Friday qualifying can make or break a driver for Sunday’s National Championships hosted by the National Auto Sport Association, because it can put a team at a significant disadvantage, which tends to compound over the weekend. The Pittsburgh International Race Complex track can be unforgiving for racers playing catch-up, especially in classes with large fields. With lots of blind turns and elevation changes, passing isn’t easy at PittRace.
That’s why Friday’s qualifying took on greater importance for the racers looking to get to the front of the grid for the qualifying races on Saturday. It also didn’t help that the morning session — which is faster, theoretically because it’s cooler — was marked by a wet but drying track, a slight mist at times. Many of the qualifying times from the morning held throughout the day. The Q2 session was drier, but temperatures had risen, which saps power output and increases tire temperatures.
Racers have a delicate balance of pushing to be the top qualifier in their class, but preserving the equipment for Sunday’s National Championships when it really matters. The results may vary, but most racers came away Friday with a better idea where their car stands against the competition, and how they’ll stack up for Saturday’s qualifying races and the ultimate Championships on Sunday.
After finishing third in 944 Spec at the 2021 NASA Championships in Daytona, Matt Giuffre came to PittRace looking to prove a point, and he started doing just that in Friday’s qualifying sessions when he posted the fastest lap at 2:08.022, just ahead of Bart Welte, who was less than a half second back. Shawn Taylor will start from third for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“Yeah, Bart almost had me. On the radio, I kept getting his times from my spotter and he was close, and I just kept pushing and pushing, and just got him, I think at the end, one of the last couple of laps,” Giuffre said. “For me, it’s coming down to tire strategy. This session I went out with some real old tires trying to save the nice ones for later in the weekend. I wasn’t sure if Q1 would be the place that we’re actually setting the grid for qualifying race, so I’m playing with the strategy a little bit here. But I think in that session, that was all these tires would give me. There was nothing more left.”
Whether the track is dry or damp, Bruce Byerly has found the right setup for his Ford Mustang on the PittRace track. Byerly will start at the front for Saturday’s qualifying race in American Iron, thanks to a 1:54:92 lap during the afternoon qualifying session.
Less than 1 second separates Byerly from Carmine Pace and Bob Collins, the second- and third-fastest qualifiers, respectively.
“This track is amazing. It’s got grip even though it’s damp. It’s a super cool feeling,” said Byerly, who practiced on old tires before going with a new set for qualifying. “I really love the track.”
Byerly said he doesn’t hold back in qualifying sessions, so he expects similar speeds in the National Championship race. “We had a good lap and that’s all it takes is one,” Byerly said.
American Iron Extreme
Friday’s qualifying races were only the second time that Dustin Drollinger has run the PittRace course, and given his performance you might think it was his home track.
“I just got a lot more comfortable with the car and I didn’t have any traffic. I was out front to start with, so I kind of held those guys up and I gave myself some clean space and made one stick,” Drollinger said. “After that I finished the session getting comfortable out on the track.”
Drollinger said he used a sim rig to memorize the track and learn the tricks for some of the corners. He feels his car still has more left in it for the National Championship.
“There are a few spots out there we’re going to look at the data and see where I’m lacking,” Drollinger said. “I know I can pick up a few more, so I’m sure everybody else is going to pick up a little bit too.”
The PittRace course can be difficult to pass on, particularly in an equally matched class such as Camaro-Mustang Challenge. That’s why qualifying took on extra importance for Hunter Lydic, who won both qualifying sessions with the fastest time of 2:01.275.
Lydic estimates he has over 1,000 laps at Pittsburgh International Race Complex and says it’s one of his favorite tracks.
“This track is super hard to pass on, especially with how close everyone is,” Lydic said. “Unless someone makes a mistake, it’s pretty tough to pass, so qualifying is very important for the races.”
Less than 1 second separates Lydic from the second fastest qualifier Tom Long, who had a 2:01.757 lap was the second-fastest qualifier in CMC with Kent Owens finishing third (2:02.138 lap).
