Union, S.C. — Josh Luketic swept the field, racing to a first-place finish in the Amateur Modified UTV class to pace Team FCR Suspension in the second round of the 2016 Grand National Cross Country season at the VP Racing Fuels Big Buck competition in Union, South Carolina on April16.
Teammate Clint Zentner pulled the top finish for Team FCR in the XC1 Pro class, taking 17th despite contending with steering issues for a majority of the race. The remaining Team FCR pro drivers, Justin Luketic and Justin Fleming, faced unfortunate circumstances, which led to the untimely endings of their races.
Preparing for the challenges, Team FCR arrived two days early to assess the track and dial in clutch and suspension setups. After 48 hours of fine-tuning its vehicles the team discussed track conditions one last time before race day.
Leading up to the 4 p.m. start that Saturday, Team FCR took one more walkthrough, made a few final adjustments and lined up for the race.
Despite his premier finish, Josh Luketic got the worst start of any of his teammates.
“We got a late start because we forgot to put our window nets up, so we were sitting there for a good five seconds after the start,” Luketic said.
Incidentally, the lost time wasn’t major factor for Luketic, who made two passes into the first turn. By the fifth corner, he had already overcome everyone in his row.
Although he took it easy to get a feel for the track in the first lap Luketic had already begun positioning himself for a successful finish.
On the second lap, Luketic pushed the pace and started picking out better lines, continuing to advance. Driving smart and staying clam, he managed a three-car pass to put himself in first place.
“After the second lap I saw I was in first, so I tried to stay consistent — not to drive over my head,” Luketic said. “My copilot D.J. Austin really helped with some good lines to get around people.”
Lap three presented some sudden obstacles; however, Luketic accommodated by continuing to make good line selections. Approaching an overturned driver in the main line that blocked the track, Luketic had to find a way around the bottle neck. He followed the detour and closed the lap catching up to the XC2 drivers.
Extending his steady performance into lap four, Luketic put together his quickest lap with a time of 9:53.
Luketic wrapped the race up with a smooth fifth lap for a strong and steady finish behind 15 XC1 and eight XC2 drivers, taking 24th overall.
“When we came to the last few open corners we knew we had it in the bag and just finished up strong,” Luketic said. “I drove smart and took first.”
Zentner’s race didn’t ride quiet as fluid as his teammate’s. However, despite the adversity he pulled off the best XC1 Pro finish for Team FCR.
Fighting dusty conditions and steering complications on a rough track, Zentner managed a top-20 finish.
Zentner entered the woods fourth off his start in row four of the XC1 Pro class.
“I stayed calm and drove smart on the first lap because I knew the track had a lot of race-ending stumps scattered throughout a few of the tighter sections,” Zentner said.
After getting a feel for the track Zentner drove a little harder and focused on putting in clean laps, but midway through lap two he started experiencing steering difficultly.
“I drove as hard as I could with my steering acting up for the remainder of the race,” Zentner said.
Pushing through the unexpected hinderance, Zentner and his copilot Chris Croxal navigated the track together and still managed to make numerous passes by using good line selection.
“We ended up finishing the race 17th — not where we wanted to be,” Zentner said. “But I was happy to finish with the problems we were having. I wasn’t sure the car would make it to the finish.”
While Zentner fought through to complete his outing, both Justin Luketic and Fleming fell victim to race-ending damage to their vehicles on the grueling course that featured a range of obstacles — tight wooded sections, chopped up open fields, creek crossings, rocky terrain and inclines.
Luketic got off to a solid start and took the inside line, but his good fortune halted there. A collision with another driver dismantled his trailing arm and front shock 10 seconds into the contest, prematurely terminating his race.
Fleming outlasted his teammate, but inevitably faced a similar conclusion.
Fleming and his co-driver, Jason Reed, lined up in row five of the XC1 pro class — one row behind teammates Luketic and Zentner. They went into the woods in fourth, trying to advance, but the first section of the race was mostly single line with no room to pass.
Reaching the first open section, Fleming was able to pick off one car before the dust from the others created limited visibility and forced him to a near crawl.
As the dust cleared Fleming charged hard and caught back up, but battled more single-line sections with stumps and trees menacing the only other lines.
Into the next open field, Fleming snuggly followed the pack to avoid being pushed back by the dust.
“I stayed right against the driver ahead and followed what I could see of his rear bumper, but obviously he couldn’t see either and we followed him right past a hairpin left and had to backup and get back in the race,” Fleming said. “But this missed turn coast us by letting another driver back around.”
Maneuvering out of the detour, Fleming faced the perils of the thick dust and the pressure to quickly make up lost ground again. He managed to catch up before he found one of the stumps that littered the main lines of the track, trying to make a pass on lap three. The impact snapped a ball joint and concluded Fleming’s race.
“Even though the first two rounds haven’t gone exactly as we wanted I know my team has built me a very capable car and we’re not giving up — heads down and charging into round three next weekend,” Fleming said.
“Congratulations to the rookie on our team, Josh Luketic, for coming out and dominating his class.
Team FCR competed in the CST Camp Coker Bullet race for Round three of the GNCC UTV Pro series on April 30, traveling to Moree’s Sportsman’s Preserve in Society Hill, South Carolina. As another new addition to the 2016 schedule, the venue will feature the second sand track among other challenges.
Prior to the Big Buck, Team FCR last raced in the Moose Racing Wild Boar at the Rodman Plantation in Palatka, Florida, on March 5, completing its first GNCC trial of the season.