With the exception of two classes, all qualifying sessions on Friday were time-based. Fastest lap time gets pole, so it’s important for all drivers on track to cooperate — as much as racing drivers are capable of that — and give one another enough room that they all can run their best laps possible.
That’s over now. Saturday’s competition brings qualifying races, and it’s all about getting to the finish line first. Cooperation is no longer part of the equation.
The finishing positions from Saturday’s race, which are 30 minutes long, will determine starting positions for Sunday’s 45-minute Championships race. A NASA Championship requires drivers to do well on Friday, Saturday and again on Sunday. Everything needs to be on point to bring home a Championship and it never hurts to have a little good luck on your side.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s how Saturday’s qualifying races played out.
The Spec Miata field was a bit spread out when the green flag flew, but the pointy end of the field was high and tight with Aaron Jeansonne on pole, Wyatt Couch in second, Wa Huong in third and Dan Williams in fourth.
Turn 2 is often the scene of some argy-bargy, but the field got through clean. No surprise, Jeansonne put pole position to good use and put a couple of car lengths between himself and the field by Turn 4 and set to work improving his position.
Jeansonne maintained a decent gap until roughly two thirds of the way through the 30-minute race when he missed a shift heading downhill into Turn 9. He shifted into second instead of fourth and that was all Couch needed to pounce and take the top spot away. Huong also moved up to second, but Jeansonne was able to get back to second by the time checkers flew.
“Aaron had a little bit of pace, but I was just hanging in there. I started to pick up the pace once my car started to come up to temp, and the tires got rolling and then I started to close in just very slightly, and he made a mistake out of 9,” Couch said. “I went by him and from there I just kind of ran my own race. I picked a number on my dash and I just kept hitting that lap time, every time.”
That puts Couch on pole, with Jeansonne in second and Huong in third. This being Spec Miata, the first three rows all have a shot, which means fourth-place Dan Williams and fifth-place Harry Voigt also could be a factor in Sunday’s Championship race. For Sunday, Couch is going to check out the car thoroughly and look forward to the Championship race.
“The car was actually really good,” he said. “I mean, it was pretty consistent through the whole run and I’m happy with it. I think it’s a good starting place for tomorrow.”
The NASA Prototypes took the green and got to work, with a couple of cars touching as they entered the Andretti Hairpin. The contact didn’t cause anyone to deviate, but it was a signal of how fierce the competition was going to be.
Starting from second, Jeremy Croiset stepped out to an early lead and began to establish and maintain a gap by focusing on hitting his marks. However, when he drove through Turn 3 about two thirds of the way into the race, he saw a car off track in the gravel and he knew it was going to bring out the double-yellows and the pace car. That always bunches the field up and shrinks whatever gap a driver has established, and puts three other classes of cars in the mix.
“I knew it was going to reset the field. I knew we were going to have to deal with lapped traffic at that point,” Croiset said. “I thought we would catch the back markers that started ahead of us, but I hoped that it wouldn’t come that soon — but it did.”
When the race resumed, Croiset had trouble getting the heat back into his tires, which allowed Tony Brakohiapa to catch Croiset in Turn 2, which meant Croiset had to protect in Turn 3. Brakohiapa got his nose inside in Turn 3, but not enough to make the move. Brakohiapa spun and Croiset motored away to take the win.
Rain is forecast for Sunday’s race, and some of the drivers did not bring rain tires. Croiset starts on pole, followed by Sam Mangiamelli in second and Danny Dyszelski for Iron Will Racing in third.
Super Unlimited-class driver Jonathan Finstrom of Michigan’s V2 Motorsports team lucked out in a way following the Group B race double-yellows incident in which his competitor, James Paul, was involved in an incident with Super Touring 1 racer Michael Shumway that knocked both cars out of the competition.
That’s because Finstrom, who had never raced at the legendary California venue before this week, had the track to himself for four laps following the restart and managed to lay down the fastest lap of the day with a 1:22.896 on the final lap.