German Touring Series 3
NASA Rocky Mountain Regional Director and former National Champion Dan Williams logged a Q1 time nearly 3 seconds faster than second-place qualifier Roberto Crescencio, who won the GTS3 Championships in 2018 at Circuit of the Americas. You would think that would give Williams some measure of comfort, but no. He said it’s never comfortable, but he will have the luxury of P1 for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“It’s never comfortable, but unlike many times over the morning, I don’t think this is going to be the fast session here,” Williams said. “It was still wet and dry. Wet and dry. But I tell you, the track felt pretty darn grippy and this is a great track in the rain. I’m told that it’s pretty grippy, even when it’s wet. I still think we can go faster though.”
Peter Agapoglou will start third.
Honda Challenge 2
It had been five years since Brian Shanfeld raced at PittRace, but he obviously remembers the track well as Shanfeld was the fastest qualifier in Honda Challenge 2.
Shanfeld turned a 2:00.127 lap, edging second-place qualifier Dillon Brennan by less than half a second. Brennan was the fastest qualifier in the first session.
“It was definitely a lot drier and a lot less traffic to worry about this session, so it went really smoothly,” Shanfeld said. “I know what I’ve done here in the past, so I’m trying to get to roughly the same lap times as I’ve done before.”
Bobby Pugh’s first qualifying session ended with his Legends car being towed to the paddock. He returned to the second session to retain his spot as the fastest qualifier with a 2:00.253 lap. Bryan Poage was just off the pace by 1 second in the three-car field.
“I got a little bit of the grass and locked up the front tires,” said Pugh after the first qualifying session. “I then skidded across the grass, I couldn’t do anything, I just went into the tires. It was just wet.”
The nerf bar was bent on the front of Pugh’s car, requiring the tow to the paddock. It was an easy fix and Pugh improved his lap time by 3.7 seconds in the drier qualifying session.
Gobel Newsome came prepared with racing slicks and rain tires, opting to go with the slicks for his only qualifying session of the day. The decision paid off with the fastest qualifying lap of 1:56.796, though Newsome acknowledges it’s about 3 to 4 seconds from where the car needs to be.
“This track really sheds the water well. It dries really fast,” Newsome said. “It almost has to be raining consistently to put wets on for you to make that decision. It’ll be last-second as well.”
Newsome pits across from good friend and fellow NP01 competitor Harry Colson, so he’ll keep an eye on his tire decision for the qualifying race. The weather forecast for Saturday is a mixed bag.
“I can see him out the other side here,” Newsome said. “I’m sure he’ll be looking over to see what tires I’m using.”
NASA Great Lakes Spec E30 racer Eric Pennington finally had the chance to go out on a dry track, well not totally, and new tires to find out what kind of laps he could turn. Pennington went out hot and turned his fastest lap on lap one, a 2:05.240, a time he couldn’t match, and neither could any of his competitors in Q1 or Q2.
But they are close. Jack Cobetto is right behind with a 2:05.727 and 2011 and 2016 Spec E30 champion Robert Grace is in third with a 2:05.750. Spec E30 always produces some close racing up front, and throughout the field.
“Well, we’ve got some good competition. So, new tires for all of us. We finally had the rain go away for the start of the session, so we got back to real lap times here today,” Pennington said after Q1, setting his sights on Q2. “Everybody always thinks they can go faster, right?”
With Cobetto and Grace so close behind him, he will have to.
NASA Mid-Atlantic Spec E46 racer Michael Kanisczak had a mirror full of 2022 Spec E46 Champion, Casey Mashore. All session long during Q1, Kanisczak led the time sheets and ultimately laid down the fastest lap in the first session, and then improving it to a 1:58.692 in Q2, netting him the coveted pole position for Saturday’s qualifying race.
“I think this whole weekend is just going to be about picking the right tire and strategy for the weather, right?” Kanisczak said after Q1. “I mean, I love this as a driver’s track. I think it’s very challenging. It’s very flowy, but it’s also very hard on tires. It seems very abrasive, which is why even when it’s very damp, (new Toyo) RR stickers will actually do fairly well. So, taking all that and then combining it with the setup, given a very, very tight class, I think there’s going to be a little bit of luck of who just picks the right setup for the right track conditions.”
Mashore will start second with Matthew DiGiammarino in third.
NASA Mid-Atlantic Spec3 racer Charles Ford took the win here at PittRace during a regional event in July. That probably gave him the confidence and knowledge he needed to not only claim the fastest in session one on lap one, but also to better it in session two. A fast lap of 2:02.461 put him on top.
