Thirty-five Spec E30s — yes, 35 — met at the NASA Southeast event in early March. There were 78 BMWs, Porsches and Miatas on track and there were no full-course yellows!
For Saturday’s race, Ryan Whitinger was on pole, followed by Sandro Espinosa, Rob Eskew and Alex Barroso. Whitinger was on the podium at both the 2015 Eastern and Western States Championships. Espinosa is the Spec E30 National Champion, and Barroso was the 2015 Southeast Region Rookie of the Year.
Pole-sitter Whitinger caught the green just right and pulled ahead to enter Turn 1 alone. Eskew pulled up alongside Espinosa, but Eskew’s cautious Turn 1 allowed Espinosa to pull away and for Barroso to pull even. Barroso then pulled ahead and used Turn 3 to scrape off Eskew. So began the battle of giants, the top drivers in the largest class in NASA, each hollering in excitement and using hand signals to gesture “work together” and “great move” to their buddies lap after lap.
Fourth-place Eskew had a terrific Turn 5 and kindly used his bumper to push Barroso up the steep hill and then again on the back straight. This cooperation helped both of them stay within striking distance of the lead pair.
Whitinger slipped from first to fourth. Near the end of lap two, race leader Whitinger dropped two wheels off the track at Turn 10’s quick left-right that sets the speed for the front stretch. This dropped him back from train leader to it’s caboose.
Barroso got bumped and Whitinger exploited. On lap three, in the same Turn 10 rapid left-right sequence, third place Eskew barely touched Barroso’s bumper. Eskew checked up and Barroso got a little sideways, but recovered nicely. Eskew’s pause allowed fourth-place Whitinger to move up to the inside of Eskew as the two swooped down the hill toward Turn 12. The outside of 12 demands caution so Whitinger was able to complete the pass.
On the fourth lap Whitinger swooped to the inside at Turn 10 to try to move into second, but Barroso saw the move coming and moved inboard with him, defeating the pass attempt.
On lap five, Barroso showed weakness in Turn 5 and Whitinger moved up into second. No push up the hill for Barroso this time. Espinosa had opened up a couple car-lengths in front, so the train of three worked together down the back straight to reel Espinosa back in. At the end of the back straight, third-place Barroso moved abruptly inboard going into Turn 10 and tried to take Whitinger. Barroso was forced to check up because Whitinger, despite the shortened outside braking zone, was able to hold his position. Barroso, now slow in the middle of 10, created trouble for fourth place Eskew, but in a nice dart right, Eskew managed to hang on to enough of his momentum that he came out of the turn ahead of Barroso. Meanwhile, Espinosa and Whitinger had gotten away.
Eskew and Barroso then worked together to put down very fast laps to reel in a pair of the finest racers in the nation. Traffic increasingly became a factor and luck favored the chasers. With two laps to go, the chasers caught the National Champion and Whitinger, his national podium wingman, just as the latter got briefly stuck behind a Miata and a lapped Spec E30. Eskew pounced and got by Whitinger. As they headed for the white flag, it was Espinosa with a lead of several seconds, followed by a train of Eskew, Whitinger and Barroso.
Only in Spec E30! Each of the three bumper-to-bumper chasers gestured excitedly to each other to work together to catch the National Champion, in the closing seconds of the race. Meanwhile, incredibly, Espinosa slowed up in the Esses. Espinosa deliberately feathered his throttle so his buddies could renew the battle in the last lap. The four entered the back stretch nose-to-tail and raced down the back straight looking for an opening where they might risk a last second pass-attempt. No one took a defensive line going into Turn 10, so anyone could have rolled the dice for an “amazing pass” or a “Hail Mary” that might end in the gravel. No one took the chance. Each individually decided that it was a heck of a race, so let’s not screw it up now. The finish order in the largest regional Spec E30 race ever, was Espinosa, Eskew, Whitinger and Barroso.
Best of all, no Spec E30s were killed in the making of this adventure.