Grids are filling up for the Western States Championships. Sure, there were still a few stragglers at press time who weren’t registered — be they unsure of their availability that weekend, or certain they enjoy paying higher entry fees — but the grids are established well enough for us to make a few predictions. We’ll lay down our cards, so to speak.
Picking the winners looks simple, but anyone who has ever gridded up and taken a green flag knows that anything can happen. That’s why we run the race, right?
Buttonwillow Raceway looks simple, too, but it’s not. There is some nuance to going quickly around this track. With its blind rises, fast sweepers, camber changes and interrupted braking zones, Buttonwillow takes some acclimation, and taking the win here takes a commensurate amount of skill and experience.
We’ve tried to pick winners based on data alone, but that’s not always a reliable predictor of who will win. So, we’d also like you to play along at home. Just for fun. Check the entry list available at: https://www.nasaproracing.com/events/2378/entry_list, and come up with your own predictions. We’re going to compile our picks when both Championships events are over and see how we did.
The entry list for 944 Spec at the Western States Championships reads like a roster of SoCal regulars — because it is. That means every driver entered is intimately familiar with Buttonwillow Raceway, and it makes picking a winner a bit dicey. At deadline, SoCal points leader Charles Sharp wasn’t registered. If he were, that would be my pick to win the Western States Championships, and if he shows up, I give the nod to Sharp. If he doesn’t make an appearance, I have to lay odds on Thomas Atteberry because he’s second in 944 Spec points in the region and has several podium finishes this season.
Picking a winner in American Iron for this year’s Western States Championships isn’t easy, but I’m going to go with Rob Capetz, who is the series leader in the SoCal Region. Capetz is familiar with the nuances of Buttonwillow Raceway and he had a podium finish at the 2015 Western States Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. He’s got a good car under him and the skills to get the job done. Advantage: Capetz.
Even though the track configurations chosen for the Western States Championships aren’t used often, home field advantage can come into play for SoCal racers. However, in the case of GTS2, I’m going to go with an out-of-region racer, Oner Khera from Arizona. Khera visited Buttonwillow twice this season and took home two wins at each event. He’ll have his hands full battling Timothy Carman, but look for Khera on the top step of the podium.
The GTS4 class is pretty slim this year, and that either can make picking a winner easier or more difficult. Let’s call it the latter, but I’m going to give the nod to SoCal’s Maury Gentile. He’s got two wins and a second-place finish this year in an E30 M3, which is a great car for a technical track like Buttonwillow. Look for Gentile on top this year.
Honda Challenge 2
Honda Challenge 2 is going to be a hoot to watch at the Western States Championships. It always is in the SoCal Region because this class is well contested, with three fast drivers usually at the front: Marcel Dekerpel, Tom Paule and Karla Pestotnik. These three have been going at it hard all year and the stakes are even higher for the Championships, but my crystal ball shows Dekerpel is going to take the win. He’s been getting the better of Paule and Pestotnik for most of the year, so count on Dekerpel to be on the top step of the podium.
Honda Challenge 4
It would be great if I could pick Rob Krider for the win in Honda Challenge 4. He and his teammate Keith Kramer have sunk a huge amount of time and effort into their new “budget” H4 car as chronicled in Speed News this year, which will debut at the Western States Championships. But there’s an undeniable force in Honda Challenge 4 in the SoCal Region, and his name is Carlos Valenzuela. He’s not the points leader in the region, but he did finish third at the Western States Championships last year, and it seems every time he has shown up this year, he wins. Advantage: Valenzuela.
For the Eastern States Championships, I picked Jeremy Croiset for the win, and as I write this it’s still to early to tell how that went. He’s got probably the most seat time in these cars — heck, he helped develop them from a blank sheet of paper — but he’s not been able to top Team StopTech’s Andy Lee and co-driver Stephen Ruiz all season. Lee knows Buttonwillow Raceway well and his car always seems neatly buttoned down on track. Look for Team StopTech on top of the podium.
This year’s PTB field at the Western States Championships is one in which odds makers earn their money. At deadline, PTB had five entries, including two National Champions, Dave Schotz and Rick Johnson, and five different types of cars, from a Renault sports racer to a Pontiac Firebird. Based on drivers alone, I’d favor Johnson and Schotz. Both drivers are quick, consistent and proven, but I’m going to give the nod in PTB to Johnson, whose Mini Cooper S might give him a small advantage on Buttonwillow Raceway. And by small, I mean tiny. Schotz is going to be on him like a seagull on a French fry. Slight advantage: Johnson.
If you have been finding the “Driving Tips” in Speed News valuable, you have Joshua Allan to thank for that. Allan was educated as an engineer and has an impressive racing resume, including a stint with Ferrari’s Formula 1 team when Michael Schumacher was winning everything, and with Maserati as a test driver. Allan also has a couple of Performance Touring National Championships to his name. I suspect Allan will come out on top in PTC, but he’s going to have a mirror full of Timothy Carman the whole time. Should be fun to watch, but look for Allan to hoist the big trophy.