“The approach this morning was to scrub these tires in, and we’ve been here four or five times with NASA Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes. We’ve never actually come here at the beginning of the season. We’ve all come here with scrub tires, multiple events on them, and you get out there, and with new tires it has so much more grip. I decided to go for a fast lap on the first lap and it ended up working out.”
He improved upon that lap by .200 seconds in Q2, with Jon McAvoy just behind with a 2:02.839 and Andreas Schmidt in third with a 2:03.864.
To determine the winner of the Spec Iron qualifying, it requires going two digits right of the decimal point. Alex Schwartzenberger nipped fellow Spec Iron competitor Robin Burnett by .027 seconds, setting up what should be a hard-fought qualifying race on Saturday.
Schwartzenberger turned in the 2:00.00 lap during the morning session and sat out the afternoon qualifying, gambling that clouds and warmer temperatures would result in slower times for the rest of the class. The gamble almost didn’t pay off.
“The track was kind of green compared to (Thursday), so there wasn’t a lot of rubber down,” said Schwartzenberger, who races in the Southeast Region. “Toward the end of the session, you could kind of get gripped up on the curves. It was really good.”
When a racecar makes power as modest as a Spec Miata, even subtle changes in temperature can reduce horsepower and make driving faster laps nigh on impossible in the afternoon. NASA Florida’s Michael Carter turned the fastest lap in morning qualifying and he got close to bettering it in the afternoon, but ultimately he didn’t need to. His 2:05.551-second lap was just good enough to get him pole, just .002 seconds ahead of second-place Travis Wiley, who ran a 2:05.553. It was that close.
“I think that was the first time I was on new tires the whole weekend. I think getting a lap early is definitely key. I didn’t go out in the warmup this morning, so I was at the back of the grid,” Carter said. “I caught some lapped traffic, and luckily I caught it in the right places, so I was able to get that flying lap. But yeah, it’s close. It’s what we expect here in Spec Miata, and Travis is obviously going to be a good contender this weekend, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Dan Williams qualified third with a 2:05.752.
Super Touring 1
As he was digging deep to find the limits of adhesion, Joe Kellerman was surprised to discover that there was more grip than he expected on a damp-but-drying track. Kellerman was able to circle the track in 1:49.143 seconds, which was quick enough to get him pole position for Saturday’s qualifying race. On top of that, he improved his time in Q2 to a 1:47.362.
“The track, surprisingly, is better than it looks. There’s some wet spots here and there, but you run faster than you think you can run. I wasn’t planning on running as well as I did based on the conditions. It felt pretty good, so I kept picking it up,” Kellerman said. “I’m excited to be here and can’t wait for some normal, nice weather so I keep building up my lap times. I’m a guy that’s not the best out of the hole. I need some time to work my way up. Once I work my way up, then I do okay.”
Kellerman will start in front of Chris Ludwig who ran a 1:50.802 and Brian Clarke, who tripped the clock with a 1:53.425.
Super Touring 2
Friday morning’s fastest qualifier Jake Latham opted to sit out the afternoon qualifying session, giving Ben Grambau an opportunity to take over pole. Grambau clocked a 1:49.343 lap—just .143 seconds faster than Latham.
“Jake’s a great driver and he set a super blistering lap in the first session, and I played it a little too conservative for how the track conditions were in the first session,” Grambau said. “In the second session, the track felt really, really good and I did it on the first lap.”
Grambau said he set a personal best on the track and expects a tough race against Latham on Sunday.
“Jake and I will start side by side, we’re similar on power, similar on weight,” Grambau said. “I think he’s got a little more downforce, a little more development in his car. It ought to be a super exciting race and keeping him behind me is going to be a real challenge.”
Super Touring 3
The Super Touring 3 has a large field with a lot of close racing, and Friday’s qualifying session followed the same trendline. After two rounds of qualifying, Eric Magnussen was the fastest qualifier with a 1:49.648 lap. He set the mark on the first lap of the second qualifying session.
“There was definitely a lot more traffic in that first qualifying session,” Magnussen said. “In the second qualifying session I was surprised to see some of the people out there trying to improve, but it looked like the front of the field. We’re all trying to one-up each other.