“That was pretty much the first time all week that I had a clear track ahead of me like that,” Finstrom said. “James got me right off the start — I hope he’s OK after that — and early on there was a lot of lapped traffic, but I got around him and figured it was going to be a battle before the incident.”
Super Touring 1
Although a penalty following Friday’s qualifying rounds moved Timothy Bidwill into the third position for the start of the Super Touring 1 qualifying race on Saturday, the Arizona driver battled through lap traffic in his 2019 Porsche GT3 Cup to pass his closest competitor, Michael Shumway, a few laps in, not long before Shumway was involved in an incident in his Porsche that forced him out of the race.
“It was unfortunate that Michael went off. He was trying to defend a position and I saw the spin and the tires and I just hope he’s OK,” Bidwell said. “There was a lot of downtime under the full-course caution. Fortunately we got a little bit of competition back before the white flag came out. I’m just glad I came out clean and back in first after the restart since we got bunched back up.”
Super Touring 3
Matt McIntyre had a great day on Friday, notching the top qualifying time in the first session of the morning, then sitting out the afternoon while other drivers tried to beat his time. None of them did, and McIntyre would have started from pole position, but his car was dyno-tested and it made 6 horsepower too many, and he was relegated to start at the back of the pack for Saturday’s race. McIntyre opted to add weight to the car to correct the condition.
Early in the race, McIntyre was plugging away, picking up spots, but a full-course caution about two-thirds of the way through the race gave him the break he needed. With the field bunched up, he pounced when the race went green again, and brought home the win.
“I was able to make some good moves and when that caution kind of bunched the field up again, I got back up to front, so right where I should have been in the first place,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre will start from pole, with JC Meynet in second and Kevin Michaels in third.
Super Touring 5
When the green flag dropped, the ST5 field was quickly infiltrated with the Legends cars that started just behind them on the same flag. Legends cars have short gear ratios in their motorcycle-derived engines, so they accelerate quickly on flying starts. ST5 pole sitter Matt Million with Palomar Racing held his position on the inside and set about putting some distance between the Legends cars and everyone else in ST5.
Million broke out to a big lead and held it throughout the race, which was free of any full-course cautions the entire time. That helped him keep the lead he had earned and pole position for Sunday’s Championships race. The forecast calls for rain, but Palomar Racing came prepared.
“We’re watching the forecast closely, but ultimately we’re super happy. Everything was as it should be, watching the temps and pressures,” Million said. “But yeah, like I said before, Palomar Racing built such a good car. We still definitely have some refinement to do with the car and the team and the program. But I mean, it’s a hell of a start this year. You know, only six months ago this was nothing, this whole entire team and this program. So we’re looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully the sun’s out, but we’ll have to see.”
Million has pole position, followed by Team Moorewood Creative in second and Tommy Lo in third.
Super Touring 6
It was clear the changes that the Driving Force Motorsports team made to its Mazda Miata for Saturday’s qualifying race paid off for driver Erik Nemnich of Nebraska as he crushed the Super Touring 6 field, besting second- and third-place finishers Michael Omelko and Eric Talistu by more than 26 seconds.
“That was a fun race. Everything felt great out there today. I made some adjustments yesterday that made the car much better and allowed me to get a good start,” Nemnich said. “I was able to work my way up through the Hondas and ended up racing with those guys, which made it fun. Racing with them is a blast, because they have about 50 more horsepower than I do, but they don’t corner as well so it makes for a fun little battle.”
Honda Challenge 2
Despite dropping as far down as fourth place early into Saturday’s Honda Challenge 2 qualifying race, Texan Scott Adams of Team Scott Adams Driver Development ended up driving his Acura RSX across the finish line first, 4 seconds ahead of second-place finisher, Alexander Tarradelles-Newell.
