Competition intensifies for the big showdown Sunday

The battle for starting position picked up another notch on Saturday, as the second qualifying races in each class were held for the National Auto Sport Association’s Eastern States Championships presented by Toyo Tires at Sebring International Raceway.

While grid position may not have much impact on some of the smaller classes, the difference between starting on the first row or the fifth row in one of the 30-plus car fields could be the difference between finishing on the podium or not.

The qualifying races determine the starting grid for Sunday’s Championship races, held at the famed 3.74-mile Sebring track. More than 200 entries representing 10 of the National Auto Sport Association’s 15 regions are competing this weekend.

Spec Miata

Selin Rollan

An incident right at the start of the race led to a quick red flag. At the restart, Selin Rollan jumped out to a several-second lead and was able to hold off a hard-charging Jim Drago for a .113-second victory.

“It was tough out there,” Rollan said. “I knew he was there the whole time. I was looking out my mirror as much as I was looking out the windshield.”

Rollan said he caught a bit of the incident at the start in his mirror.

“I’m glad I wasn’t involved in that,” he said. “I heard some missed shifts on the right side, I was lucky I was on the inside lane. It’s good to get a win, but this isn’t the big race. That’s tomorrow.”

American Iron

Bruce Byerly

Bryce Byerly won one for the Ford group, after Michael Patterson won in the lone Chevrolet in the field on Friday. Byerly improved his best lap time by half a second and went on to post a 3.351-second victory over Patrick Wehmeyer, with Patterson taking third.

“It was a great race. It was pretty exciting,” Byerly said. “It was pretty clean. It was a great day at Sebring.”

American Iron Extreme

Robert Shaw was the only competitor in the American Iron Extreme race, so he’s out on the track to have fun, which he did by posting a fast lap of 2:21.118, which is more than 1.1 seconds faster than he was in Friday’s qualifying race.

Super Touring 1

Dmitri Goliakov

Dmitri Goliakov had some issues Friday, but made up for them with a solid run on Saturday and claimed the ST1 class by an impressive 27.03 seconds. Goliakov showed the value of consistency at Sebring, as he had the second-fastest lap in the field, but ran away with the victory.

“It was good race out there,” he said. “Tomorrow should be a good one, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Super Touring 2

Firouz Haghighi

It was a bit of a haul for Firouz Haghighi to get to the Eastern States Championships, because he made the trip from Texas. But he’s certainly glad he did, because he not only took the ST2 class victory, but he also got to see Sebring International Raceway for the first time.

“It was a great race,” Haghighi said. “This is my first time here, I’m from Texas, and it’s a great track. I really like it. It’s such a historic track and a great event.”

Super Touring 3

Kevin Harvey

Kevin Harvey is having a great time at Sebring, although it probably doesn’t hurt that he won both qualifying races in the ST3 class. The key to winning at Sebring isn’t all that different from winning anywhere else, he said.

“You just have to run a smart race, hit your marks,” Harvey said. “You have to run smart the first couple of laps and stay out of trouble, and after that, you just hit your marks from then on. That, and manage traffic. That helps all the way through.”

Super Touring 4

Stephen Pearce

Stephen Pearce drove his Honda S2000 to victory in the ST4 class, showing a solid 1.9-second improvement from his best lap time on Friday. He won the race by 11.84 seconds.

“It felt good out there,” he said. “It was a great race. Tomorrow will be exciting. I’m looking forward to it.”

Super Unlimited

Bryan Putt

After Bryan Putt and Charles Wicht crossed the line finish line together on Friday, Putt didn’t take any chances on Saturday, racing out to the lead and posting a solid victory in the Super Unlimited class. Putt’s lap of 2:04.26 was more than 1.6 seconds faster than he was Friday.

“It was a good day,” Putt said. “I was able to get on it and the car felt really great, and I was confident. After the first lap, I got enough of a gap where I could focus in for two laps before we hit any traffic. Tomorrow’s a long race. The LMP3 car is really fast, so I’m going to have to work.”

NP01

Charles Liniger

Charles Liniger evened things up in the NP01 class with a victory in the second race, when his competition had some car problems. Saturday also was much better for Liniger from a time standpoint, because he shaved 1.4 seconds off his best lap on Friday.

“Today was a good day,” Liniger said. “I was finally able to find some speed. I knew the car could do it. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

German Touring Series 4

Robert Ferriol

When you show a margin of victory that reads 26.127 seconds over a talented field of GTS4 drivers, you know you’ve done something right, and Robert Ferriol turned in an impressive performance on his way to the win. He’s still looking for improvement before Sunday’s Championship races take place.

“It was a good race,” Ferriol said. “The traffic really didn’t bother me, but I’m going to have to get a little more grip there in the back.”

Spec E30

Scott McKay

Starting and winning a race from pole position is a rush, but the races in which you have to fight your way forward, those are special. Just ask Spec E30 racer Scott McKay, who started from fourth position, took the lead and survived a caution period and a late race charge from three-time Spec E30 Champion, Sandro Espinosa.

