Drivers returned to the high banks of Auto Club Speedway to take advantage of the great weather in an effort to beat one another, once again, as well as better the previous track record set in 2016 by Steve Stepanian, who laid down a blistering 2:00.808.
A couple of interesting front air dams showed up, and drivers wondered if they would have any effect on the race. These were removed after the warmup because they either failed completely or created overheating problems. The racers undoubtedly didn’t go out for Saturday morning warmup on older practice tires and it appeared that a few drivers might have figured things out early, because they were able to surpass the previous track record, but could they repeat it in qualifying, let alone the race?
That question was answered quickly as in qualifying. Seven drivers were not only able to beat the 3-year-old track record, but three drivers also broke into the “under-2-minute” mark! Ed Wagner set the mark with a 1:59.407 to earn pole for Saturday’s race. Stepanian, with Mickey Miller on his heels, turned in a 1:59.916 and a 1:59.984, respectively. Interestingly, all drivers set their personal best lap times in qualifying, something we have not seen before in SoCal! And with the slowest qualifying time being only a 2:02.781, it was clear that Saturday’s race would be tight.
At the drop of the green flag, Stepanian performed one of his patented hole-shot starts and leapt out into the lead. Wagner fell back to third and the race was on. Sean Aron started sixth and slowly pushed his way through the field to get all the way up into second place, but with a few laps to go, Wagner passed Aron and take the second spot at the checkered flag. Stepanian led every lap and took the first win of the race weekend. Aron set the fastest lap of the race with a 2:01.018, just .2 seconds away from the mark!
With the race on Saturday showing that the gap from the fastest to the slowest lap time only being 2.4 seconds, the entire field was inverted for the starting grid for Sunday’s qualifying race. Miller, apparently feeling he needed some additional beauty rest, somehow napped through the race on Saturday. In light of this, Miller was rewarded with his first ever pole position in Spec E30. Forenz Arabian apparently had 2 servings of Wheaties for breakfast because he completely ripped the shifter out of his car in the Saturday race and retired with two laps to go. He made repairs and started in second. The race format also was changed from a standing start to a flying start, which is a format that hasn’t been used in SoCal Spec E30 in a long time.
In the shorter qualifying race, Miller and Arabian walked away from the competition, leaving the battling to happen behind them. Andrew Clark, Stepanian and Aron worked their way through the field relatively quickly. Clark and Stepanian finished third and fourth, in that order. Arabian finished second. Miller made the best use of his extra rest and improved on that lap time by posting a 2:00.508 in taking the win and setting a new track record of 2:00.508.
For Sunday’s race, it seemed that Clark could have perhaps taken a page out of the race preparation book of Miller and grabbed a bit of shut-eye because when the green flag flew, Clark was slow off the line … but that is what happens when you start in third gear. That being said, Arabian and Stepanian both got off the line in unison and passed Miller going into Turn 1. By Turn 4, Arabian was well in command of the race and led the first lap, with Stepanian and Miller closing the gap. By the end of the second lap, Wagner had moved up into second place. On lap five, Wagner pulled his signature “out brake them down low into Turn 3” maneuver and passed Arabian for the lead, which is how the next nine laps remained.
However, on the white flag lap, Stepanian had slowly reeled in Arabian and caught him, focused on Wagner coming off the banks. Well, Stepanian focused on Wagner a bit too much, because he and Wagner overshot Turn 3 and Arabian patiently watched them both sail wide, over-shooting Turn 3. Capitalizing on their error, Arabian pulled off a perfect over-and-under move to regain the lead. Stepanian and Wagner slowed their cars down and got back into the chase as fast as they could because they knew Arabian was going to face some lapped traffic shortly.
As Arabian came into “the playground” at the west end of the course, a lapped-traffic car lost control and bareley missed taking Arabian out before going into a tire barrier outside the final turn. As they crossed the line, Forenz Arabian won his first Spec E30 race with Steve Stepanian taking second and Ed Wagner finishing off the podium claiming third. Somehow in the process, Stepanian once again reclaimed his title of “fastest Spec E30 at Auto Club Speedway” by being the first driver to break the under-2-minute barrier, posting a lap time of 1:59.719.