The starting grids are set for Sunday’s NASA Western States Championships presented by Toyo Tires as the teams wrapped up qualifying competition Saturday at Thunderhill Raceway Park.
More than 150 amateur drivers in 18 race classes and nine Time Trial classes are looking to bring home a Championship on Sunday after three days of testing and qualifying on the road course. This is the 12th annual National Auto Sport Association Championships presented by Toyo Tires.
With pole position secured for Sunday’s Championship, Nick Sommers says his Spec Miata still has some speed left in it. That should make fellow Spec Miata racers a little nervous, considering Sommers led qualifying Friday and Saturday from start to finish. Sommers and Tristan Littlehale, who finished second, have been evenly matched on the weekend, but Sommers has managed to find a little more speed.
“We still have more in the car,” Sommers said. “I made a few mistakes here and there that allowed Tristan to get on my bumper a few times. We need to do a few setup changes tomorrow to help the car rotate, but we should be able to fly tomorrow.”
Marco Gallaher believes the key to winning the Championship will be which Spec E46 driver is best at getting through slower traffic on the racecourse. Gallaher had plenty of practice Saturday when he won Spec E46 qualifying for the second day in a row.
“The track is hot and it didn’t really want to work with us very well, but I was able to get a good jump on the start and we were able to lay down clean consistent laps like before,” Gallaher said. “We built a decent gap and then we had to fight through traffic, which is a tough task. Tomorrow is going to be very interesting. Traffic is going to play a huge part.”
Larry Fraser looked liked the guy to beat in Spec E30 in Saturday’s qualifying race. Fraser took the lead early and held it the entire race. However, a post-race dynamometer test showed Fraser’s BMW was making a bit too much power, and he was consequently disqualified from his win. Fourth-place finisher Steven Stepanian also was DQ’d after a dyno test.
That moved the second-, third- and fifth-place finishers up into first, second and third, and handed Sylas Montgomery the win, and the coveted pole position for the start of Sunday’s Championships race.
Asked if he plans to make any changes to his racecar for the Championship, Cory Weber figures to leave well enough alone after winning qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday.
“Nothing in particular,” said Weber, the defending American Iron champion at the Western States Championships. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Weber was about 5 seconds faster than second-place finisher Ryan Walton and finishing third was Rob Capetz.
Starting last on the grid after missing qualifying on Friday, Charles Buzzetti had to run down eight competitors on the 3-mile-long course to take the checkered flag Saturday.
Racing in a 944 Spec he rented for the weekend, Buzzetti said the racecar was a little looser than he anticipated during the afternoon qualifier.
“These guys race hard and clean,” Buzzetti said. “We had a lot of fun.”
Super Touring 1
Ronald Swenson spun in Turn 3 during qualifying and figured his race was done. Seeing second-placer finisher Jeff Bader off in the distance, Swenson didn’t give up and was able to chase him and George Smith down to take the qualifying win.
“It’s pretty hot out there and I had cold tires,” Swenson said. “It was a slippery track and I just overcooked it. I didn’t give up and caught him.”
Super Touring 2
Skip Rebozzi grabbed an early lead in Saturday’s qualifying and never looked back. A day after a clutch problem almost knocked him out of qualifying, Rebozzi is sitting on the pole for the Championship race.
Rebozzi said his car was looser than normal because he was running the same set of tires for two races. A new set of tires will be on the car for Sunday.
“My car is a little under-powered compared to the other ST2 cars,” Rebozzi said. “The BMW handles so well so in all of the tight stuff, so we can make up a lot of ground.”
Super Touring 3
After giving up the lead early in qualifying, Scott Smith wasn’t about to let it slip away. Knowing he had 12 more laps to take the lead, Smith eventually retook the lead and edged Matt McIntyre by 1.29 seconds.
“I was watching the field behind me and there was a lot of shuffling going on,” Smith said. “Somebody caught up to me and passed me because his tires were warm and mine weren’t. We worked on it and finally we were doing some inside racing and rolled the dice.”
Super Touring 4
Austin Newmark is two-for-two in qualifying heats as he tries to win the inaugural Western States Championship for the new ST4 class created this year.
“That heat race went better than I could imagine,” Newmark said. “I got a good start going into Turn 1 and was able to take the lead and put my head down. I ran a clean and consistent race and was able to pull a nice gap between second place. It’s exactly what you want to do in a heat race.”
German Touring Series 2
A day after winning the first qualifying race, Doug Young end up starting at the back of the grid because of his car didn’t meet the minimum weight after the race. He had to add weight to the car and start at the back of the group. It didn’t matter because Young was still 6 seconds faster than Steven Stepanian, who finished second.
“I’m just hoping to do the same thing,” said Young, who is planning to use a new setup for the Championship. “I feel good, the car feels good. I think everything feels right.”
Brian Lock had one of those days where everything went wrong before the qualifying race, but his team still managed to get him to victory.
“We spent all day pulling the fuel cell, changing the fuel pump because we lost the fuel pump,” Lock said. “It took me a couple of laps at the start of the race to get up to speed for the day because it was the first hot laps I had really seen.”
Lock expects a tight race with Jamie Florence in the final. “There’s no getting around either of us right now unless you make a mistake,” Lock said.
Brian Frisselle was so dominant in Saturday’s qualifying, the greatest challenge he faced was having to slice through slower traffic on Thunderhill Raceway. Frisselle earned pole position for the Championship by winning both qualifying races. Jon Van Caneghem finished second, 19.43 seconds behind Frisselle.
“Every now and then you get caught out (in traffic), but that’s just part of racing,” Frisselle said. “You have to challenge yourself to time things better so you can get through the cleanest as possible.”
The finish in the last qualifying race between Tom Boyd and Brian Gibson in the Thunder Roadsters was closest of the weekend. Just 0.061 seconds — faster than the blink of an eye — separated the competitors.
Just a day before the two competitors finished with less than a second difference. On Saturday, Boyd was trailing Gibson going into the final turn when he was able to make his move.
“I was right on his tail and he zigged, and I zagged and I got up next to him,” Boyd said. “I couldn’t have been a foot ahead of him it looked like to me in my car when we passed the start-finish line. I thought he might have beat me.”
Performance Touring E
Coming into the Western States Championships, Robert Dietz changed the suspension, swapped springs and shocks, replaced the head and even switched sway bars. Dietz liked what he saw, winning back-to-back qualifying races.
“A lot of things were changed over the past couple of weeks and they’ve all come together in the past few days,” Dietz said.
He is focused on getting the car ready for the 25 Hours of Thunderhil, slated for early December.
“We’re really using the Western States Championships as a testbed in a sense for what the 25 Hour is going to bring us and what should we set up for,” he said.
Jim Laughlin’s plan to prepare his car for the Championship race involves checking the oil, gassing it up and checking the tire pressure before heading onto the track. After winning qualifying races on Friday and Saturday, Laughlin sees little need to change the setup.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Laughlin, who set up the car based on his past experiences of racing at Thunderhill Raceway. “I haven’t had to change a thing and I don’t plan to.”