GNCC CST Camp Coker Bullet (Round three)

Society Hill, S.C. — Team FCR maxed out on effort, but performance failures prevented any of its drivers from getting in a full race on April 30, in Round three of the 2016 Grand National Cross Country UTV Pro series at the inaugural CST Camp Coker Bullet race at Moree’s Sportsman’s Preserve in Society Hill, South Carolina.

Plagued with problems, Team FCR overcame adversity time and time again only to face race-ending complications.

Following his first-place accomplishment in the Amateur Modified class at the VP Racing Fuels Big Buck two weeks earlier, Josh Luketic earned the top overall finish for Team FCR again, coming in 47th overall, and navigated his buggy to a fifth-place class finish. His brother Justin Luketic faired the best of Team FCR’s XC1 Pro class drivers, earning a 58th overall finish and a 22nd class finish for his best outing of the season.

The remaining Team FCR pro drivers, Clint Zentner and Justin Fleming, faced unfortunate circumstances, which led to the untimely endings of their races. Zentner completed enough of the race to be awarded 69th overall and 26th in the XC1 Pro class. Fleming’s race concluded before his first lap, resulting in his first DNF of the season.

The team got to the venue a day early to get set up, go through its pre-race checks, walk the track, pick out the best lines and build an awareness of any hidden perils. As another new addition to the 2016 GNCC schedule, Camp Coker featured the second sand track in the series. Overall, the team evaluated the track as very fast, wide open and well-designed with plenty of room to pass compared to past locations.

The team discussed track conditions and the potential threat of rain the night before the race, walked the course one more time the morning of and made its final adjustments. Leading up to its 4 p.m. start, everyone was hopeful for a solid outing. However, the smooth sailing came to a screeching halt as soon as the race commenced.

“When my co-driver Jason Reed and I got to the start line we were feeling confident about the race and I knew this track style fit perfectly to my driving style,” Fleming said. “But when the green flag flew our problems instantly started.”

When Fleming got his car started on the second attempt he accelerated only to feel it pull hard left off the line. Into the first turn, he knew something was wrong. Limping his vehicle into the woods, Fleming and Reed tried to assess the issue before the next row caught up to them. However, they were quickly surrounded in a section of the track that offered no room to pass.

” I tried my best to keep a good speed and not hold them up, but every time I would hit the gas the car would pull hard left,” Fleming said.

The mechanical complication eventually ended Fleming’s race as he ended up going hard left into a ditch about a quarter mile after the start.

“We’re determined not to let the bad luck through the first half of the season get us down,” Fleming said. “The next round is the John Penton GNCC, which is where I claimed my first GNCC UTV Pro overall win and I always feel confident at that track. Thanks so much to my team and all the sponsors for never giving up on me.”

Outlasting his teammate, Zentner managed the first lap before his race concluded on the second.

Zentner got off to a decent start and entered the woods fifth off of the fourth row of the XC1 Pro class.

“I stayed calm on the first lap, trying to learn the track,” Zentner said. “The ruts were already super deep and there were a ton of roots and rough whooped-out sections.”

At the end of lap one, Zentner met his first misfortune as his buggy started getting hot and eventually overheated, reaching 240 degrees. He stopped to let the car cool down, but the intermission resulted in a very slow first lap.

Once Zentner got going again, he managed to make some passes in a couple of the open field sections before heading back into the woods. However, about midway through lap two he overheated again and was forced to stop a second time.

After the car cooled down he made it about a mile before his vehicle became permanently disable and his race ended.

“We were bummed, but we sat on the sideline to cheer on the remaining team cars left on the track,” Zentner said.

The only Team FCR XC1 Pro driver left on the track lasted a lap longer than Zentner, but fell short of a complete race due to a mechanical failure.

Leading up to race day, Justin Luketic had some frustration built up from the previous GNCC round two weeks earlier where a collision with another driver ended his race after just 10 seconds.

“Flying around to get the buggy back together and even still working on it at the track had me pretty stressed out,” Luketic said. “I was double- and triple-checking everything to make sure it was going to be a race-ready buggy.”

He didn’t start to settle down until after walking the track a second time and going through tech inspection with his teammates.

Lining up in the fourth row of the XC1 Pro class next to the driver who ended his race at the Big Buck GNCC, Luketic finally felt confident.

“I just planned to get a good start and get away from everyone as quickly as possible,” Luketic said.

He entered the woods with only one car in front of him and stayed hot on its trail through the dusty conditions. Luketic stayed patient per the advice of his copilot Tyler Wilson, waiting for an open spot to make a pass rather than risking the buggy.

Luketic managed a top-10 first lap, setting himself up for a solid race. However, his good fortune ended there. A mechanical failure forced Luketic and Wilson off the track to assess and repair the issue with limited tools.