“I didn’t get much testing in today with the rain this morning, so that first qualifying session was the first dry session that I’ve been on this track in a couple of months. It’s coming back to me now.”
Super Touring 4
NASA NorCal Super Touring 4 driver Scott Smith only had a few laps of practice on Thursday, and he did so knowing he had a bent shock shaft on the left rear of his car. He found it when he took his car to Bimmerworld for some prep work. Because he didn’t get the part till late morning Friday, he didn’t get to participate in Q1. He was in the garage installing new shocks.
When he did go out for qualifying in the second session, he was able to claim pole position with a 1:53.265 to top Q1 session winner Bryan Hedian’s 1:54.747 in Q2, which was a full second faster than the winning time he set in Q1. Team ST Edge MV driver Shaun Webster will start from third with a 1:54.762.
“Luckily I was able to get a brand new set of shocks from MCS, and MCS built them in a day and they overnighted them. I got them this morning, installed them and was on grid with basically no time to spare,” Smith said. “But since qualifying was 10 minutes late, I had 10 minutes to breathe. The car has been working great.”
Super Touring 5
Part of the gamesmanship for qualifying is not to show competitors what a car is fully capable of until the National Championship on Sunday. That’s not the case for Nicholas Barbato, who acknowledges they were not able to get a fresh set of tires on his BMW before qualifying.
Even with less-than-ideal tires, Barbato was the fastest qualifier in Super Touring 5 with a best lap of 1:55.4 on the 2.78-mile track. His top lap time is a full 2 seconds better than Jeff Stutler, who races the Great Lakes Region.
“To be honest with you, we weren’t able to get the fresh tires on and I know what the max is,” said Barbato, who runs in the Northeast Region. “There’s a lot of time left with a fresh tire. So you know, I have a target lap I believe that it’s going to do, which is significantly quicker.”
Super Touring 6
NASA Mid-Atlantic ST6 driver Isaac Beekman essentially grew up racing karts at PittRace, so he’s familiar with how the fickle the weather can be. He also proved to be pretty quick in Q1. He was fastest again in Q2, besting second place Christopher Armbruster by just over .300 seconds and third place Andrew Janosik, and improving his time by nearly 2 seconds.
“Well, with the wet track this morning, I was just trying to be conservative, so I wasn’t pushing too hard. So, next session’s really going to matter,” Beekman said. “It’s looking dry so far. So that’s where I’m going to put all the effort toward.”
It was enough effort to get him P1 for Saturday’s qualifying race.
NASA Great Lakes Super Unlimited racer Jonathan Finstrom won Time Trial Unlimited last year, and he’s looking to add to his trophy shelf with a win in Super Unlimited in 2023. Finstrom went out in the first qualifying session and laid down a scorching 1:38.381-second lap. To no one’s surprise, Finstrom’s lap was the fastest time of any racing class. He was so confident, he pulled in before the session was over, and had his crew begin attending to his car while Brian Faessler was still out on track trying to match Finstrom’s time.
Faessler managed a very quick 1:40.380 in his Ford Mustang, but that was his fastest lap, and he didn’t come out for session two, so he’ll start from second. Brian Tyler will start from third.
“The track had a little bit of dampness on it, raining more in the back, and so I was seeing how the car felt and I was pushing. It was a little bit slippery, but I was seeing what time I could get, so I don’t have to go out this afternoon. That would be the plan. Probably not to go out this afternoon with the time that I have, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Thunder Roadster GTR
A drier PittRace track made all the difference for Jeremy Zumwalt, who improved his lap speed by 3 seconds from the morning session and earned pole for Saturday’s Thunder Roadster GTR qualifying race.
Zumwalt, who races the Great Lakes Region, used the favorable weather conditions to lay down a 1:55.759 lap with a mere 0.512 seconds separating second-place qualifier John Spain.
“We’ve got some real tight competition and we don’t know about the weather,” Zumwalt said. “I have zero rain experience in these cars, so if it rains, I have no idea who’s going to win, but I bet it’s going to be exciting and I’m really looking forward to (Saturday).”
James Wheeler won the morning qualifying session but knew the time wouldn’t stand. “These guys, I think, are generally faster than me. I know that I’m a little bit down on power,” he said. “The biggest variable is when the track really dries up, you can’t get it to be perfect in terms of the car setup.”