“I had the lead when it went yellow after starting from fourth by making some aggressive early moves, but the better drivers in this field are right behind me. Some strong drivers finished second and third,” McKay said. “It’s easier to chase somebody than it is to drive out front. The guys in the back, they just have more energy and more motivation. When you’re out front, all you have is nervous energy. The guys behind me were certainly doing a better job of catching me than I was doing of getting away. Luckily the race was just short enough today.”

944 Spec

Kyle Kimball

Sometimes what it takes to win a qualifying race in the NASA Championships is a little opportunity, the guts to take advantage of it and the speed to hold it. 944 Spec racer Kyle Kimball saw his chance to snare first place and he jumped on it.

“I got a really great start and Jason Stanley got sideways going into Turn 1, and he screwed up all the other people in front of me, so by Turn 2, I made the pass for first place and I was able to keep it there for the rest of the race,” Kimball said. “The restart was as good as I could have hoped for. I put some cars between me and the guy behind me and just kept it that way for the rest of the race.”

German Touring Series 1

Clarice Lee took the default victory once again as the only car in her class and was fairly consistent with her times between Friday and Saturday.

German Touring Series 2

Scott Blair

Scott Blair gave himself a little breathing room in Saturday’s victory in the GTS2 class. After winning by 1.895 seconds on Friday, he won by 6.5 seconds on Saturday.

“On the start I passed a couple of cars in the next class up,” Blair said. “Then, I guess it would be Turn 4, someone lost it, and I was able to just scoot by and he slowed everyone up behind me. I was able to get a few good laps in and then make sure I didn’t see anyone in my mirror.”

Blair was looking forward to Sunday’s 45-minute Championship race.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s going to be exhausting, I just hope I’m not starving by the end.”

German Touring Series 3

Roberto Crescencio

Roberto Crescencio captured the GTS3 class by .172 seconds over second-place finisher Michael Camus. There was a 22-second gap to the third-place finisher.

“Michael has the pace,” Crescencio said. “It’s very difficult for me to keep up.”

Crescencio said it’s going to be difficult to win a 45-minute race, but he’ll be there ready to pounce if the opportunity presents itself.

“I wish I could say I could win on true pace, but I’ll need him to make a mistake.”

HPD Honda Challenge

Robert Paszkiewicz

Robert Paskiewicz raced to a comfortable 17-second victory to win his second-straight HPD Honda Challenge qualifying race.

“I’m trying to save it for tomorrow and just be out there trying to have fun,” he said.”

Paskiewicz wasn’t too concerned with weather forecasts that are calling for thunderstorms roughly 30 minutes after the completion of the final race.

“The weatherman can be right or wrong and he still has a job,” he said. “The only thing we can do is hope for the best.”

Performance Touring C

Aaron Michelet

Aaron Michelet may be racing against faster cars – having jumped up to the PTC class while racing a PTD car, but he was able to make it two for two with a 2.104-second victory over Michael Globe on Saturday.

“I got lucky on the first lap,” Michelet said. “Traffic helped me out and he (Globe) kept catching me and was gaining half-a-second a lap.”

Michelet said it would be great to bring home the Eastern States Championship.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s what my dad and I have been working on, to try and win this year,” he said. “Moving to PTC just for this event, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but it would be an even greater win if we were able to come out with it.

Performance Touring E

Tyler Harrell

After not being able to race Friday, Tyler Harrell made up for it with a victory in the PTE class, as he pulled out a squeaker, edging Brian Henderson by .216 seconds for the victory.

“It was good,” he said. “Yesterday I didn’t run in the race. I had a hub blow. We got here early this morning. I went out in warm-ups and was a couple seconds off. On the start I kind of got in front of him and held him off the whole race. This is my first time here and it’s a blast.”

Spec E46

Jeff Bennett

Jeff Bennett and Jason Adams battled all race long, but it was Bennett who was able to win the sprint to the finish line and come away with a .204-second victory.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bennett said. “It was a tremendous battle between me and Jason Adams. He got caught up in a caution at the end of the race and I had more momentum. If he hadn’t had that little slowdown, I don’t think I would have gotten him.”

Spec Iron

Carmine Pace

Carmine Pace and Robert Miller had a great battle in the Spec Iron class, with Pace taking the .661-victory over Friday’s winner.

“It was great,” Pace said. “I started second and fell in behind Miller again. I was able to stick with him the first couple of laps and passed him on the third lap and from there it was try to make sure I didn’t make many mistakes and hold him up behind me. We were neck-and-neck all race long. The last few laps I was checking my mirrors. Tomorrow’s going to be a blast. We’ve been going at it all weekend long.”

Thunder Roadster GTR

Gary Tinker

Gary Tinker likes to win, but he also likes the thrill of close competition, which is why he loves competing in the Thunder Roadster GTR class, and why he wasn’t as pleased with his 24-second victory as one might think.

“I got away from them a little bit, so it wasn’t as exciting,” he said. “I was able to get some traffic in between them and me.”

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Image courtesy of Brett Becker