The 2022 NASA Championships are notable for a couple of reasons. It’s taking place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, one of the nation’s premier road courses. It’s also notable because this event sold to capacity in short order.
If you wanted to register, you had to be quick, otherwise you didn’t get a spot. If you want to get a spot on the podium, you also have to be quick, and that’s where a few of the names on the entry list begin to stand out as some of the favorites at this year’s NASA Championships.
What’s also unique about the event is that even though it’s being held in California, neither the Southern nor Northern California regions of NASA race there with any regularity. The last time a NASA event was held there was in 2015 for the Western States Championships, and before that it was 2013 for a combined event between the two regions.
What that means is that this is a track that no NASA driver gets to very often, so it in a sense evens the playing field a bit. Of course, many competitors will take advantage of simulator racing, but there’s a lot of nuance to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca that doesn’t come through on a sim, which should make for some great competition.
We’ve looked over the entry list and put together a list of drivers to watch at this year’s NASA Championships. We think if you look over the entry list, your picks might vary a little, but not much. Standouts are standouts and unlike the stock market, past performance in racing is often a good indicator of future results.
As we have said in years past, if you’re unhappy because you weren’t named in this feature, we’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong.
You could argue either way that competing in racing and Time Trial at a Championships event could hurt you or help you. On one hand, more seat time is a good thing. On the other hand, trying to do too much at one event could hamper your efforts.
Based on his performance at Circuit of The Americas in 2018, Timothy Bidwill looks like he’s up to the job. Bidwill is signed up for TT1 and ST1 in his familiar Porsche 911, which we think is the right tool for the job this year. He’s going to have his hands full with Jeremy Croiset in his NP01-EVO and fellow Arizona driver Ricky Johnson in a Porsche Cup car of his own, but look for Bidwill on top.
For TT2, Alesandro Sensoli looks pretty good for taking the Championship, for a couple of reasons. We know that Sensoli is a dedicated athlete, and a quick study with a never-quit attitude. He’s also only registered for Time Trial competition, not racing, which frees him to focus on one thing in Monterey. As the current TT2 National Champion, winning in Monterey would allow Sensoli to continue the streak. Look for Sensoli on the top step at the end of the weekend.
Terry Free has been looking for another National Championship in Time Trial since he last won one in TTU at Mid-Ohio in 2012. He has had his share of engine troubles in his C6 Z06 over the years, which have kept him from being competitive at a couple of events, but it looks like he has opted for a less-stressed powertrain and moved away from faster TTU and TT1 in which he competed at Circuit of The Americas in 2018. He had engine issues at COTA, too, so his move to TT3 this year looks like a smart one. We think it’s going to pay off.
In a true testament that Time Trial is a game of milliseconds, Andre Eisenbach won the TT4 Championship in 2019 at Mid-Ohio by .220 seconds over fellow NASA NorCal racer Shawn Webster. The 2022 Championships should be equally close. Eisenbach faces stiff competition from NASA Texas’ Scott Adams, NorCal’s Anthony Zwain and SoCal’s Jean-Luc De Fanti, but Eisenbach looks like the favorite at WRLS.
Tommy Lo is a NorCal native and despite NASA not visiting WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca all that often, Lo has a fair amount of laps at the track, including the Mazda Race of NASA Champions in May 2015. He finished 11th in a race with 20 NASA champions in equally prepared third-generation Mazda MX-5s. Lo has two regional wins this season over the same people he’ll be racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. As long as he keeps his Honda S2000 engine at full boil, he should finish ahead of competitor cars with more torque, which can be important at the hilly WRLS.
Xavier Calderon nabbed a podium in ST6 at Daytona last year and he’s leading the points chase in Spec Miata in the Mid-Atlantic region among a field of fine drivers. He’s notched several podiums this year, so he looks pretty good for TT6 at WRLS. It’s no gimme. TT6 isn’t particularly large this year, but Calderon will have to improve every time he goes out, because competitors Roman Vaisman and Michael Omelko are going to be doing just that.