The PTD class this year will be a veritable showcase for the Mazda RX-8. Throw in a Porsche 944 and a BMW 325i for good measure and you’ve got an interesting race taking shape. If I were a betting man — and I am — I’d put my money on Lee Papageorge. Why? Well, he knows Buttonwillow Raceway well enough to drive it in the dark. Seriously, he does it all the time in the Western Endurance Racing Championship series, and he’s leading the PTD points chase in the SoCal Region, to boot. Of course, fellow RX-8 racer Dennis Holloway will be giving Papageorge all the competition he can handle, but look for Papageorge on the top step.
PTE is always tough to lay odds on because so many momentum cars naturally fall into this category, and that’s where double-dipping 944 Spec drivers, Spec Miatas and Spec E30s race. RX-7 racer Gian Bowles is leading the PTE points in SoCal and Saturn SC2 racer Roman Vaisman can get around this track quickly, but I think a NorCal Region racer is going to walk away with the big cup. Justin Ross has well-set-up Miata and this guy can wheel a car. He’s leading the NorCal PTE points chase because he’s won, well, all but one race he’s entered this season. Look him up on YouTube and you’ll see why he’s a shoo-in for PTE Champion this year.
If you pay attention to the race reports in Speed News, then the name Steve Stepanian should ring a bell. His name appears in the headlines and stories — a lot. Granted, Stepanian helps write the stories, but you don’t get in the race reports if you aren’t producing results, and Stepanian has been coming out on top more often than not this season. I think he’ll carry that momentum into the Western States Championships and take the win. Of course, he will have his hands full with the usual suspects chasing him down. Look for Charlie Buzzetti, Hubert Young or Michael Mihld to play the spoiler if Stepanian slips up. NorCal standouts Team North Bay Bavarian and Team A1 Autoworks will be in the mix, too.
It has been neat to see E46 grow as a class. It’s not so neat to try to pick a winner for the Western States Championships. It would be easier if Mark Drennan were registered as of our deadline, but he wasn’t, so I can’t just flag him for the win and move on. That leaves a very close field of NorCal teams vying for the Championship. I’m going to take the easy way out and pick Team Kontrolle Engineering/TFB for the win. The team is leading the points race right now. It has scored several second- and third-place finishes — no wins — but it’s leading the rest of the field by a wide margin. Look for them on the top step.
Last year at the Western States Championships, the top 10 finishers in Spec Miata were within one second of one another, so it is often the case that any one of those drivers could win — if a driver or two ahead of them makes a mistake.
That can happen, but the way I see it, there are three guys registered for Spec Miata that could take home all the marbles at the Western States Championships. If any other drivers register between now and then, I might have to reconsider, but those drivers at present are Matt Cresci, Nick Sommers and Rob Burgoon in that order.
Cresci is quick and he knows Buttonwillow well enough, as does Sommers. Rob Burgoon also knows the track well and he can win in October. However, I’m going to give the advantage to Cresci. Time will tell if I’m right.
All the Spec Z drivers registered for the Western States Championships are coming from the Utah Region, so you could say that picking the winner stems from a combination of who’s leading the points race in Utah and who learns new tracks the fastest. Arthur Golebiowski is leading the points race, but he’s not registered for the Western States Championships. That leaves Paul Terry, Richard Fitzgerald, Chad Aalders and Tom Kaminski. Aalders is currently second in points, but Tom Kaminski has finished higher more consistently than Aalders. I don’t know how well Kaminiski learns new tracks, but I’m betting on him for the win.
Super Touring 1
If you look at the points standings for the Southern California Region, it’s clear that Robert Kahn’s attendance record is, well, spotty. His performances, however, are anything but. With three wins in four races in the first half of the season, Kahn shows the most promise to take the win at the Western States Championships. He’ll have to fend off Rick Barrett in his capable Porsche 997 GT3 Cup Car and SoCal’s Doug Weber, who has many laps at Buttonwillow in his tube-chassis Chevrolet Colorado truck. If Kahn slips up, these guys will be there to pounce. Kahn by a nose.
Super Touring 2
Super Touring 2 is largely the domain of the Corvette, a Z06 if you can muster it, and one driven by someone with some skills. Of all the entries for the 2016 Western States Championships, I’m going to favor Oli Thordarson, who has thousands of laps at Buttonwillow and enough car to top the rest of the field. He will have his work cut out for him, with Kevin Vogel giving him all he’s got, but my call goes to Thordarson.
Super Touring 3
We’ll call the Super Touring 3 race the battle of the mentor versus the protégé. Tristan Littlehale leads the ST3 points race in NorCal but has his car set up and gets coaching from TC Design owner Tony Colicchio, who has beaten Littlehale each time they faced off this year. The dynamic reminds me of the old “Kung Fu” television show where the master implores his student to snatch the pebble from his hand. I don’t think Colicchio is going to lose the pebble just yet. Look for Colicchio to stand on the top step of the podium.
Three words: Jon Van Caneghem. Well, three names, actually. Van Caneghem has taken the Super Unlimited Championships three times in the last three years in his Van Diemen chassis maintained and set up by 7’s Only, a shop located on the Buttonwillow property. He has plenty of laps there. Look for the Van Diemen with the flashing white light to finish way out front.