When alarm clocks went off this morning, no doubt the first thing NASA Championships drivers did was turn them off, then immediately click to the weather apps on their phones.
Conditions have been dynamic throughout the weekend of Championship racing at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, which makes tire and setup choices more difficult. Saturday started out with a wet track for morning warmups, but the rain held off, a dry line formed and the competitors were able to enjoy PittRace’s legendary grip all day long.
Grids for the qualifying races are set according to lap times from yesterday’s Q1 and Q2 sessions. Today’s finishing position is what determines the grid order for Sunday’s Championships races, the pinnacle of why we’re all here.
Full-course cautions marred three of the five races this afternoon, with two ending in green-white-checkers finishes and some last-lap daring-do. We caught up with today’s winners to see how today’s races went and see what they had planned for Sunday.
Matt Giuffre was supposed to be on pole for today’s qualifying race, but a snafu on grid put him last for the flying start in the qualifying race. With four cars ahead of him, he was going to have to work hard to get to the front. That was made a little easier when third-place starter Shawn Taylor suffered an engine fire on the back straightaway and dropped out.
Giuffre ended up battling late in the race with Bart Welte who started from second and had held the lead for most of the race. Giuffre took advantage of a full-course caution to get within striking distance of Welte, and when the race went back to green, Giuffre was able to get by and take the lead and the win in the closing laps.
“Not really sure what happened, but yeah, starting from the back I had to work my way to the front,” Giuffre said. “Bart gave me a good run for my money, though, only passed him in the last couple laps and it looks like he had an engine issue, so that’s unfortunate. But overall it was a good race.”
With most of the American Iron qualifying race run under a yellow flag, first-place finisher Bruce Byerly was hoping to get more than seven laps to prepare for the longer National Championship race on Sunday. He was still happy with the results, outlasting Patrick Wehmeyer and Bob Collins, who finished second and third, respectively.
“We’re just trying to make sure we didn’t do anything too crazy to make it until (Sunday), but the track was a little slippery,” said Byerly, who races in the Florida Region. “It was unfortunate we didn’t get all the green flag laps that we could have, but I’m happy up front.”
Whether it’s rain or shine, Byerly is ready for the National Championships.
“I’m looking forward to it no matter what,” he said. “I suspect it’ll be wet, but we’ll see.”
American Iron Extreme
For 99 percent of the race, Daniel Manis had the race well in hand despite Dustin Drollinger’s advantage in starting from pole. As lap one got underway, Drollinger and Manis were running side by side, when Drollinger went off track and did a little “lawn moving” as he put it, and dropped back. That let Manis put the light weight of his 1989 Mustang to good use by putting some breathing room between himself and Drollinger.
Then came the full-course caution, which stacked up the field long enough to require a green-white-checkers finish. As he watched his oil temperatures begin to spike due to the grass in his grille, Drollinger had the opening he needed to retake the lead and the win.
“I didn’t get it until the last corner. I knew I had one shot. And with Daniel’s car, he’s good everywhere except for one braking spot. And I knew if I was going to have a chance to out-brake him, it was coming into 17, the last hairpin,” Drollinger said. “We went side by side through the kink at speed and it was like mirror to mirror and then I was able to just out-brake him, but then he came underneath me, but I was able to put the power down just a split-second faster than him and I held him off around the corner to the front, to the finish line.”
Less than a car length separated them at the finish. Drollinger will start on pole Sunday, with Manis in second and Pat Gordon in third.
With 14 cars in the Camaro-Mustang Challenge, Mid-Atlantic racer Hunter Lydic is shaping up as the racer to beat. Lydic won Saturday’s qualifying race, starting on pole after being the fastest qualifier on Friday.
Lydic knows the Pittsburgh International Race Complex well, having raced more than 1,000 laps on the Western Pennsylvania track. Saturday’s contest was limited to seven laps because of an accident early in the qualifying race, which required Lydic to keep the tires and brakes warm while running under the yellow flag.
“It was pretty interesting for the first couple laps and then I just had to keep my head in it for the yellow,” Lydic said.
Tom Long will start on the front line with a second-place finish and Derek Wright was third in the qualifying race.
German Touring Series 3
It has been clear since Friday that Dan Williams is the man to beat in GTS3, but Roberto Crescencio gave Williams a little something to think about at the start as he out-braked Williams into Turn 1.
Williams was able to get back by him before Turn 3 and establish a gap on the rest of the field because he had nothing but open track in front of him. As he built a larger and larger lead, Williams began to settle into the rhythm he hoped he could ride till the end, but suddenly he heard a loud clunk from the rear, and the car began to feel squirrely under braking.