Team Rattlesnake Electric Sport took the TTEV Championship at Daytona last year — making them the first ever TTEV Champions. Driver Richard Hilleman is signed up as the driver this year, but we have seen Matt Cresci driving the car in competition a time or two. Either way, we’re looking at Hilleman and his Team Rattlesnake Electric Sport Tesla Model 3 to take the second-ever TTEV Championship.
At Mid-Ohio in 2019, James Paul drove his turbocharged Mazda-powered Élan RSR to the TTU National Championship, posting lap times faster than any other car at the event. Paul also holds the season points lead in TTU in his home region NASA NorCal. In fact, he’s won every event he’s entered this season, so we think Paul is a good pick for the TTU Championship this year.
Unless or until Charlie Buzzetti signs up to race, Marcelo Vine is an easy pick for the 944 Spec National Championship in 2022. Vine and Buzzetti have been trading wins in their home region SoCal over the last few years. Vine just missed the Championship at Thunderhill in 2017. He took first at Circuit of The Americas, but his car did not pass tech after the race, and Buzzetti won the Championship. Vine won the Championship in 2019 at Mid-Ohio and again at Daytona last year, with Buzzetti just behind in second in 2021. So, looking at the empirical data, we see no reason why Vine can’t do it again this year.
American Iron Extreme
Sal Molinare has the points lead in AIX in the NASA NorCal region. All but one of the competitors in AIX at this year’s Championships are from NorCal, so we think Molinare knows his competition well enough to get the better of them at WRLS. That said, we do think his biggest competition will come from Richard Hilleman, who is racing an AMC Javelin. We know it’s hard to make old cars go fast and compete with modern cars, but the Javelin has been has been in development over the last few years, so they might have something to say about our prediction.
Honda Challenge 2
It looks odd seeing Justin Crickenberger’s name on the list of entries for Honda Challenge. We’re so used to seeing him racing Spec Miatas — as shown in the photo — or Porsche Boxsters. Nevertheless, Crickenberger has proven he is quick in anything he drives, so we’re picking him as the likely favorite for Honda Challenge 2 at this year’s Championships. He is certainly going to have his hands full with Scott Adams, a driving coach from NASA Texas who has the chops to win.
Honda Challenge 4
Read the rules for Honda Challenge thoroughly, and you begin to garner and appreciation for the old-school Honda CRX and it’s low, low minimum weight. There’s only one CRX entered at the 2022 NASA Championships, that of the Beans & Dog Racing team, driven by Steven Peterson, and we think he looks good to win it all this year. Peterson has been on a tear in his home region in NASA SoCal, winning four of the six races he’s entered. Peterson is going to face serious challenges from James Landry, who has beaten Peterson in two races this year, which means H4 is going to be one of the most exciting Championships races Honda Challenge has had in a long time.
Tony Brakohiapa was dominant in the qualifying races at Daytona last year, but a mistake in the Championships race dropped him back and out of contention. He trails Mark Abouzeid in the NASA NorCal points but Brakohiapa has more wins than anyone in NorCal. All of that said, unlike Daytona, Jeremy Croiset will be racing at WRLS, so there will be a past NP01-EVO National Champion in field. It will be close, and the only reason we’re giving the nod to Brakohiapa is because Croiset has been not raced much this year and might be a bit rusty.
Tim Barber put on such a clinic at the 2018 NASA Championships at Circuit of The Americas, we can’t help but pick him to win Spec E30 this year. At COTA, Barber’s car was rocking some old-school Miller beer livery, and he even had a driver’s suit to match. Now, there are a couple of other fast drivers in the field in NorCal’s Sylas Montgomery and SoCal’s Andrew Clark. They will be making Barber work hard for any victory he would earn, and we think that’s probably going to be the podium in order in Spec E30. Time will tell.
