Keating and Loudin win after exciting final lap dash during USGTC Texas Sunday finale.

Posted on Sep 09, 2011

Ben Keating (middle) celebrates his win 
with 2nd place Jim Stout (left) and 3rd place Frank Lussier (right). © NARRA

A full course yellow late in the race led to the most exciting finish in US GT Championship history on Sunday, September 4, at Texas World Speedway (College Station).

Ben Keating fended off Jim Stout for the outright win, while behind them Steve Loudin, Frank Lussier, Doug Nash and Kathy Stout went four wide into turn one to begin a dramatic last lap that would dictate the GT-1 and GT-2 podiums.

Before the cars had made their way on to the 2.9mile circuit Sunday morning, drama and excitement filled the air.

Jim Stout (left), Ben Keating (middle) and Frank Lussier (right) made up Sunday's GT-1 podium. © NARRA The GT-Unlimited field was depleted after Saturday's race winner Ritch Marziale withdrew for family matters, along with Bill Woods and David Pollock, while Kevin Ferguson couldn't solve an electrical gremlin in his Dodge Viper ACR.

Even so, this still left a large field to qualify and the pace was electric.

Determined to break the one minute forty mark, after being so close on Saturday, Ben Keating immediately pushed hard.

He turned another magical lap in his Port Lavaca Dodge / GT-1 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe to take pole position, but still couldn't quite crack into the 39s, finishing with a 1:40.025.

Nevertheless his speed again decimated the field, lapping over three seconds faster than Jim Stout (Dodge Viper Competition Coupe), his nearest GT-1 competitor.

Recovered from the illness that kept him from competing on Saturday, Tom Antonelli (Dodge Viper Competition Coupe) bounced back with fresh boots fitted to his Viper to finish 3rd overall, setting a new GT-2 qualifying lap record with a 1:46.050.

Amazingly his time was half a second quicker than Steve Loudin's (GT2 / Dodge Viper Competition Coupe) Saturday qualifying performance which had also dazzled the field.

Russ Oasis completed the second row of the grid, while Loudin and Bernie Katz (GT1 / Dodge Viper Competition Coupe) made up row three.

As the field took the green with Keating and Stout in front, the second two rows went four wide into turn one and Antonelli suffered;

"Four wide into turn one was pretty hairy. But we all got through without touching. I just lost about three or four spots."

Antonelli's GT-2 arch-rival Loudin capitalized his demise and took the lead in GT-2, but Antonelli wasn't giving up the class lead without a fight.

While Loudin looked stronger in the first half of the lap, Antonelli seemed to have Loudin's measure through turns eight and nine, and appeared much stronger under braking into turn one.

Loudin had a game plan though, and kept his gold 007 Viper firmly to the inside down the start/finish straight and into turn one. It seemed to work, with Antonelli looking threatening around the entire track but unable to make a move.

And then just as Loudin looked commanding, he missed a shift between fourth and fifth allowing Antonelli to take the class lead.

Loudin immediately reported to the pits he had in fact lost fifth gear, was also struggling to select third as well, and was falling back through the field.

Released from the back of Loudin, Antonelli pushed hard and re-passed the GT-1 cars of Russ Oasis and Bernie Katz to take third overall.

Ahead of him, Keating and Stout's pace was ferocious, to the point Keating complemented Stout after the race;

"I tell you Jim [Stout] drove a fantastic race. I think the third and fourth laps were faster than the fastest laps of your [Stout's] weekend. I was running 42s [1min 42sec] and I wasn't gaining on you."

And just as the race seemed to have settled down, Tom Antonelli's car stopped on circuit exiting turn ten, to continue his recent run of bad luck;

"I blew up the motor. I was on a good roll, got past three or four guys after a bad start. I was going in for third overall, and the motor just let loose. Just some bad luck, but it happens, it's racing."

With Loudin limping and Antonelli out, Kathy Stout earned the lead in the GT-2 class. Seemingly she was poised to take the her first class win.

However, with Antonelli's car on circuit, Chief Steward Terry Earwood deployed the safety car to extract the stricken vehicle.

All of a sudden the field, which had somewhat spread out, closed up behind the safety car, and race control informed the teams that there would only be time for a single lap of green flag racing upon restarting.

This setup what many called the most exciting finish to a US GT Championship race yet.

As the green and white flags were displayed the front of the field again went four wide, side-by-side at over 120mph into turn one, to setup a battle that would last the entire lap.

With the lapped car of Doug Nash in the middle, Bernie Katz took on Frank Lussier to decide the final step of the GT-1 podium, while Kathy Stout went head to head with Steve Loudin for the GT-2 win.

Frank Lussier made the biggest gain. He was at least two cars back and made his way around both Nash and Katz to take 3rd place in GT-1;

"Everybody just scattered to go into turn one. We were four wide going into the corner and I just prayed for an extra inch to get it in there and just rolled around the outside, and came out in third place [overall].

Then I just did everything I could to hang in third place for the rest of the lap and get across the finish line."

Kathy Stout's chances of winning, on the other hand, slipped away to Loudin's bravery.

As Kathy explained, even without a functioning gearbox, Loudin gave everything he had on the last lap to clinch the GT-2 win from her;

"I got behind Doug Nash and he was behind Ben [Keating], and they all came barreling down. Steve [Loudin] got in front of me and I tried to stay as aggressive as I could.

Then into turn six he [Loudin] bobbled and so I dove in and we went into turn 7 side by side [with Kathy on the inside], but he came out ahead, this time."

Ben Keating also had his hands full with well worn tires and a strong challenge from Jim Stout.

Stout pushed Keating the entire way, having a look in both turn one and ten;

"Ben was really fast. The restart was kind of fun. I think Ben did a good job of holding on to some greasy tires, from what I was seeing. We just needed another lap or so."

However, just as he had in the Dodge Viper Cup race earlier in the day, Keating held on to take the win, stamping his authority on Texas by qualifying first and winning in both race categories on Sunday.

The final results read Keating from Stout and Lussier overall as well as in GT-1, while in GT-2 it was Loudin from Kathy Stout and Antonelli.

The end of the race concluded a highly successful first event for the US GT Championship at Texas World Speedway.

One hundred cars took to the track with a variety of marques, including Audi, Camaro, Corvette, Mustang, Porsche, SRT, and Viper, making up the US Performance Driver Education program and Whelen US TimeTrial Championship.

All the excitement from Sunday's US GT Championship race at Texas World Speedway was captured using GoPro cameras by the Internal Combustion Group, and will be broadcast later this year on, hosted by motorsport television personality Tom Hnatiw.


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