After months of anticipation and preparation, NASA drivers hit the track Friday morning for qualifying. Friday’s format consisted of a warmup session for each race group, then one time-based qualifying session in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The fastest lap time from either session takes pole position for Saturday’s qualifying races, with the rest of the field falling in behind based on their qualifying times.
Typically, morning sessions are faster, but this being Monterey, Calif., a place that offers the ideal climate for racing all day long, it’s still possible to notch a fast time in the afternoon as track conditions change and the corners get “rubbered in.” Possible, but not likely.
Here’s how the day’s qualifying sessions went for the top finishers in the order they occurred on track.
Spec E30 racers elected to run time-based qualifying in the morning, then proceed with a qualifying race in the afternoon. Sean Lovett was the man on top in Q1, and for the Q2 race, he continued to dominate the field, taking the standing start from pole position and putting a sizable gap on the rest of the field by the start of the second lap.
“JP Cadoux got a good jump on me at the start and we sort of tagged each other, and I got a good run into Turn 6 and that helped get me up to the Corkscrew and get past him. Once I was there, I was able to keep pace and manage tires. It was fun. It was great to get the first win of the weekend.
“The thing we need to think about is that we have 45 minutes on Sunday, so tire management is going to be key to the whole game, because these Maxxis tires are great, but like any tire, 45 minutes of heavy abuse is definitely going to take a toll. So, we’ve certainly got the pace, but strategy is going to be important to win.
Thunder Roadster drivers also wanted more racing, so Friday morning’s Q1 was a time-based qualifying session followed by a qualifying race in the afternoon. Ryan Raduechel notched a fast lap 2 seconds faster than his nearest competitor in the morning, and put the advantage to good use in the qualifying race, building a big gap and then wending his way through out-of-class traffic to take the Q2 win in Thunder Roadster.
Raduechel did sustain a little damage in the right rear due to some contact in Turn 2 on lap one, but not enough to bother him or the brand-new car he was racing for the first time. He and his family-based race team finished up the three cars they are racing at the 2022 NASA Championships just in time for the event.
“Yesterday, our three cars didn’t have bodies on them,” Raduechel said. “We were still putting them together, but we’re here and racing and having fun. That’s what it’s all about. I think we’re just going to leave the car as it is and run it. It’s fast.”
Super Touring 2
With a fastest lap time after two qualifying rounds of 1:33.145, which he recorded during the morning round, Colorado’s Jake Latham secured the pole position for Saturday’s Super Touring 2 qualifying race in his Chevrolet Corvette.
“I felt good out there today. You know it’s Laguna, so it’s sort of always slippy, but I’m having a ball,” Latham said. “I just get this huge grin every time I get to go out and play here. And so far so food. We’re dealing with some typical race stuff, but nothing you can’t work around.”
Latham added that he was excited to see such a fantastic class of competitors on hand for the NASA Championships.
“That’s what I love about national events like this — you get the best from all around the country, and you really get some great competition,” he said. “That makes the racing super fun.”
Super Touring 4
Representing Fremont, Calif.-based Team EDGE Motorworks’ntagen, German driver Andre Eisenbach made up some ground following what he called a “bad” first round of qualifying in the Super Touring 4 BMW M3 he’s only driven two times — and the first time he crashed it.
“So far so good, fingers-crossed we keep it going,” said Eisenbach, who improved his time of 1:39.495 in round one to 1:36.865 in round two. “I recently moved to the East Coast from the Bay Area, so it’s good to be back here for the nationals. Things had been going really bad until this session, but I think we got it dialed in right in time. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
American Iron Extreme
Pleasanton, Calif., driver Sal Molinare laid down his best lap time of the day in the first round of qualifying in the American Iron Extreme class with a 1:36.075 in his 2006 Ford Mustang. He went 1:37.210 in the second round to best his only competitor in the class, Nebraska’s Charlie Bosselman, by nearly 4 seconds in each round.
“I think we could do better,” Molinare said after Q1. “The track was a little slippery, but to be honest, I’m hoping my transmission makes it through the event. It’s been bouncing out of gear a lot. So that’s really hurting me. Luckily for me, I know this track. It’s kind of a hometown advantage.”
Everyone knows you can drive close behind a tractor trailer and get better gas mileage. Current 944 Spec Champion Marcelo Vine used the same laws of physics not for fuel economy, but for turning faster laps. Vine was able to hook up behind a Spec E46, which is a bit faster than his 944 Spec, and earn pole position by using the draft to improve his time.