Adams said he didn’t really deserve the win, but he’ll take it headed into Sunday’s championship race.
“That was definitely a fight out there today. I kind of expected us to just roll to the end and get the thing over with, but that was crazy. Everybody decided that I guess they wanted to try and fight with me here, which surprised me for sure,” Adams said. “All the sudden I found myself in fourth, so I had to battle back into second and try to run down one of my best friends, Justin Crickenberger. I think there was about a 2-second gap between the two of us so I wasn’t expecting to catch him. Unfortunately, because he broke, I snuck in there. Hopefully he’s able to get his car back together for tomorrow. There were parts scattering all over the place and smoke everywhere. It was pretty exciting.”
Honda Challenge 4
You could say Carlos Valenzuela is such a good driver, he can drive with one hand. He was experiencing transmission and brake troubles during Saturday’s qualifying race. The shift lever would pop out of gear under braking and under load in turns. That meant Valenzuela had to hold the shifter in gear with his right hand and steer with his left, all while negotiating mixed-class traffic and fending off Keith Kramer, who was just behind him.
“He was on my tail. He almost had me. I got saved by traffic, seriously. I got pretty lucky today,” Valenzuela said. “I almost lost it a couple times. The race felt like a disaster, but we won pole, thankfully, and we’ll see what we can do tonight to make it a little better for tomorrow.”
Valenzuela will start from pole, with Kramer in second and Team Double Trouble in third. Valenzuela said he was going to celebrate the win, then get to work on the car to see if it can be improved for Sunday’s Championship race.
“I got some advice from some fellow racers about a heavier weight oil that could provide a little more support,” he said. “We’re going to try that. I don’t think it’s a solution, but we’re willing to try anything at this point.”
In one of the most exciting races of the day, the Spec Z-class competition was close until the very end when Colorado-based drivers Ashley Burt and Bill Bowdish, who were battling within fractions of a second for most of the 14-lap race, got tangled up on the last lap, leaving room for Matt McCarthy (at right) to swoop in and snag the victory heading into tomorrow’s championship race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“We were all over each other—I was doing what I needed to do and stay right behind them. Unfortunately, they had to make a mistake for me to get around them, but I was right there for it,” said McCarthy, who lives in Elizabeth, Colo., and is the least experienced driver of the four Nissan 350Z competitors from NASA’s Rocky Mountain region. “It’s cool to have a race like this with these guys. They’ve all gone out of their way to welcome me and help me get to this point. We all live very close and we race against each other all season long, so we’ve become pretty close. We share video, we share data, we share tools, parts and pieces, because we want us all to show up to every race and battle like that.”
Bobby Pugh is the reigning Legends champion after winning it all in a borrowed car in 2021 at Daytona International Speedway. Pugh had his hands full with Jacobson Dennett yesterday, but today he drove as error-free a race as possible, while Dennett tried everything to get around him.
“It was great. We had a blast. Jacob’s a little faster than me today, but every time he tried to get around me, he’d make a mistake and go off the track,” Pugh said. “So, I kept it together and I’ve saved my good tires for tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow we’ll all be running treaded, radial Toyo Tires Proxes R1R tires, which are a little softer compound than what we got on right now. So, it’ll make me a little bit better, I think.”
Pugh will start from pole Sunday, followed by Dennett in second and Bobby Christensen in third. Fun fact: Christensen loaned Pugh the car he drove to the Championship last year.
Marcelo Vine and John Pentelei-Molnar are a familiar front-running duel at the NASA Championships, and it’s always spirited competition between the two drivers.
Starting from second, Pentelei-Molnar got the jump on pole-sitter Vine and looked to put a gap between himself and Vine. The gap never came, and Vine passed Pentelei-Molnar in the second half of the first lap and began to put a gap on him. The gap widened and narrowed as traffic management began to play a role, but it was when the double-yellows came out that Vine knew he’d have to fight off Pentelei-Monar on the restart.
