The race is on for the NASA Western States Championships presented by Toyo Tires, with teams slugging it out during Friday qualifying at Thunderhill Raceway Park.
To determine the starting grid for Sunday’s Championship races, teams are running qualifying races on Friday and Saturday. More than 150 teams, representing seven states, are competing this weekend on the 3-mile-long track.
Nick Sommers has a lot riding on the weekend as he looks to secure the Teen Mazda Challenge Championship and the chance at a $100,000 Mazda Motorsports scholarship. Sommers has been nearly unbeatable this year in Spec Miata and he showed why on the Thunderhill track as he out-paced second-place finisher Tristan Littlehale.
“I’m not holding back anymore,” Sommer said. “I’ve been points racing for the second half of the season and now I’m just trying to go all-out and win everything I can right now.”
With just three races under his belt in his BMW E46, Marco Gallaher says his racecar still has a lot left in it, which could be bad news for his fellow Spec E46 competitors.
“I knew we had a very strong car coming into the weekend. We did a lot of testing, so I knew we could come out here and be competitive,” Gallaher said. “My approach is that I want to be clean, consistent, just put down some hard laps and try not to look in my mirrors.”
Gallaher knows that second-place finisher Justin Ross and third-place finisher John Borchelt will be pushing him hard over the weekend.
“They’re definitely giving me lots of pressure and staying in my mirrors, staying on my bumper,” Gallaher said. “They’re not going to make it easy for me.”
Starting in third place, Larry Fraser clawed his way to the top of a 15-car class to take the checkered flag. Fraser wants to keep adding points on Saturday to secure pole position for the Championship.
“I got Sylas right on the first couple of turns. I just raised the tire pressures so my car would come in a little earlier, so I could try to get him on the start and then just try to hold the lead,” said Fraser, who was running lap times a little slower than second-place Sylas Montgomery. “Sylas is good, he’s a good kid. It’s really hard to defend.”
Cory Weber, the defending American Iron champion at the Western States Championships, was able to take advantage of an early mistake by Ryan Walton to cruise to victory in Friday’s qualifying race.
“Ryan Walton and I were having a great race for the first lap, and then he had a big off on the back side of the Turn 9 hill, and messed up the nose of his car really bad, so that kind of compromised him a bit, and I was able to get around him,” Weber said.
Patience is a virtue, as Marcelo Vine learned in 944 Spec as he spent the first few laps of the race trailing John Pentelei Molnar, who later drove off course in Turn 3 leaving Vine all alone in first. Pentelei Molnar held onto second place.
“He was pretty close and keeping up with me, and it got really slippery, so I think I just held it better than he did, and then he just disappeared from my mirror, and then he was pretty far back,” Vine said. “We’re so close, so after that it was pretty much over for him.”
Super Touring 1
George Smith used to race at Thunderhill, but that was a long time ago. He learned enough while competing in Friday’s qualifying race that he was able to capitalize on the mistakes of his main competitors, then hold them off to take the win.
“The Porsche and BMW were in front of battling it out, and I was learning a lot being behind them, watching the battle and staying close,” Smith said. “The Porsche went off in Turn 2 and something happened with the BMW a lap or so later and so I was able to bring it home in first place. I’m still learning the track. This is my first event with the bypass, which I thought would be a lot easier, and it’s not easy. You’ve really got to be careful maintaining the throttle or you can go around real easy going over the top of that.”
Super Touring 2
Sometimes a little luck on the track can go a long way. Just ask Skip Rebozzi, who nearly went from leading the race to almost not finishing. He had an issue with his clutch pedal and his car nearly came to a stop on Turn 15.
“The clutch pedal got stuck behind the clutch stop, which I reached down with my foot and kicked it off and I was able to keep going,” Rebozzi said. “You need a little luck, because I thought I broke the transmission. I got lucky and was able to figure out what it was.”
Super Touring 3
Brett Strom is trying to pull double-duty this weekend by running two classes, but his focus is on Super Touring 3, where he is running a loaner car from Audi Sport. Strom was trying to pace himself during the race as the front-wheel drive car goes through tires faster than previous cars.
“I can run a couple really fast laps in this car, but it will burn off the front tires, so I have to pace the race,” said Strom about Friday’s 30-minute race. “The other guys are running a little lighter car, so they can keep the tires a little longer. A 45-minute race will be interesting toward the end for us.”
