lap before an incident forced guest driver Andy
Bell off the track, damaging his rear suspension. The race was then under a
full course caution to clean up before resuming without further incident.
"Unfortunately someone got a little excited on the first lap and T-boned my
rear end in the eighth corner. I was out, just like that. 45 seconds into
the race," said Bell, who nevertheless expressed satisfaction with his
experience. "I've come away with a lot of memories. This was absolutely one
of the best weekends of my life. I met a lot of new friends."
Keating said, "I was grateful for the yellow laps."
Jeff Courtney commented on his second place finish: "my crew pieced the car
back together late last night, and with no time to line it back up etc, we
knew we were a long shot. I would never say I am satisfied with a second
place, but today I think it's the best we had. I got a good start and was
able to pressure Ben early but the second lap yellow gave us a restart from
hell and Ben gapped me pretty good there. I could never really get back to
him again to apply any pressure. Ben was very fast and drove a great
Michael Von Quilich finished fourth after another duel with Dave Fiorelli,
beating him by just three tenths of a second. This reversed their positions
from yesterday's race in which Fiorelli finished in front of Von Quilich by
the same margin.
Kurt Sollberger made up for yesterday's DNF by placing sixth ahead of guest
driver Jimmy Kite. Todd Nelson and David Mazyck followed in eighth and
The next Dodge Viper Cup weekend is at Virginia International Raceway,
Alton Virginia, July 9-10, for races five and six.
2011 Dodge Viper Cup Round 5 -- Virginia International Raceway
Ben Keating continued his dominance of the Dodge Viper Cup series by taking
the pole by nearly one-and-a-half seconds and leading all the way to the
race victory. Jeff Courtney qualified on the front row, but let Ted Hughes
through into second after a bad start. He was back ahead of Hughes by lap
two, but by that time Keating was a hundred yards ahead and flying.
Courtney pecked away at Keating's lead each lap, but was too far back and
never got close enough to challenge. He finished second, but had the race's
fastest lap. Hughes held position the rest of the way and gained his first
"I got a good start," said Keating, "But Ted got a great start, and tucked
in behind me going into the first corner and that gave me a little bit of
margin ahead of Jeff. I got ahead by three and a half seconds and I was
able to manage that. He was a second and a half behind at the end, which
Two-time race winner A. J. Morgan had electrical gremlins in the morning
practice session and was unable to qualify, so he had to start the race
from the last row.
"We had a shorted wire in the system and it took three hours to find and
fix it," said Morgan. "Then we had to go out and take a hardship lap just
to shake everything down, make sure it worked, and right after that went up
to the grid and went out and ran [the race]. There was no time to rest.
That was tough. I have nothing left in me."
Morgan passed six cars on the first lap, crossing the start-finish line in
10th-place. From there he marched up the order, passing two more
ViperACR-Xs on the third lap and ending the race in fourth place after
passing Dave Fiorelli three laps from the end. Fiorelli scored his second
straight fifth place finish.
Eric Galerne, in sixth place, had one of his best results since starting
the series. Connie Bogan, too, had a good result with a seventh, while
Brian Makse, one of the two celebrity drivers brought his Viper ACR-X in
eighth. Chris Burandt, the other celebrity driver, finished 16th.
"It was frickin' awesome," said Burandt. "I got behind the Number 3 car
[driven by David Mazyck] and we just had a battle all day. At the start I
got into turn one way too hot and I didn't look at the corner, I just
looked at Number 3's bumper saying 'uh oh, uh oh.' So much fun."
"I was just focused on keeping Chris behind me," said Mazyck. "He was all
over me. There were six of us all within tenths of each other in qualifying
[Brad Gorrondona, Larry Carter, Brian Makse, Bernie Katz, Mazyck and Chris
Burandt in that order qualified at 2 minutes, two seconds and change], so
we were looking forward to the race, but guys ahead of us were spinning and
that gapped us."
"Just fantastic," said Makse, "I was just clicking off laps, kind of lost
from the cars in front, but made sure the cars behind stayed behind."
Keating extended his lead after five rounds, the halfway point, in the 2011
Dodge Viper Cup Series Presented by Pennzoil.
Dodge Viper Cup race six is Sunday afternoon at Virginia International
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