The NASA Texas Spec E46 season opener effectively included two different racetracks because the Motor Speedway Resort Houston circuit was run in two different directions in one weekend: clockwise on Saturday and counterclockwise on Sunday. Built on an old rice farm, this track is flat aside from one engineered elevation change called The Launch. Four Spec E46 racers were present for the season opener: Texas veterans Jason Rikke, Pat Welch, and Hank Smith joined newcomer Jason Stanley, a transplant from the NASA Southeast Region. Special recognition to Jason Rikke, whose dedication drove him to finish an engine rebuild and installation the day before the event.
Jason Stanley was the fastest on Saturday in the clockwise direction through all sessions helped by testing on Friday and new tires. Pat Welch finished second followed by Hank Smith in third in all Saturday sessions. Jason Rikke started the race, but played it safe with the new engine using it as another shakedown session. Sunday was a different story.
The Spec E46 field was paired with the faster NASA classes for racing this event: Super Touring 4 through Super Unlimited, German Touring Series 2 through GTSU, and Camaro Mustang Challenge. The CMC class got their own start in a second wave, but the SE46 racers were mixed in with the other classes for the wave one start, which played a major role in how Sunday’s race two would play out. For race two, Stanley was on pole in class followed by Pat Welch, Hank Smith, and Jason Rikke.
The change of direction saw Stanley lose his Saturday advantage. All Spec E46 racers started together in a mixed field on Sunday. Welch took advantage as the veteran Texas racer jumped Stanley on the start and was ahead by the end of the Carousel. Stanley maintained second until a spun GTS2 car caused him to check up in the Keyhole, allowing Smith through.
Welch, followed by Smith and Stanley, continued in the same order for another six laps.
New to the circuit, Stanley couldn’t find a way past the experienced Smith until lap seven, when he was able to get a nose inside Smith in the Carousel, allowing him a better run to The Diamond’s Edge.
With only five laps left, it was a classic cat-and-mouse game between Welch and Stanley. Welch set his best time on lap nine at a 1:47.934 while Stanley set his best time on lap 11 at a 1:47.882. Occasional out-of-class traffic caused the pair frustrations, but by the final lap, there was only a few car lengths between the two.
Stanley closed through the Carousel, but lost ground into Diamond’s Edge. Welch ran wide on the exit of Diamond’s Edge, but was able to recover down the back straight. Welch nailed the Bus Stop but Stanley missed his braking point, losing valuable tenths on the final lap. The Key Hole was status quo but the Launch became the deciding point.
On the exit of the Key Hole, Welch got the car sideways over the Launch, forcing him to correct to prevent a spin. This allowed Stanley to pass on the outside for the victory since there were only four corners left in the race. While it came down to the last lap, only a tenth separated the top two fast lap times and less than a second separated them at the finish!