Some quick thinking resolved the complication long enough to get back in the race.

“We found ourselves back on the track, planning to just put in good solid laps and keep the buggy together,” Luketic said.

The duo passed numerous lapped buggies and moved back into ninth, finishing the second lap with confidence.

“We still had a chance to drive smart and fast, to keep a good position and to ultimately finish the race,” Luketic said. “Tyler kept pointing out good lines that were getting better from the rest of the buggies. We started to pick up the pace more with every pass we made.”

At that point, Luketic and Wilson wanted nothing more than to finish the race. The pair guided their buggy through the track as smoothly as they could; however, nearing the end of the third lap the same mechanical failure they experienced early in the race returned with a vengeance. This time it was beyond repairable and ended their race.

With Luketic out of the race alongside Fleming and Zentner, Josh Luketic remained as the lone Team FCR driver still on the track.

Luketic and his copilot, John McPhee, got off their start in third out of the hole shot and into the woods. They managed to make one quick pass and secure second place.

Trying to find a way around the first-place driver, Luketic took a risky line over a pile of dirt. Unfortunately, the gamble did not pay off and the pair got stuck on it. The complication forced both Luketic and McPhee out of the buggy to try and free it.

“When we still couldn’t budge it off John told me to get back in and he managed to build up enough strength to push the RZR enough to get our front wheels to catch the dirt and get out of the dirt,” Luketic said.

By the time they were ready to take off again, Luketic and McPhee were in dead last and even the rows that had started behind them had passed them. Knowing he had time to make up, Luketic pushed the pace.

“Mid-lap on the first lap we start to catch everyone, making good timing and passing more and more people,” Luketic said. “We got to the finish and charged through for our second lap.”

On lap two, Luketic quickly realized the difference in the track and aided by McPhee he managed to chose smoother, faster lines to catch back up to his row.

“We were coming up to a really muddy section of the track that we almost got stuck in on the first lap, but luckily my co-pilot John remembered and pointed me out to a different line, completely, avoiding the mud and shaving a ton of time off our lap,” Luketic said.

Entering the third lap, Luketic passed his entire class and started feeling confident. Reaching the motocross section of the course also put him right in his zone.

“When we came up to the motocross track, which I excelled at because that’s where my racing roots came from, we were making passes left and right on it,” Luketic said.

Moving through the motocross portion, Luketic made good time. However, turning a corner a mechanical failure halted his advance. The 15 minutes he and McPhee lost correcting it allowed the Amateur Modified class to catch up and eliminate any separation they had created.

“We both teamed up on it and got it repaired as fast as we could, knowing we had ground to make up,” Luketic said.

Pushing through his last lap, Luketic experienced his final unfortunate circumstance of the day as his race ended about a mile from the finish. His front wheel nearly fell off, concluding Luketic’s race very close to the checkered flag.

“With our smart driving and line selection we still ended up getting fifth, but if we wouldn’t have had a couple of failures we would of finished at the top of our class,” Luketic said. “We were still super happy with our finish and how our race went overall. I want to thank all of our sponsors and I want to give a huge thanks to John and his family for hanging out with us and wanting to co-pilot for me for the third round of our UTV GNCC series.”

DID YOU KNOW?

Josh Luketic’s copilot John “Shrek” McPhee, otherwise known as the Sheriff of Baghdad, is a retired Army Special Operations Sergeant Major.

McPhee immersed himself in a weekend with Team FCR and agreed to ride with Luketic, proving to be more than helpful at multiple junctures during the race.

Leading up to the start and going through the same race-weekend routine as the rest of the team, McPhee brought his family out for the event, familiarized himself with Luketic’s buggy, adjusted his harness, fitted his gear and discussed his copilot role.

“He seemed to understand pretty well as he said he had former experience as a rally car co-pilot,” Luketic said.

For rookie driver, Luketic, the experience was unforgettable.

“This race was pretty exciting because I had the amazing opportunity for  veteran John “Shrek” McPhee to co-pilot for me,” Luketic said.

UP NEXT

Team FCR is ready to get out of the sand at the halfway point of the season and up to the challenge offered by Round four of the GNCC UTV Pro series. Next, it will compete in The Wiseco John Penton race on Saturday, May 28, traveling to Sunday Creek Raceway in Millfield, Ohio. The venue is a popular motocross track; however, could provide visibility or traction challenges depending on conditions. The track is prone to dust in dry weather and slick when its damp as the foundation is composed of clay.

PREVIOUS RACE

Prior to the Camp Coker Bullet, Team FCR last raced in the VP Racing Fuels Big Buck competition in Union, South Carolina, on April 16, completing its second GNCC trial of the season.

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PHOTO GALLERY

See more photos of Team FCR in action for GNCC Round three at the Camp Coker Bullet race on April 30, here.

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