“I guess I got a couple of clean laps. I was very happy with that. I’m a little faster in the corners, so I can get behind them on the straights, which obviously helps us on the back and the front,” Vine said. “It was nice. The car is great. Tom’s 7’s Only Racing did a complete overhaul of the brakes, and these are the best brakes I’ve ever had on this car.”
Casey Mashore wasn’t able to capture the fast lap in Spec E46 during the morning session, but he opted for a set of fresh Toyo RR tires and got the job done in the second session of the day, knocking out a 1:40.739-second lap time, nearly a second up on Team JDZ Motorsports’ time from the morning session. The car is handling to his liking, which is always a big plus on the first day of Championships competition, so he’s going to leave it as is for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“We decided to run new tires for Q2 and that helped a lot. Basically, it was all in that and a little change to the alignment,” Mashore said. “I think it’s dialed in now. I think we’re ready for the race. I’m just going to put gas in it and jump in.”
The key to getting tires to last for the full 45 minutes of a qualifying race?
“Not putting them into big slides in the first eight laps,” he added. “If you can manage to come up soft without torching them, they’ll last you the whole race.”
Update: Mashore was found to have a tech violation on Friday and was moved back to a fifth-place starting position for Saturday’s qualifying race. Jason Fraser started from pole.
Super Touring 5
Team Palomar Racing came out of the gates swinging for the fences in Q1, scoring the fast lap early in the session. Driver Matt Million had enjoyed a solid day of practice on Thursday, so he was prepared for Q1.
“We’re treating this weekend like an endurance event, not a sprint. Each day you have to be there, but you can’t show your full potential every day,” he said. “You have to save some energy, but today’s been good. The car is fast. It’s really fun. It’s been — knock on wood — quite reliable and great to drive.”
The gap to second place Tommy Lo was among the slimmest of any class at this year’s Championships. As a result, Saturday’s qualifying race will be one of the more competitive and entertaining to watch.
“He’s really quick,” Million said. “He’s not too far behind.”
Super Touring 6
Super Touring 6 driver Erik Nemnich only drove WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time on Wednesday. The Gering, Neb., driver was a hair over a second ahead of the nearest competitor in ST6.
“The car felt good in qualifying. We got gridded correctly, so that helped out for getting good lap times” Nemnich said. “It was a little slick initially, but the tires came in after a couple of laps and I ended up doing a decent lap time. I think I am actually going to change the setup just a little bit to get the right-handers a little better.”
Just four of the 11 turns at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca are rights, but two of them are flat with little grip. Nemnich’s setup changes might be right on point. Saturday’s qualifying race will tell the tale.
Honda Challenge 2
Scott Adams of Team Scott Adams Driver Development is competing in two different racing classes, H2 and ST4, and in Time Trial 4, so he’s certainly keeping busy at the 2022 NASA Championships.
He just missed the top spot in ST4 by a little more than 1 second, but in Honda Challenge 2, Adams was able to best his competition by nearly 2 seconds.
“It was a bit frantic. I was over here in impound for ST4 qualifying, and by the time I got to the little paddock area where all of my guys were at, I was like, ‘Where’d everybody go?’ Everybody was already out and gridded,” Adams said after Q1. “I’m scrambling to change cars and grab all my gear and jump in, and luckily my crew is so awesome. They had the car running, just slapped me in the car. We had no tire pressures set yet, because they were waiting on me to tell them what to do. We set the tire pressures at the last minute and ran out there. I think my guys just told me I’m on pole. There is another round, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Honda Challenge 4
Carlos Valenzuela has four victories in his home region in Southern California this season, so he knows how to win. He’s also got his Honda CRX dialed in to his liking, which was good enough for him to earn pole position in the first qualifying session of the day.
“We’re not going to do anything to the car, really. The car is great,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with the time we just set right now. I don’t know if we’re going to improve on it. If we do, that’s awesome. If we don’t, I’m pretty happy with this.
“The track is good. It’s not too bumpy. The grip is really good. Everything felt great,” Valenzuela added. “The curbing has plenty of grip on it, but the entire surface is good. The car felt good.”
Valenzuela will start from pole for the qualifying race on Saturday.
Featuring four competitors who all know each other well from racing back home in Colorado, Friday’s Spec Z-class qualifying included some spirited racing on WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. With the fastest lap time of both rounds, and the only driver to come in below 1 minute, 43 seconds, Bill Bowdish drove his Nissan 350Z around the famous track in a cool 1:42.544 seconds to earn the pole for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“The car felt good today,” Bowdish said. “It felt very neutral and smooth everywhere. I lost little bits of time in the corners, so there’s still more out there for me to go get. I love this track. It’s such a beautiful flowing track with a lot of subtleties. I’ve driven the course before during a Skip Barber three-day racecourse and another time in an old Ferrari, but I’ve never raced here before so this is pretty exciting.”