“Every lap I was testing the brakes on every corner. Does it still work? Does it still work? And then it started vibrating pretty badly as if a hub is gone. I was very, very concerned about finishing that race,” Williams said. “I slowed way down and tried not to put a lot of G-forces on the car. And then when I saw him coming, we’re like, okay, well we’re going to have to risk it for one lap. Thank goodness the white came out when it did, otherwise I’d have had to let him go.”
Crescencio will start second and Eric Wong will start third on Sunday.
Honda Challenge 2
Jonathan Baker went into Saturday’s qualifying race with a new setup, unhappy with the old setup even though he was the third-fastest in qualifying. The team stayed up until 2 a.m. changing tire sizes, camber and corner balancing.
“We had a lot of good friends here to help me out to do this setup change that was a risk,” said Baker, who won the Honda Challenge 2 qualifying race. “But in the end, it was worth it. That’s what this is all about.”
2022 H2 National Champion Baker had to learn the new setup during the race and was able to take advantage of a couple of Honda Challenge 2 competitors’ mistakes and get to the front of the pack.
“We are all very, very close in speed and setup now,” Baker said. “I think it’s just kind of a flip of a coin as to who’s going to get it tomorrow. I’m glad that we’re back in it is the bottom line, so I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Brian Shanfeld will start on the front row with Baker. Dillon Brennan will start third.
After going off the track during Friday’s qualifier, Bobby Pugh repaired his car and won the qualifying race to earn pole for the National Championship race. The fix required replacing the nerf bumper and replacing a steering arm, otherwise the Legends car was fine after going into the tires and being towed off the track.
Pugh ran a near-flawless qualifying race, beating second-place finisher Bobby Christensen by just 0.389 seconds in the 12-lap race. Bryan Poage was third.
Pugh has bigger plans for Sunday’s Championship. He wants to beat the Thunder Roadsters that are paired with their running group.
“We’re really wanting to beat all the Thunder Roadsters too, so we’d like for him to start us where we finished instead of starting to fall behind 18 of them,” Pugh said. “We’re here to have fun with everybody. If one of us wins, that’s great. We’d like to beat all the Thunder cars too.”
If Gobel Newsome had his preference, he’s hoping for a dry track for the National Championship race on Sunday. If the rain comes, the Great Lakes Region racer is ready too.
“It’s so much more fun to have a dry track because you don’t have to stay on line,” said Newsome, who won the NP01 qualifying race. “When it’s a little damp, you’ll get a little dry line, and when you pass, you’re off line. A wide, dry track is just so much more fun.”
With just two cars in the class, Newsome let off the gas to bring Harry Colson closer so they could compete. “It’s no fun to run off and be by yourself,” Newsome said. “(Harry) is a great driver, he just needs more time behind the wheel.”
Eric Pennington had been a man on fire in Q1 and Q2 on Friday, setting the fastest lap in the first session, leaving it for everyone to challenge, but no one could match it.
Pennington used his pole position to his advantage, but he got sideways in a downhill section, which would drop him well back in the field. Third-place starter and 2016 Spec E30 National Champion Robert Grace was just behind and he had to check up a bit to avoid contact, which allowed second-place starter Jack Cobetto to take first place as the race entered the closing stages. Cobetto then went off track in Turn 1, which left Grace there to take the lead, which he held to the end.
“I was pretty content to finish third out there today, to be honest. Just take care of the car and bring it back, and then the seas parted,” Grace said. “The car feels good. We’ll just give it the nut and bolt, make sure it’s ready to rock tomorrow and get after it.”
If it weren’t beginning to become obvious that Michael Kanisczak is the man to beat in Spec E46, well, at least it’s becoming clearer. Kanisczak and second-place starter Casey Mashore bombed into Turn 1 on lap one nearly side by side. Some mud splashed on track from a previous race caused a loss of traction for both drivers, whose cars made contact briefly before they streaked toward Turn 2.
Kanisczak came out ahead but sensed something was amiss with his right front tire. He pulled ahead of Mashore to take the lead with a good gap, but when a full-course caution came out, the field bunched up and Mashore was right back on Kanisczak’s rear bumper. After the restart, Kanisczak stayed ahead of him to retain first place and take the win.
“I had to work for it twice,” Kanisczak said. “The yellow flag kind of ruined it. And then again, I was dealing with a car that wasn’t quite right. So again, I was giving just enough to be safe, just enough to keep the gap and ended up being a very, very tight finish.”
That will lead to another really tight start Sunday. Kanisczak is on pole with Mashore in second and Eric Haagenson in third.
