The first full Spec E46 season in Southern California kicked off at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway February 16 and 17. Saturday’s race was run clockwise and Sunday’s was run counter-clockwise. Both races had four Spec E46s running in a mixed-class field along with ST4, ST5, and GTS cars.
For Saturday’s race, Ryan Keeley notched the quickest time in qualifying, followed by Ryan Bittner, Peter Oneppo and Mike Beale. Because they were mixed in with other classes, the Spec E46s were nose-to-tail to one another, with other cars next to them as they turned onto the front straight. The green flag dropped for the flying start and the cars took off.
When running clockwise, the end of the front straight at Chuckwalla leads into a quick left-hand kink before a sweeping right-hander and often leads to exciting race starts. The Spec E46s jockeyed for position within the larger pack through the first set of turns, but came out with no in-class position changes. After the first couple of laps, the race had broken into two smaller battles, with Bittner trying to chase down Keeley for first place and Beale trying to get around Oneppo for third.
A slight misstep from Keeley send a cloud of dust into the air at Turn 5 and allowed Bittner to take the lead. This was short-lived as Keeley took it back within a couple of laps. Meanwhile, Beale was all over Oneppo for the whole race. Despite a tense battle and a few pass attempts, Beale was never quite able to get around Oneppo. In the end, Keeley finished first, Bittner took second in his first race, and Oneppo rounded out the podium.
Sunday’s race saw Keeley starting in front again, but this time he was followed by Beale, then Oneppo, and finally Bittner. The cars turned onto the front straight and took the green. The start to counter-clockwise races offers a similar start as clockwise, but with a right-hand kink leading into a sweeping left-hand turn.
Oneppo got a good jump at the start, and was able to pass a car through the kink and attack Beale in the left-hander. After a failed attempt to go around Beale, he tucked in behind and the chase was on. Meanwhile, Beale had his sights on Keeley, who was being held up a bit by an out-of-class car. For the first few laps the three Spec E46s chased each other closely around the track with Bittner not far behind. Keeley was eventually able to pass the other car through turns 10, 9, and 8, and use it as a pick between his car and Beale’s, allowing Keeley was able to pull away slightly.
This left Beale and Oneppo to battle again, but this time with Oneppo trying to track down Beale. A few laps into the chase, Oneppo was able to get a good run on Beale through Turn 11 and onto the back straight. After pulling alongside Beale and gaining the inside advantage, Oneppo got around Beale in Turn 10, but the maneuver caused him to go a little wide into Turn 9. As the two cars went through the turn, there was slight contact, but it was just enough to cause Oneppo to spin. He watched from the dirt as several cars went past, including Bittner. Oneppo got back on track, but Beale retired into the pits to check the damage to his front tire. While the results were the same as Saturday, the path to get there was much different.
One of the biggest wins of the weekend was the growth for Southern California Spec E46 and great racing. We expect to see these four cars running all season, along with at least two other new cars from Southern California. The black and orange No. 14 car that raced with us last year will also be on track from time-to-time. Spec E46 in Southern California is growing!