It’s one thing to go four-off at Willow Springs and lose only one position. It’s quite another to go four-off while battling for a podium spot, and come back to win, yet that’s exactly what NASA SoCal Spec Miata racer Blake Minasian did. Twice.
Minasian started from second on Saturday behind Teen Mazda Challenge driver AJ Zarcone and the two began to work together to break away from the pack, with Mark Polunin bringing up third for most of the race. Minasian and Zarcone were battling when Minasian went four-off in Turn 9 — always a good time — he fell back to third. When the caution flags came out later in the race, Minasian was able to retake second, and get past Zarcone to take the win.
“The second half of the race was super hectic with the flags and the pace car and lapped traffic,” Minasian said afterward. “Thankfully I was able to catch up to second and with the help of lapped traffic and the yellows, of course, I was able to catch up to AJ and I was able to get around him. We got alongside each other, but I still held him off, and coming into the last corner there was a lapped-traffic Porsche that was in the way, and we both split him, and I ended up keeping the lead and then I got the win.”
Zarcone finished second, with KC Cook finishing on the podium in third for the first time in 2021.
“I started reeling in third place, and then the caution came out so it stacked up the whole field again,” Cook said. “There was lots of traffic for those top three and what ended up happening is third place got pinched off in Turn 9. He ended up going off and I was able to take the position. It was unfortunate for him, but we’ve been taking a lot of fourth-place finishes, so I’m happy to get a third. We’ve been working real hard to get the car dialed in. I’m learning a lot more about the setup and I’m a lot more confident with the driving, and race craft so I’m really happy with today’s progress.”
Sunday’s qualifying race had Minasian on pole, followed by Zarcone and fellow Teen Mazda Challenge drivers Anthony Santos in third and Cooper Hicks in fourth.
At the start, Minasian and Zarcone broke away and began working together. They kept it up all race long until Zarcone pressured Minasian going into Turn 1 where Minasian went four-off again. He was able to recover and catch Zarcone, then capitalize on the starter mistakenly throwing two white flags to beat Zarcone at the line.
“We actually got two white flags for some reason, and I ended up passing him, getting a better exit out of Turn 9 for the checkers. It was a drag race to the finish and I barely got him,” Minasian said.
The two flags were a bit confusing to Zarcone, and everyone else for that matter.
“It was constant bump-drafting so that we would get away from the pack and do our own thing because both of us, our paces are faster than everyone else’s,” Zarcone said. “I was enjoying everything up front, and I hope to always be there, to be honest.”
After serving a one-race suspension, Rob Burgoon started from 10th and quickly made up for lost time to take third place.
“So, I started from midpack, today and just put my head down started driving fast, clicking off quick lap times, got through the 944 traffic and eventually started reeling in the leaders and got into third,” he said. “I was thinking the leaders might wreck each other, but they didn’t oblige. So, congratulations to Blake.”