Two-time Spec3 National Champion Jon McAvoy had been chasing competitor Charles Ford all day Friday in qualifying sessions one and two, but just a few corners after Turn 1 on lap one, McAvoy had Ford in his mirrors and he was pressing forward for the win.
Ford, meanwhile, had made a poor tire choice, putting newer rubber up front and older tires in the rear, which caused a great deal of oversteer. Ford couldn’t overcome the deficit and finished second behind McAvoy.
“Looks like Charles had some trouble,” McAvoy said. “He just mentioned that he might’ve had some trouble in the rear. He said he couldn’t get the temps up early enough and I was able to get a few car lengths on him, and I think he then had P3 and P4 biting at him, which of course inherently will slow somebody down. I got a little lucky today. I wish I could have gotten lucky tomorrow, but we’ll see how this goes.”
The Spec Iron class is a tight-knit group and before going out for the qualifying race, the group leaders reminded the racers to focus on Sunday.
“We kept telling each other that it’s just qualifying, the trophy is tomorrow,” said Robin Burnett, who won the Spec Iron qualifying race run under seven green-flag laps. “We just told each other to take what you can get. At the start, I had a good jump and Alex (Schwartzenberger) got up on the curb in one. That’s all I needed, I needed that little break.”
The Spec Iron field is even, just 2 seconds separated Burnett from fifth-place finisher David Luaces. Schwartzenberger, who was the fastest qualifier on Friday, finished second and Christopher Williams was third.
“It doesn’t take much to go from first to tenth,” Burnett said.
Travis Wiley just missed pole position for Saturday’s qualifying race by .003 seconds behind pole sitter Michael Carter. Time-based qualifying is one thing, but a race start is another thing altogether.
When the green flag dropped, Wiley used second gear to his advantage, nailed a quick shift and pulled ahead of Carter, who dropped back to second place. Even with a full-course caution, Wiley was able to hold the lead and go on to take the win.
“I had a good run off the line, got through Turn 1 clean, and was able to pretty quickly assume the lead and then just run my race from there,” Wiley said.
When the race restarted, Wiley was able to pull away again with Carter in his wake, but certainly within striking distance. Wiley took the win, with Carter in second and Marc Cefalo in third.
“X-Factor put together a great car, and these Toyo tires made a really great vehicle. I mean, can’t complain for anything,” he said, adding he had no planned changes for the car. “I’m just going try and do the same thing. Get out there, run my race. Just get out of my own head.”
Super Touring 1
Even though he has kept himself consistently at the front of the Super Touring 1 field this weekend, Joe Kellerman went out on tires that had several hash marks on them, indicating they had seen a fair amount of heat cycles.
That made it a bit difficult for him to get through traffic and put the kind of gap on his competitors that would continue to keep him at the front. He added that he did make a few aero adjustments on Friday night that helped increase grip levels.
“Yeah, traffic was a little tough. I followed some cars for a while there, couldn’t get around them, burnt my tires up a little bit up front, just trying to work my butt off to get around them,” Kellerman said. “By the time I had some clear track, I did get past a few of them. Then my tires weren’t as good as they needed to be, but found out I was pretty far ahead of second place. I let off a little bit, maintained and made sure that I’m good for tomorrow in the main feature race, right?”
Kellerman is going to put on fresh rubber for Sunday, which he hopes will let him go faster through the Kink on the back straightaway and give him the extra edge he needs.
Ian Simms will start from second, with Brian Clarke in third.
Super Touring 2
Jake Latham says he doesn’t approach a qualifying race any different than one with a National Championship on the line. The good news for Latham is that he’ll be starting on pole for the Super Touring 2 championship with a new pair of gloves provided by Competition Motorsport for winning Saturday’s qualifying race.
“It gives you a sense of how the car is going to be at the end of a race, how you’re going to do, what your competitors are like on the start,” Latham said. “Honestly, doing these races is what we’re here for anyway, so I don’t do it any differently because I’m trying to have as much fun as I can.”
Latham found an opening on turn 7 and never gave up the lead with Ben Grambau finishing second and Nick Smither placing third.
Super Touring 3
Mark Burt and Eric Magnussen battled for nine laps in the Super Touring 3 qualifying race with Burt taking the checkered flag.
“It came down to tire management and (Eric) thought he had a tire going down, so he just moved over,” Burt said. “He was burning the rears off, he was driving really hard.”
Burt is running the National Championships for the first time in his Chevrolet Corvette, and so far, the car has been running well. He plans to do the typical checks and is ready to race on Sunday.
