After a four-month break, the SoCal Spec E30 racers were ready to get it on at Willow Springs International Raceway for round one of the 2015 season. Joining the field this season are rookie drivers Bob Michaels, Ed Sukchai and, from across the pond, Gavin Bristow, who brought his almost-done Spec E30 and actually finished his build at the track.
The first qualifying session was a lap battle showdown between returning Regional Champion, Michael Mihld and the always-fast Charles Buzzetti. They traded the pole each lap. Mihld was able to hold pole position by .03 seconds. Andrew Clark edged out 2013 Regional Champion Steve Stepanian for the third spot. With the top seven spots within 1 second, this was shaping up to be a fast weekend.
The threat of rain left the cars on jack stands until the last possible moment when racers had to pick wet or dry tires. Rolling off the grid, it began to sprinkle. However, as luck would have it, the droplets stopped and the race was dry from start to finish. 2011 and 2012 Regional Champion Alan Hauser started from last on grid because he missed warm-up and qualifying, and did so in a borrowed car because his wasn’t ready for the first event of the season.
Mihld led the first lap until Buzzetti took over the top spot from him on lap two. Stepanian followed Buzzetti past Mihld where they battled nose to tail the entire race. Unfortunately, lapped traffic held up Stepanian enough to ensure Buzzetti the win, with Stepanian finishing second. Meanwhile, with no time in the car prior to the green, Hauser stole the third podium position from Hubert Young breaking the 2-year-old track record of 1:38.867 set in 2013. In fact, five drivers could have broken the record in this race, if it not for Hauser’s fastest lap at 1:37.615.
The grid for Sunday’s qualifying race was set by each driver’s fastest lap time from Saturday’s race. In typical Hauser style, he got out to an early lead after starting on the pole and maintained that gap for the shorter race, claiming his first win of the season. Buzzetti held off Mihld for second, and the grid was set for the main race.
Right from the green flag, there was a three-car breakaway at the front, which included Stepanian, Buzzetti and Hauser. “The Three Amigos” battled enough that two more cars joined them to make a five-car train. Stepanian led almost the entire race, but on the last lap, Buzzetti found an opening to take the lead. Hauser and Stepanian battled door to door from Turn 6 all the way through Turn 9 where they exited side by side. At the line, Hauser eked out second place from Stepanian by less than .01 seconds. — Shawn Meze and Steve Stepanian