Super Touring 4
Super Touring 4 is a new class in NASA for 2017, and Austin Newmark is trying to win the inaugural Western States Championship in the class.
“We were fighting some consistency issues with the car most of the year with the new class,” Newmark said. “Getting the car squared away takes a lot of work. Starting off, Percy Howard was pretty fast and it looked like we were starting to pull away from the field and then I saw that the S2000 came up into the mix and we had a nice little battle going for first, second and third and unfortunately the S2000 had an incident and after that I was able to pull off a win.”
German Touring Series 2
Doug Young knows that any car in the class can win it this weekend and that his driving skills will be put to the test. GTS2 competition is tight and Friday’s qualifying showed it, but Young came out on top.
“In Turn 4 we were bunched up again as we went over the hill and it felt like chaos,” Young said. “We were all so close together. That’s what so fun about this class is how close the racing is. We had a good battle.”
German Touring Series 3
Waiting for his car to get weighed after winning the GTS3 qualifying race Friday, David DePillo had two goals—have fun and keep the car intact.
“We’re doing a team approach this weekend. We have one driver in ST3 and myself in GTS3, so we’re splitting the time,” DePillo said. “It’s a relatively new platform. We’ve raced it about four or five months now, so we’re starting to work out the bugs.”
DePillo turned a 2:04 lap time, bettering second-place finisher Paul Turner by nearly 3 seconds.
Some of the tightest racing during qualifying Friday came in NP01, which is NASA’s most evenly matched class. Brian Lock was just a half-second faster than Team SISU Motorsports as the NASA Prototypes battled for 13 laps on the track.
“It took me a few laps to get by Jamie (Florence). I thought I was going to get him on the inside of Turn 2, and he made great move to hold me off inside of 2 and got to the inside of Turn 3,” Lock said. “That was about it for about three laps, and I could see that we were more or less even. He maybe had a tenth on me here and there in one lap or another. It all came down to traffic.
“He got really held up in 8 and I was able to come from far enough back, and I don’t think he expected me and I was able to get by him in 9 and from that point on neither of us were quick enough to make a pass without traffic, and it was kind of smooth sailing after that.”
Team Davidson Racing took first place in the qualifying race, posting lap times up to 2 seconds faster than three-time Super Unlimited champion Jon Van Caneghem. A veteran of the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill, Team Davidson racing will be sitting in the top spot for Saturday’s qualifying races.
Honda Challenge 4
When there are not as many cars in a given class, Rob Krider had to find competition anywhere on the track he could get it.
“I ended up having an out-of-class race with a lot of GTS2 cars, and that made it interesting because I’m faster than a lot of them, but not by a ton,” Krider said. “It was pretty dicey. Those Beemer drivers, they’re aggressive and they drive really well, but we were very gentlemanly together. The plan for tomorrow is we’re going to change the tire size to see if we can change our gear ratio for a little bit more mph and more grip. If we like it we’ll keep it for Sunday, if not we’ll change it back.
It’s a fine balance on how much testing to do especially if there is a mechanical problem. Jim Laughlin found that while getting laps in Thursday during testing.
“I had a problem earlier in the day, a spark plug ripped out of the head, so I didn’t have any practice this morning, Laughlin said. “So it took me a couple of laps to get my bearings and get used to it out there because I didn’t even finish one lap earlier today. The car started feeling good and everyone worked well with the traffic, so it was fun.”
Thunder Roadster offered some of the tightest qualifying times on Thursday. Just 0.639 seconds separated first-place finisher Tom Boyd and second-place finisher Brian Gibson.
“My car was loose all day and both my competitors gave me a heck of a race,” Boyd said. “I can’t believe I pulled it off in the end. We were right there together the whole day. We’re all such close competitors, it’s fun no matter who wins. But I plan on winning tomorrow. I come out here to win every race. Hopefully I win tomorrow and definitely hope I win on Sunday.”
Performance Touring E
Robert Dietz had never raced Thunderhill Raceway Park, but you can add him to the list of fans of the track. It certainly doesn’t hurt to win Friday’s qualifying race.
“We started and there was this great pack. So, we’re all dicing it up having fun and everyone spread out a bit. I just wanted to have some fun and enjoy the race,” Dietz said. “There’s not a lot of us out there, so I’d rather finish with the car in one piece than push it too hard when I’ve got some space on everyone behind me. The car felt good and we made a lot of engine changes between August and now, but I’m running good, feeling good.”