GNCC Wiseco John Penton (Round four)

Millfield, Ohio — Overcoming mechanical complications, Team FCR braved Round four of the 2016 Grand National Cross Country UTV Pro series on May 28, at the annual Wiseco John Penton race at Sunday Creek Raceway in Millfield, Ohio and earned two top-20 finishes in the XC1 Pro class as Justin Luketic and Clint Zentner limped their buggies across the finish.

Luketic managed the best team finish of the day and his top effort of the season, taking 12th overall despite some misfortune along the way.

Zentner crossed the finish in 19th despite losing nearly an entire lap, fixing a performance failure, at the end of his first.

Coming into the race both Luketic and Zentner were excited due to past success at the track.

“Friday morning as we were hooking the truck and trailer up, double and triple checking to make sure we had everything we needed, I was already feeling good about the race due to the past two years turning out pretty well with two top-10 finishes,” Luketic said.

The layout, which offered a lot more speed than the previous races in the series also increased their enthusiasm.

“It’s one of my favorite races of the season,” Zentner said. “The Penton track suits me very well as it is one of the faster tracks on the circuit and has a motocross track incorporated into it.”

The weekend started off well as Team FCR arrived at the track, unloaded and setup on Friday. That evening the team walked the track together, discovering it was similar to the last race with the exception of being designed backwards and more wide open.

Zentner, who is in his third season racing in the GNCC series despite suffering an injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down four years ago, even managed to get a preview of the track.

“The guys set out to walk the track and I was able to get a ride around the track in a Polaris Ranger, which was a first for me as I normally don’t get to see the track until the first lap of the race and rely on my copilot a lot to help me navigate,” Zentner said.

After checking the track Team FCR buttoned up its buggies and loaded up for the night.

Returning to the race site early on Saturday morning, Team FCR got their canopies setup as the day was already proving to be a hot one with temperatures hitting the high eighties and climbing.

The morning and afternoon ATV classes were out beating in the track as Team FCR went over all its finals checks and tried to stay cool leading up to their 4 p.m. start. After walking partial sections of the track that were getting rough from the ATV classes to assure they could still handle a good speed the team buttoned up all three buggies — Luketic’s, Zentner’s and Amature Modified driver Josh Luketic’s — and prepared to line up at the start.

Zentner got off the line line first in row four of the XC1 Pro class, but still faced dust from the first three rows. Without a solid jump to launch into the woods, Zentner and copilot D.J. Austin made it into the woods fourth off their row.

Making up time, the duo charged into the motocross track where Zentner felt confident they would be able to excel.

Zentner and Austin were stringing together a solid first lap until a wrong turn took them off course and forced them to correct.

“We backed up, got back on course and got back to race pace,” Zentner said. “The track was already pretty rough and rutted from the earlier ATV races, but was a fun and flowing track.”

Despite the mishap, Zentner maintained good position as he reached the end of his first go-round. However, on the last turn before crossing the finish line a mechanical failure disabled his buggy for a substantial stretch of time.

“We had a mechanical failure that sidelined us for about 10 or 12 minutes,” Zentner said. “My copilot D.J. Austin was able to fix the problem and got us back in the race. I was very frustrated after being sidelined, but calmed myself down and tried to put in fast smooth laps.”

The mishap forced Zentner and Austin behind a lot of slower drivers, but they managed to maneuver around them by carrying their speed with good line selection.

They put in decent laps, but again struggled a little towards the end as they experienced a second mechanical complication. Slowing down quite a bit on the last lap, they limped the car around just hoping to finish the race.

“We ended up finishing 19th — not where we had hoped coming into the race — but we were happy to finish as the track was very rough and the weather was the hottest we’ve seen all year,” Zentner said.

Starting one row behind Zentner in the fifth row of the XC1 Pro class, Justin Luketic earned his best results far this season.

Coming into the race, Luketic felt a little more at ease than the previous races. However, his copilot’s late arrival was a small cause for concern.

“I wasn’t as concerned as the last couple of races because we knew we had the speed and lines to make up good time,” Luketic said. “My copilot, Tyler Wilson, wasn’t able to walk the track due a late arrival on Saturday following his brother’s wedding in Florida. We had very little time before we lined up, so we both knew that it would take a lap or two for us both to start clicking like we usually do right off the line.”

Luketic and Wilson started out with a good pace, picking off the row in front of them within the first lap.

“Moving into the top 10, we were feeling good, driving well and picking solid lines to make passes,” Luketic said.

Staying in front of the pack through the dust, Luketic and Wilson came to a wooded section that bottle necked. Choosing a line around the disabled buggies that adorned the path, the pair met their first misfortune as a stick jammed between their skid plate and floor. The impediment caused the floor of the buggy to raise and limited Luketic’s throttle and breaking ability.

They moved into the next section of the race, but their bad luck only compounded.

“We pushed on the best we could and unfortunately snagged a rear valve stem, ripping it out and causing our right rear to go completely flat,” Luketic said. “Trying to drive a fast hard pace with a flat rear tire is much harder than it seems, so we backed our pace down and worked towards finishing the race.”

Luketic and Wilson slowed down so much that the buggies they worked through during the first two laps started catching and passing them.

“It’s never a good feeling,” Luketic said. “However, we pushed on to finish the last half of the race to bring in a hard earned and fought for 12th place.”

“I can’t thank Dave Thirion enough for helping us get these buggies race ready and every one of our sponsors, friends and family for the continued support.”

While Team FCR’s XC1 Pro class drivers battled adversity to be rewarded with a pair of top-20 finishes, its Amateur Modified driver Josh Luketic fell victim to a race-ending collision in the first turn off the start.

UP NEXT

During its long summer break from the Grand National Cross Country series, Team FCR will be looking for some local competition to continue building experience. Following the four-month intermission, Team FCR will resume its GNCC season at the Polaris ACE Powerline Park race for Round five of the UTV Pro series on Saturday, Oct. 1. The team will travel to Powerline Park in St. Clairsville, Ohio. The venue is constructed on old strip mine property and mud is always a factor as the course runs across fire roads that retain water. The track features clay topsoil that gives way to rocky base soil, providing more stability than the previous round at the John Penton GNCC. Other challenges the course offers include: tight woods, mud, elevation change and some high speed sections on wide-open grass track.

PREVIOUS RACE

Prior to the Wiseco John Penton, Team FCR last raced 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.

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