Bill Okell may be one of the elder statesmen among regular Sports Car Club of America drivers, but he further burnished his competitive reputation with the way he raced to the second of his two wins last weekend in California.
Coming off an F Production class win Saturday (Feb. 19) in the 12-lap (25-minute) sprint race, the Saanich driver was primed to fight for the lead again in the timed 35-minute race on day 2 of the Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour event at Buttonwillow Raceway Park near Bakersfield.
Except the transmission in his MG Midget wasn’t having anything to do with his plans.
No way to shift smoothly between first and fourth, Okell, who was minutes away from the start Sunday morning, knew there was no time for his crew to fix the problem. He carefully navigated the first handful of laps, trying to diagnose the best way forward, but by about the fifth trip around the 2.92-mile road course – Okell determined to resolve the tranny issue by pinning the shifter in fourth gear with his right hand while steering with his left.
He eased the car around the track as best he could for 10 more laps, staying close to leader Gary Raymond in a Porsche 914. Okell radioed to his crew chief – using his left thumb – asking to be informed when there was two laps to go.
“We knew Gary had a slower car and we decided to go all out and get by him on the last couple of laps,” he said.
“When I got by and the white flag came out (signalling the last lap), there was a back marker who blocked Gary, which helped us. Having to hold the transmission in fourth gear, it was really quite a challenge to get it to hang in there. Those last couple of laps, the thing was vibrating and gyrating,” he said, joking that he was a bit sore in places he normally isn’t after a race.
The Saturday race wasn’t the easiest either for Okell, who started with a spin into the grass on the opening lap, but recovered quickly to take the lead for good when the leader spun later on the lap.
The race weekend was the third of the season on the national SCCA Super Tour and the first on the West Coast, making it more reachable for Okell, who was top Canadian finisher in all classes at Indianapolis last fall at the SCCA national runoffs. He’s already got the next western stop for the tour on his calendar, in May in Oregon.