Blake Minasian and Mark Polunin Nab One Win Apiece at Buttonwillow

No. 23 KC Cook started from his first pole position on Saturday and picked up a second- and a third-place finish. No. 0 Mark Polunin finished third on Saturday and first on Sunday.

Headed into the penultimate round of the NASA SoCal Spec Miata season, Blake Minasian held the points lead over KC Cook when competitors arrived at Buttonwillow Raceway in October.

With three wins and only one race finish off the podium, Minasian had a 100-point cushion over second place Cook, who had one win and two third-place finishes in 2021.

For Saturday’s race, AJ Zarcone snared pole position with a flyer in qualifying, and held the lead for the first few laps when the field hit 944 Spec traffic. Of course, traffic has an effect, and Minasian used it to pass Zarcone, as did Mark Polunin. Minasian jumped out into the lead and endured a late-race charge from Rob Burgoon, who tried to avoid lapped traffic in the Sweeper, but went off track.

“We hit a lot of lapped traffic, which worked to our advantage and disadvantage, but I guess it worked to my advantage this time,” Minasian said. “There was a lot of switching around, a lot of tough spots with the lapped traffic. They kind of got in the way a little bit. I had the lead the last few laps. I was able to stay out in first till checkers, so it worked out. A lot of battling, though. Fun times.”

When Burgoon went off, KC Cook took over second place, a leap forward from his fifth-place starting position.

“You could cover the top five with a blanket for a majority of the start. A few laps in, we already ran into some traffic with the 944s and I think that’s when some shuffling started to happen,” Cook said. “I was kind of just biding my time at that point. Once traffic started coming into play, I started picking off places one by one. I was sitting in third in the final lap. I had Mark Polunin right in front of me and coming out of Off Ramp, I think he missed a gear, and I had a good run out of there, I took advantage of it, and was able to get under him on the final corner and beat him to the line. Pretty happy with a second-place finish.”

Polunin had indeed missed shift, which was the mistake that shuffled him from second to third.

“It was very good racing, a lot of change-up in positions. I was running first at one point. It seems like everyone who was running in first eventually ran into traffic and there was a lot of shakeup because of that, which is always exciting,” Polunin said. “In the final hairpin, I missed a shift, coming out of it — I went to fifth instead of third — KC went on the inside and passed me so he got second.”

In Teen Mazda Challenge, Polunin took first place, followed by Cooper Hicks and Anthony Santos.

For Sunday, Polunin lowered his tire pressures a bit, which he felt improved the car’s handling. When Sunday’s race began, the handling wasn’t quite there, but as the race wore on, the car came to him, and he had a car he could work with.

Again lapped traffic came into play, but Polunin put his head down and kept at it. So did his car, and Polunin was able to take advantage of a mistake by a competitor and take the top step on the podium for the first time.

“For the race, I got immediately passed, so I was in third, then I passed back for second, and it was a very mean battle with KC, but in a good way,” Polunin said. “But a 944 sadly got in his way on Phil Hill, but I was able to pass him and keep my momentum. After that I just tried to manage the race and kept him behind me. There was a lot of pressure because he was using my draft the whole time, but toward the end I felt like I managed my tires just slightly better. I kept it on track and got my first win.”

Running in third at the time, Minasian saw Cook’s mistake, and overtook him and charged on to take second place.

“The last lap I passed KC. He came in a little hot over Phil Hill, went four off, so I was able to keep my foot in it, make a pass right before Riverside, which put me in second,” Miniasian said. “But it was a great battle. I was trying to be patient and it worked out.”

After his mistake over Phil Hill, Cook gathered it up, held off a late-race charge from Burgoon, and went on to take third.

“We had a good start and we got out to a bit of a gap. Mark was able to chase me down. He got by me and then Blake and Rob reeled us in,” Cook said. “They were getting pretty antsy and then on the last lap we were starting to catch some lapped traffic and I tried to get a little bit of a run out of Phil Hill on Mark and blew the corner, went four off. Blake was able to capitalize on that, and that’s kind of how we finished. Rob had a run on me going down the back straightaway and I put him on the outside into the braking zone. Rob went off. I almost did. That’s how we settled it for the final few corners. Still a good weekend. I got a second and a third.”

In Teen Mazda Challenge, Polunin took his second win of the weekend, followed by Santos and Hicks.


From left: KC Cook scored two podiums and one pole position in October. Mark Polunin notched a win on Sunday a third on Saturday. Blake Minasian took a win and a second-place finish to maintain his points lead in the 2021 Championship.
Image courtesy of Herb Lopez

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