The season finale for the 11-race NASA Southeast season was Santa’s Toy Run in December at Road Atlanta. The starting grid was Sandro Espinosa, long-time wingman Ryan Whitinger on the outside, blazing-fast rookie Cody Kishel, and on the outside, season points leader Rob Eskew in a 19-car field.
At the green, Whitinger took Turn 1 aggressively and came out ahead of pole-sitter Espinosa. Eskew, also on the outside of the grid, moved ahead of Kishel. Whitinger’s fuel cap was malfunctioning and dribbling fuel in left turns. Although Espinosa and Eskew spent a lot of time sideways behind Whitinger, it would be hasty to blame the fuel, because after they got by Whitinger, they still spent a lot of time sideways.
As the leaders went through Turn 10, control called a full-course yellow so emergency crews could deal with cars off track. With a gap of 200 yards behind the top three, the rest of the field didn’t see the pace car pull off, and were surprised when full-course yellow was withdrawn.
On lap five, Espinosa dived in to take turn 10A and, in typical Southeast fashion, Whitinger gave Espinosa the room to make it work, if he could. They went thru 10B side by side but Espinosa came out of 10B with a speed advantage that allowed him to pull into the lead. Whitinger, now in second, kept an inside line through Turn 12 to keep third-place Eskew in check. Nonetheless, Eskew managed a terrific Turn 12, which put him in position to take Turn 1 from Whitinger. In 20 seconds, Whitinger had gone from first to third.
In lap nine, as Espinosa and Eskew approached the braking zone of Turn 10, a GTS2 car came from behind, which caused the gracious Espinosa to check up in 10A. Eskew pounced, and came out of 10B with more speed and as the two Spec E30s roared up the hill, Eskew slowly moved past 2015 National Champion Espinosa. But with his pass only inches from being complete as they crested the hill, a red flag came out, forcing Eskew to back out of the pass. Eskew did not get another chance because the race finished under full-course yellow.
Congratulations to Sandro Espinosa for winning the final race of Southeast’s 2016 season. Congratulations also to Rob Eskew for winning the Southeast Spec E30 season championship. Finally, congratulations to Alex Barrosso for winning the 2016 UUC “Spirit of Southeast Spec E30 Award.”