Buttonwillow Raceway Park welcomed 14 Spec E30 teams to the NASA SoCal season finale. Typical for SoCal Spec E30, it all came down to the final race for the SoCal regional championship with two-time regional second-place finisher Andrew Clark going head to head with three-time regional champion and National Championship podium finisher Steve Stepanian as they came into the weekend dead even in the points chase.
Ironically, while the two seasoned veterans duked it out for top honors, the battle for the remaining regional podium spots were fought by two relatively new drivers to the series, Forenz Arabian and Mickey Miller. The stage was set for an epic racing weekend under near perfect weather conditions.
Right from qualifying Saturday, Clark showed he was not playing around by setting a qualifying time that shattered the Spec E30 track record by almost 2 full seconds! J. P. Cadoux of the NorCal Spec E30 racers qualified second, and two-time regional champion Michael Mihld rounded out the top three. Arabian, Miller and Stepanian filled in at fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively for the first race of the weekend.
Everyone got away clean for Turn 1 after their traditional standing start. The field fell in line quickly, but the top seven of 14 stayed nose to tail for the first few laps. As the race wore on, Miller, Clark and Mihld broke away from the pack as Stepanian, Sean Aron and Neil Daly struggled to keep pace. While the top three shuffled positions a bit, the first race of the weekend had Miller taking the win, Mihld taking second and Clark finishing third. Luckily for Miller, Arabian finished seventh, but Stepanian finished right behind Clark in fourth, and the points battle continued.
The qualifying race Sunday not only had the top eight inverted, but also featured a different track configuration. NorCal racer Ben Winter was on pole with Ed Suckchai right next to him. Winter led the first few laps with Suckchai and Daly right behind him. However, traffic upset the top cars, and Clark came from fourth place to take the lead, passing Daly. Stepanian got by Suckchai on the final lap and that is how they finished, with Miller taking fourth place, which put him within striking distance of taking third for the season. However, starting from the pole for Sunday’s main race, all Clark had to do is finish three spots in front of Stepanian to take the title.
As the green flag dropped for the last time in the 2019 season, Stepanian got the hole-shot on Clark on the inside of the track so they would go nose to nose into Turn 1 right next to each other. However, Clark hung onto the outside and got a better exit, allowing Daly and Miller to move Stepanian to fourth. By lap three, Brett Strom had moved up into second behind Clark as Miller and Daly maintained third and fourth. On the move, Arabian overtook Stepanian moving him to sixth with a rising temperature gauge. As the race wore on, Clark developed an intermittent electrical problem that affected his pace, giving Strom the lead with Miller right on his bumper in second. Daly dropped off just a bit, with Arabian challenging him for third. In the final laps, Miller was leading Arabian and Clark limping along with Stepanian closing fast with Mihld right in front of him.
As the checkered flag flew, Strom won the final race, with Miller holding onto second. Daly battled Arabian down to the wire nosing him out for third and broadening the points distance between Miller and Arabian. Then the No. 13 of Andrew Clark came around the final turn just ahead of Mihld and Stepanian, securing his first SoCal Spec E30 regional championship!
“The battle for this year’s SoCal Spec E30 Championship was epic. We battled right down to the last race, just like it should be,” Stepanian said after the race. “Andrew is an outstanding competitor and he truly deserves the title of champion. He definitely earned it.”
Brett Strom started from eighth on grid for the last Spec E30 race of the NASA SoCal season and fought through traffic to take the win on Sunday in October at Buttonwillow.