“I had a good gap before the yellow flags, but I got a good start, got my gap again,” Vine said. “And then the big surprise was the E46s were coming really rapidly from behind us. So that was kind of a sketchy stuff, but it was good. I mean, I got the place I wanted to be, so I’m happy with that, very happy with that, of course.”
Sunday’s Championship race forecast calls for rain. Vine and Pentelei-Molnar will start on the front row, followed by Gian Bowles and Kalen Fletcher in the second row. Let’s hope they all have the right tires.
After a dominant performance in qualifying Friday, Casey Mashore had pole position locked up, but when the green flag flew on Saturday, he was starting from fifth place.
In tech yesterday after qualifying, inspectors found out that his under tray was about 3 inches too wide and illegal, negating his second qualifying session of the day, which he did on fresh tires and nabbed pole position. So qualifying two didn’t count, but his first qualifying time stood, which is why he started fifth instead of on pole.
In the first couple of laps, he advanced two positions, but some contact in Turn 11 pushed him wide and nearly spun him, costing him two spots. Then, when the double-yellows came out two-thirds of the way through the race, he pounced and brought home the win.
“In the first couple of laps, I was able to make up a couple spots,” Mashore said. “So, yeah, it took a little longer than planned and the yellows took a bit of time, but all in all the traffic helped, and I got through it.”
Mashore will start from pole, followed by Lucas Weisenberg in second and Jason Fraser in third.
Super Touring 2
Colorado’s Jake Latham was not far off his best qualifying round lap time as he drove his Chevrolet Corvette to a Super Touring 2 qualifying race victory with a fastest lap of 1:33.793 on Saturday. Latham described the battle with Northern California driver Ian Barberi in his BMW E36 M3 as “extremely tight” after spending a majority of his time on the track trying to pass Barberi. And he expects nothing less in tomorrow’s final day of racing.
“My hands are just still like, I can’t even hold them still. I mean, I don’t think we were more than 20 feet apart the whole race. It was amazing. It’s pretty cool to have a race like that here,” Latham explained. “I would assume we’ll have another tight race tomorrow. I think they’ll probably mug me at the start again, and I’ll spend the whole race looking for a way around.
“I had a pretty good corner speed advantage on (Barberi), so I spent the whole race just kind of tucked up under his wing,” he continued. “I finally found a way I could throw him a little move and then go the other direction. That’s what made the difference.”
Latham will start on the pole with Barberi in second and Brett Strom in third.
Super Touring 4
German driver Andre Eisenbach came into the Super Touring 4 qualifying race with extra confidence following his morning Time Trial round on WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and that didn’t bode well for his competitors as he edged out the second-place GT Auto Lounge BMW by less than a tenth of a second.
“The competition was good fun out there today. We had some super tight racing that came right down to the finish line by half a car length,” Eisenbach said. “That’s what you love to see. It’s nice to have such great competitors and such a tight field. NASA put more than 20 cars in ST4, which is fantastic.
“The car felt the same (as it did yesterday), but today was a different day. I put a lot of sweat into the TT session this morning and literally drove the lap of my life,” Eisenbach added in reference to the 1:35.952 time he recorded in the Group G Time Trial, which was the fastest lap of the session. “Laguna Seca has been one of my favorite tracks always, but it’s never been one of my fastest. Yet this morning everything came together. I probably will never run a time like that ever again and that gave me some good confidence. The objective today was to keep it in first place and that’s what we did. Tomorrow is the real challenge.”
American Iron Extreme
Sal Molinare enjoyed his pole position start in American Iron Extreme, but somewhere along the way to his win, he found himself caught up in traffic.
“I had a nice little run there going before the yellows and that bunched us up,” Molinare said. “And so I just watched the mirror to see where my other competitors’ cars were. I don’t worry too much about the out-of-class cars. I just want to make sure there are cars between me and my direct competition.”