“Sunday is the only day that matters,” Burt said. “I just wanted to make sure I made it to Sunday.”
Magnussen, who was the fastest qualifier on Friday, finished second in the qualifying race. John Hyer was third.
Super Touring 4
Shaun Webster got caught up trying to avoid an accident at the back of the German Touring Series and even though his BMW 328 suffered minor front-end damage, Webster still managed to win the Super Touring 4 qualifying race.
“It was quite the melee,” Webster said. “I was just trying to drive with the alignment of the car. Left-hand turns weren’t great, rights were OK. I just tried to maintain it.”
Webster figures it will be an easy fix with the damage limited to the lower right splitter. “We’ll get it fixed, we’re prepared,” Webster said.
Nick DeRosa finished second, 1.9 seconds behind Webster, Keith Niswander was third in the qualifying race.
Super Touring 5
Nicholas Barbato’s philosophy heading into Saturday’s qualifying race was to get a clean win and preserve the car for the National Championship. He accomplished both goals and secured pole position for the Super Touring 5 race.
“My No. 1 thing was to hit that green flag and I actually got a little bit rattled for a second because it was a real long green,” Barbato said. “We were there within eye shot to the green flag for 10 seconds and I was like, ‘Did I miss it?’”
Barbato was side-by-side with second-place finisher Jeff Stutler through turns 2, 3 and 4 before Barbato was able to put some distance going up the hill between turns 4 and 5.
“The Maxxis (tires) is really good for two or three laps and they fade,” he said. “I felt them going away and then it’s just pace management, not overdriving them and keep them in the window.”
Super Touring 6
Friday’s qualifying sessions showed that Isaac Beekman had the speed advantage over Christopher Armbruster. However, at the start of Saturday’s Super Touring 6 race, Armbruster got the jump on Beekman and led into Turn 1.
A few laps later, as Beekman tried to make the pass on Armbruster into Turn 17, the two drove side by side through Turn 17 and into Turn 1. Beekman wasn’t able to make the pass, and nearly allowed Andrew Janosik to take over second place. It took Beekman a couple of laps to put some distance on Janosik and set his sights again on Armbruster.
With just a few laps left to go, Beekman got around Armbruster to take the lead and the win.
“Well, I understood going in that he was going to have more straight line speed than me. That’s just how the ST class works. We have more cornering speed, and he has more straight-line speed. So it was just at the first lap he got around me just by power, nothing I could have done about it,” Beekman said. “I tried to make a few moves and he shut the door and we made contact a few times. And so I decided at that point I would just wait behind him and wait for him to make mistake. And sure enough he did. He blew his corner going up the hill and that was my opportunity to pass him. After that it was just running laps, trying to manage the traffic.”
Beekman will start first on Sunday, and take home the Pole Position Award, a new set of Alpinestars gloves courtesy of NASA’s Official Equipment Supplier, Competition Motorsport. Armbruster will start second with Janosik in third.
Pole position for Super Unlimited was supposed to be occupied by Jonathan Finstrom, but when the green flag flew, he was nowhere to be found. That put Brian Faessler on pole, which he used to great advantage. Because Faessler’s car has tremendous horsepower advantages, he was able to put a gap on second place Brian Tyler and Chris Carey who were both running identical lap times.
Meanwhile Finstrom decided to sit out the qualifying race so he could ensure that his car would remain intact for the Time Trial Unlimited session later in the afternoon. Finstrom said he was happy to start from last for the Super Unlimited Championships race, to preserve his car and attempt to get two national Championships in one weekend. That puts Faessler on pole for the biggest race of the year.
“I think tomorrow traffic will probably be the biggest factor,” Faessler said. “He’s definitely a faster car. I mean, he only weighs a thousand pounds. I’m 3,400, so I mean obviously just brought a knife to a gunfight, but I know my car is easier to see in traffic than his little car, so that’ll definitely help add to my race. But, I mean just the key to just being fast here is just be consistent.”
The Thunder Roadster GTR class is one of the largest groups to race on Sunday for a National Championship, so starting on the front row takes on extra importance. Saturday’s qualifying race winner Jeremy Zumwalt will be joined by second-place finisher Derrek Morehead on the front row.
“Traffic was not my friend, it cost me quite a bit of time,” said Zumwalt after winning the qualifying race. “With a longer race tomorrow, getting through traffic is probably going to be the most important thing after a good start.”
Zumwalt said whoever wins the National Championship will have their work cut out for them.
“Everybody’s cars are super tight on performance and all the drivers, they’re right there on ability,” he said. “With the draft and long straights, it’s a dogfight out there but it’s a lot of fun.”