Eighteen Spec E30s took the grid in February, and instead of snow flurries, it was T-shirts and shorts. Craig Guthrie was on pole with Rob Eskew at his side. On the second row was Sumpter Smith and newbie Barry Zurbuchen. In the third row was Jason Wistehuff from Mid-Atlantic region, having learned the track awfully fast, with Steven Lako next to him.
At the green, Eskew creeped inboard, a move he apologized for later, and put the squeeze on Guthrie. That got Eskew through Turn 1 first. In the early turns it was Eskew, Guthrie, Zurbuchen and Smith. Eskew’s late-apexing style and Guthrie’s fast turn-ins resulted in the pair of them pulling away from the chasing trio of Zurbuchen, Smith and Lako.
Guthrie went for the inside of 11 to take the turn from Eskew, but he couldn’t quite get the pass done. Having learned his lesson, Eskew started taking defensive lines to hold Guthrie back. Guthrie was a little faster, but not enough to overcome Eskew’s defense. What he needed was for Eskew to make a mistake.
That came on lap four. Trying to keep Guthrie back, he braked late into Turn 14 and slid wide. This allowed Guthrie to exit with better speed and take the lead into Turn 1. For five laps Eskew dogged Guthrie, who got slowed by an out-of-class car in the Turn 8. Eskew passed for the lead, only for Guthrie to fight his way back alongside a few seconds later when Eskew slid wide in Turn 11. Side by side for several more turns, Eskew fought his way clear.
In the next three laps Guthrie got alongside, but couldn’t close the deal and finished on Eskew’s rear bumper.
Battling to hold third, Zurbuchen over-cooked Turn 14 on lap two while fifth-place Lako dived inside to try to take the turn from Smith. Lako’s move compromised the turn for both, leaving neither able to exploit Zurbuchen’s error. Lako did make the pass stick, so P3 through P5 was now Zurbuchen, Lako and Smith.
Several laps later, Zurbuchen missed a shift at the exit of Turn 7 and Lako, and Smith pounced. Lako got into Turn 8 first and Smith skillfully positioned his car in a single Lako-Smith train so Zurbuchen was forced to concede the turn. Smith then, optimistically, stuck his nose in on Lako at turn 13, Lako gave him room, but it was a hopeless attempt on a veteran.
Lako and Smith then went though Turn 14 nose to tail. Smith drafted down the front stretch and then sling-shot inside and dived into Turn 1. It was a well-executed pass and Smith moved into third. Lako tried to recover by turning it into an “over and under” but couldn’t pull it off. Seconds later, Lako’s hood insulation stuck in his throttle cable and had to pull off. Sumpter Smith held onto third and Zurbuchen came in fourth.