Molinare has been having some difficulty with his transmission, so he hopes it holds out for the rest of the weekend.
“I turn this motor a lot higher than this transmission is designed for and it’s just hard on the synchros, and once they start to go, they just get worse and worse,” he said. “So it’s a little challenging. It’s a great shifter. It’s a great transmission. I’ve just abused it too much.”
As expected, the Spec E30 qualifying race was a nail-biter with three California drivers pushing their BMWs to the limits on Saturday. Petaluma’s Sean Lovett came out on top after passing San Rafael’s J.P. Cadoux late in the race and managed to fend off hard-charging second-place finisher Sylas Montgomery of Windsor.
Following the clash, all three racers jumped out their cars to give each other high-fives in the tech inspection area, celebrating their 1-2-3 positions heading into Sunday’s NASA Championships.
“I think I’ve got pace on the single lap. You know J.P. and these guys had a better start than me. I don’t know if it’s something with my shifter, but I keep struggling to get second gear in the beginning,” Lovett said. “Then I sort of smoked the tires trying to get around J.P. and Sylas caught up, but I was able to keep him behind. Those yellows actually helped me as it slowed us down, and then I was able to get a good run on J.P. coming down the straight coming out of Turn 11 and I took him around Turn 2 into 3. From there I was able to hold them back, but tomorrow is going to be a good race. Fortunately it’s been a great season. I’m leading the NorCal championship and I have to thank North Bay Bavarian. They set up my car every week for the race and do all the prep on it. So the car is just dialed — that means it’s on me if I don’t win at this point.”
The Raduechel Performance Motorsports family put on another great show as brothers Ryan (at right) and Robert finished neck and neck in the Thunder Roadster qualifying race with their father, Randy, finishing in third, 3.7 seconds behind his sons.
While Robert Raduechel had the fastest lap in the race with a 1:41.441 in the No. 7 car, it was his brother in the No. 89 car who took the checkered flag by three tenths of a second.
“My brother was all over me today—that was a lot of fun. I think we were side by side for half a lap at one point but we never touched,” Ryan Raduechel said. “We raced good and we raced clean. I’d expect the same thing tomorrow, but I didn’t bring new tires so we’ll see how it goes.”
Time Trial competition began in earnest Saturday, with eight different classes competing for the fastest lap times, including TTEV, the domain of electric vehicles. Time Trial Championship trophies won’t be awarded till Sunday, but here are your top Time Trial competitors as of Saturday evening.
Timothy Bidwill was running well in ST1 in his Porsche GT3 Cup car, which he also put to good use in TT1. Bidwill ran a 1:30.830, which is highly likely to hold due to a rainy forecast on Sunday.
Jake Latham has been driving his C5 Corvette well in ST2 racing, winning the top qualifying time and today’s qualifying race, but he also snagged the top time in TT2 at 1:32.522.
Piloting a BMW M3, Austin Kent took the top spot in TT3 with a 1:35.552-second lap time.
Team Edge Motorworks ‘ntagen scored the ST4 racing class win today and topped the time charts in TT4 with a 1:35.952-second lap time.
Team Moorewood Creative notched the top spot in TT5 with a lap time of 1:38.931.
Michael Omelko drove his Bad Drag & Mick Blue Racing BMW 325i to the current top spot in TT6 with a 1:49.112.
Jonathan Finstrom ran a smoking fast 1:22.047 in his Staudacher S12 sports racer, making him the fastest car on track today. Odds are good that will be his best time of the weekend because the Sunday Forecast calls for rain.
Jordan Priestly is leading TTEV, with a 1:40.935 in his Tesla Model 3, but the fastest electric car on track today was registered in TTU. Craig Coker ran a 1:31.631 in his Tesla Model 3. Matt Cresci was driving an electric-powertrain Radical, but the team was experiencing a few glitches so far this weekend. Cresci notched at 1:32.163 in the electrical Radical, which also was entered in TTU.