Fifteen teams showed up ready to compete at the technical and challenging Buttonwillow Raceway Park, considered by many SoCal racers to be their home track. Right off the trailers, the cagey veterans and feisty rookie drivers wasted no time in laying down some seriously fast laps. Three new drivers made their Spec E30 racing debut at this event.
The attention to detail that Andrew Clark puts into his car also showed up in his ability to qualify 1.4 seconds ahead of his closest challengers. His blistering lap time, a 2:03.529, was more than enough to secure the pole position on lap two of qualifying. Behaving more like Lewis Hamilton, Clark pulled off track and parked the car in his garage while the rest of the field tried to wrangle more speed from their cars. Steve Stepanian tried, but was unable to get close to Clark’s outstanding qualifying time. However, he was still fast enough to capture the outside pole position. New to the Spec E30 series, but not new to racing, polished veteran Mickey Miller turned in a lap time barely.2 seconds behind Stepanian. JoJo Mckenzie returned from a minor layoff from racing to claim the fourth spot being just a tenth behind Miller.
At the start of the race, the entire field made it safely through Turn 1. However, Turn 3 proved to be a bit more challenging as many of the drivers were still side by side going into the tight and slow Off Ramp turn. McKenzie made contact with the right rear of Miller at the apex. The damage from the contact ended Miller’s race and McKenzie was repositioned behind Miller post-race.
Up front, Clark and Stepanian resumed a familiar dance and waltzed lap after lap. Behind them the battle for third was a tight six-car train that thinned a bit as the race progressed. With only minutes left, it was Ed Wagner, Forenz Arabian and team Ed Sukchai all battling for the last step on the podium. At the checkered flag, Andrew Clark was just able to fend off Stepanian’s final attack to take the win. Ed Wagner did the same and held off Arabian and Team Ed Sukchai to claim third place.
For Sunday’s qualifying race, the top seven cars were inverted to set the grid. The track configuration also changed from No. 13 clockwise to No. 1 counterclockwise. Team Ed Sukchai surged to the front and took the lead early on in the race. Not only did he win, but he also set a new track record on this configuration by posting a 2:11.968 on lap three of the race. Andrew Clark charged through the field from the seventh starting position to take second place and Forenz Arabian claimed his first podium finish of the season in third! The stage was now set for the final race of the weekend!
As the green flag dropped, the front of the pack went five wide as they entered Turn 1. On corner entry, they funneled down to 3.5 cars wide and there was contact between Arabian and Sukchai’s car, who was the meat in the middle. That moved him up and pushed Clark two wheels off on the outside. Who says three cars won’t fit into Turn 1 together?
That gave the lead to Wagner on corner exit, with Stepanian and Arabian fighting for second as the field motored toward the Esses. All managed to sort themselves out entering the Esses and Clark methodically worked his way back into fourth and began his pursuit of Stepanian, Arabian and Wagner.
Like a sniper picking off his victims one by one, Stepanian took his time and planned when and where he would pass Arabian. He worked his way to the inside of Arabian heading into Riverside and it was a done deal. Next he would stalk Wagner for a couple laps, who proved to be much more difficult to pass. After studying Wagner for a few laps, Stepanian took advantage of a mistake Wagner made in the Off Ramp and made the pass stick. Taking the lead and never looking back, Stepanian set his sights on the checkered flag.
While this was going on, Clark also was sniping his way past drivers, working his way back up to the bumper of Stepanian. Meanwhile, behind Clark, the racing was dicey between Wagner and Miller as the third place position was heavily contested. To quote David Hobbs, “There was a bit of argey-bargey going on between these two.”
When the dust settled, Miller finished third, with both drivers headed toward the body shop for, shall we say, some cosmetic corrections. Clark finished second and Stepanian took the win.