Legends racer Bobby Pugh won the 2021 Championship in a borrowed car, so when he set the fast lap in Q1, he was a safe bet for taking pole for Saturday’s qualifying race. Jacobson Dennett had other plans. After Q1, he made some changes to the car, which was enough for him to take the top spot away from Pugh and earn pole for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“We were working on the car. It was a little bit loose this morning and I made a slight adjustment earlier, and it translated well,” Dennett said. “Toward the end, I guess it was just a little more controlling the throttle. I think I’m just going to look over it really well. I had a couple of spots where I had to pump the brakes, so I think I’ve got an issue there. Maybe that’s why I was the fastest, because weren’t working like I needed them to.”
Team Iron Will Racing came all the way across the country with two cars, and it turned out it needed both. Some fuel supply issues hampered the first car they sent out on track when they arrived, so they put driver Danny Dyszelski in their second car.
Turns out the second car was working pretty well because Dyszelski was able to set the fastest lap in the NP01-EVO class in Q1, a time that would hold through Q2 in a field of some highly competitive drivers.
“I think there might be a little bit more in the car and myself,” Dyszelski said. “I think how I was able to get the great pace I had in this session was just being able to carry a lot of speed into the Corkscrew and Turn 11, the last corner. I feel like I had a lot of pace there. The car feels good. The track feels good.”
After setting the pace with a lap time of 1:22.695 that bested the competition by more than a second in the first round of qualifying, Michigan driver Jonathan Finstrom of the V2 Motorsports team opted to skip Friday’s second round and see if anyone could beat the time he set in his Staudacher S12 Super Unlimited-class racecar. That didn’t happen, so Finstrom, who is racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time, is going to have pole position for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“I think there was still a little more left today, but overall the car felt great out there on the track,” said Finstrom, who made sure to thank the V2 Motorsports crewmembers as well as his driving coach Johnny O’Connell. “This place is pretty amazing. The track is great and the NASA staff has been awesome. We’re having an excellent time.”
Although he didn’t get any simulation work in leading up to his first Laguna Seca visit, Finstrom said he spent a lot of time watching video after video and going over the laps in his head.
Super Touring 1
Sponsored by Ben’s Soft Pretzels, Arizona driver Timothy Bidwill ran a Super Touring 1-class best time of 1:30.604 in the first round of qualifying to earn the pole position for Saturday’s qualifying race. Bidwill said his 2019 Porsche GT3 Cup felt great on the track.
“I love this track—it’s super technical, very quick and the best part is that experience counts,” Bidwill expressed. “My crew has done a fantastic job. Yesterday I was on scrubs and I found a couple of extra seconds going to stickers here today. We also had a couple of setup changes that helped. This is the biggest car count I’ve encountered in a race with this particular car so I’m looking forward to watching those mirrors and keeping the traffic behind me tomorrow.”
Super Touring 3
Local racer Matt McIntyre, who is sponsored by MPI Jet in Monterey, had a great showing in the Super Touring 3 class on Friday as he drove his 1997 BMW M3 to the fastest lap time of 1:36.898. He opted not to run in the second round of qualifying despite his nearest competitor in round one—JC Meynet—finishing right behind him at 1:36.995, and the decision did not impact his pole position for Saturday’s race.
“The last time I raced here was for NASA Nationals back in 2015,” said McIntyre, who is from Salinas. “It’s nice to be able to race just down the road from where I was born and raised. The track felt pretty good today. We did a lot of car set up yesterday and it seemed to pay off, so I’m hoping when I put new tires on tomorrow, I’ll be another second quicker.”
Update: 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.
As is so often the case with Spec Miata racing, the top competitors, seven in all, were within one second of one another in qualifying. The top 17 were within 2 seconds of one another — so you know the qualifying race Saturday afternoon is going to be tight.
However, when the dust settled, it was Aaron Jeansonne who took pole position for Saturday’s first race. Jeansonne, who won the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout in 2020 and has been racing in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich was the only Spec Miata driver to dip into the 1:45’s at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Friday.
“We’ve got a 1.6 car, prepared by Eddy Lee, a really good Spec Miata setup guy here on the West Coast,” Jeansonne said. “ I love this track. I’ve raced here a few times. I’ve raced MX-5 Cup here, and I just fell in love with it. It’s probably my favorite track now. We’ve still got a ways to go on the car, but it’s pretty well dialed in. I’m really happy with it right now, so I think we’re pretty close and we’re in good shape.”