Ryan Pond Takes Two in Gusty Spec Miata Opener at Willow Springs

While windmills in Texas were freezing and seizing, the turbine generators within sight of Willow Springs International Raceway were spinning to overload. Winter winds blasted the high desert Antelope Valley and tossed dust and tumbleweeds across the track as NASA SoCal Spec Miata opened their season at “The Fastest Road in the West.”

For Saturday’s race in the late afternoon, the winds picked up big time as the green flag flew. Mazda MX-5 Cup driver Chris Nunes started from pole, but Ryan Pond, who started from second, got by Nunes and worked his way out to an early lead, with a good gap between himself and the rest of the field.

Winds provided a brisk tailwind going down the back straightaway and a gnarly headwind coming out of Turn 9 and down the front straight. The headwinds worked against Pond’s single car and to the advantage of the three- and four-car field behind.

Nunes attempted to bump-draft Eric Slivkoff, which resulted in a broken differential carrier beneath Slivkoff’s car and a local yellow on the back straight. Nunes was able to catch and pass Pond, which is how the race ended. However, Nunes was penalized, and moved to last place. That moved Pond from second to first.

“The pack was always together and I think that was to their advantage and they stayed together and got me, and I had like a two-lap battle with Chris Nunes, which was fun,” Pond said. “It felt like he could just clobber me, and I think that was the wind and the drafting effect, and so then he eventually passed me down into Turn 1 after a great exit through 9. I was happy to kind of be able to keep up and do the same to him, and I didn’t even see the white flag, or I would have driven a little more aggressively, but I tried to reverse what he did to me. I had the speed, but Start/Finish came too early. It was close. And then to win by a ruling isn’t always great, but I’ll take it.”

Ryan Pond battled with MX-5 Cup Shootout winner Chris Nunes and finished second on Saturday, but a post-race penalty bumped Pond up for the win.

The race director’s decision also mean Blake Minasian finished second, with James Brown ahead in second.

“My strategy was to cover the outside, make sure no drama happened outside of me, keep everything on the inside, wait till after the first corner and then go,” Brown said. “I battled with everyone, it seemed like. It was so great out there. The biggest battles were with Blake Minasian. I didn’t give him an inch and he didn’t give me an inch, and we never touched cars and we had a great time.”

For Sunday’s main, Pond got ahead of Minasian, and then he and Nunes were again working together to establish a gap between themselves and the rest of the field, then work out the finish at the end. That program often works, but not this time.

Roughly halfway through the scheduled time, the Team Winged Foot car lost the rear end heading uphill to the Omega, hit the berm and rolled, coming to rest right side up at the entrance to Turn 4. That brought out the red flags, which eventually signaled game over. Driver Alexander Zuretski was unhurt in the incident. That put Pond in first, Nunes second and Minasian third.

“I was working with Ryan,” Nunes said. “We were definitely working a two-car breakaway so we could dice it up at the end, and we had pushed about a six-car gap and the red flag came out. You know what, that’s racing.”

Minasian scored his second third-place finish of the weekend.

“I qualified in third and we had a good start,” Minasian said. “I gave Ryan a good bump and then we got out one-two toward the beginning. We were kind of working together. No one was taking any crazy risks because it was still early in the race. It was a lot of fun, great race. Unfortunately, I missed a shift coming out of Turn 5 and that’s how I got passed. I was looking forward to chasing them down, but unfortunately there was an accident. I hope everyone is all right.”


Fifteen drivers showed up for the first NASA SoCal event at Willow Springs International Raceway.
Images courtesy of CaliPhotography.com and Herb Lopez

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