Read the weekend schedule too quickly and you would have thought it was just another weekend racing the No. 13 configuration clockwise at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in April — but it was counterclockwise, a track configuration NASA SoCal hasn’t used in five years or more.
That meant the esses dumped the field into “The Sweeper” turn rather abruptly, and it took drivers most of the first day to figure it out.
Newcomer Joey Bickers figured it out faster than everyone, turning in a 2:06.565 qualifying time, just about a second faster than Rob Burgoon in second and Jeremy Barnes in third, who was just a second behind Burgoon.
“I generally don’t qualify particularly well,” Barnes said. “I’ve been racing since 1989 and I’ve only sat on pole four times, I think. I’ve won a few races along the way and a few championships, but I don’t qualify well.”
But Barnes got a good start. The field bombed into Turn 1 three wide, with Barnes emerging from the melee in second ahead of Burgoon and Dave Varco in fourth. Then, just a few seconds into the first lap, Bickers ran wide at Phil Hill, and spun off, lucky to have lost just four spots. Barnes worked to put some distance on Burgoon, who made a mistake in Cotton Corners, which was enough for Varco and Bickers to get by. Barnes carried on for the win, with Varco and Bickers taking up spots two and three on the podium.
“I finished second again for about the seventh time in the last two years,” Varco said. “I followed Jeremy around. He was unstoppable today. I couldn’t catch him in traffic.”
Sunday’s qualifying session was a race format, with the cars arranged in the order of Saturday’s finish. Burgoon had made some setup changes to his car and bolted on a new set of tires, which helped him immensely, and landed him on pole for the race. Barnes qualified second with Bickers in third.
At the green flag, Burgoon and Bickers gapped the field immediately and battled on their own, but when Burgoon bobbled in the tricky Off Ramp turn, Bickers shot by. Burgoon retook the lead a couple of laps later, but Bickers wasn’t done. He tried to pass on the outside of Turn 1, but overcooked it. He managed to hold onto second, with Barnes finishing in third.
“A Race Engineering engine and a good setup will win races around here,” Burgoon said, “so it was a good time.”