Wow, Spec E46 looks as though it’s going to come down to a couple of SoCal drivers, Lucas Weisenberg and Casey Mashore, but we are going to give the nod to Mashore, because in the events where he and Weisenberg faced off, Mashore had the upper hand. Make no mistake, it will be close and there are other drivers and teams who will be in the mix, including NorCal’s Steven Ferrario and SoCal’s Steve Stepanian. Spec E46 will be a shootout this year.
As with any year, Spec Miata always presents some of the best racing anywhere, and it’s also one of the most competitive series, making it difficult to predict a winner. Long story short, we’re going to give the nod to Matt Cresci, a former Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout winner and MX-5 Cup rookie of the year with a great deal of seat time at WRLS.
Now, having said that, we will add that there are probably at least 10 drivers who have a shot at taking the win at WRLS, many of whom are Teen Mazda Challenge drivers. For example, Rocky Mountain’s Harry Voigt and NorCal’s Wyatt Couch are going to be front runners. SoCal’s Mark Polunin also will be in the mix. Other drivers with the talent to finish first include NorCal’s Andres Prieto, Justin Casey and Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dan Williams. Look at the entry list closely and you’ll find Texas’ Trevor McCallion and NASA Mid-South’s Aaron Jeansonne, who is currently racing in Mazda’s MX-5 Cup series.
As ever, Spec Miata will be the race that all other drivers stop and find a perch from which to watch.
Spec Z is going to be a battle of drivers all from the Rocky Mountain Region, so far. That means researching one region’s standings is key to predicting the winner at the 2022 NASA Championships. Ashley Burt has won every race he has entered in the region, as of deadline. Burt’s regional rival Bill Bowdish also has a pair of wins in the region, so he’s going to be there to make sure Burt has to work for a Championship.
Super Touring 1
All but one of the cars registered in ST1 are Porsche Cup cars, and two drivers, Ricky Johnson and Timothy Bidwill have National Championships to their credit, but we think Bidwill is going to have enough of an edge to take the ST1 Championship. We’re betting his two-pronged effort in TT1 and ST1 is going to bear fruit twice.
Super Touring 2
It’s not clear from the registration page whether Team Chill by Strom is going to be driven by team owner Chris Hill or by Brett Strom, but either way we think they look good to take home the ST2 Championship. Part of why the team looks poised to take the Championship is that its car is always prepped to perfection. The team also uses the car for endurance racing in the WERC series, and the team leads its class that series. Heck, while we’re at it, let’s give them the nod to win ES in the WERC race the Monday following the Championships.
Super Touring 3
We’ve just learned driver Shawn Webster is pulling out of the 2022 NASA Championships, and he would have been our pick to win. In Webster’s absence, NASA NorCal’s Matt McIntyre has ticked a couple of wins in ST3 in a competitive region, and we think he has the skills to get the job done. McIntyre is going to face a big challenge from NASA Arizona’s Brian Turner.
Super Touring 4
Back in 2018 at the NASA Championships at Circuit of The Americas,
Andy Kwitowski set the fastest lap time in qualifying, took the win in the qualifying race and snared pole for Sunday’s Championship race. Kwitowski got the best of the field into Turn 1 and led them into the Esses and all the way to Start/Finish on lap one. In fact, he led the field for the entirety of the race, which was shortened by a red-flag crash about 30 minutes into the 45-minute race. He never put a wheel wrong at COTA, so we think he looks good to take the ST4 Championship this year, too.
Super Touring 5
The humble beginnings of the car Team Palomar Racing is campaigning this year makes its accomplishments all the more formidable. Wrecked last season, the car underwent body and suspension repairs and it’s now dialed in and genuinely competitive. Team Palomar has taken the ST5 win in eight races this season, podiumed in all but one race this year, and taken the E2 win in all WERC races this year. The team holds the points lead in both series. More than likely, Teen Mazda Challenge alumnus Matt Million will drive the car at the Championships, and if they can take the win, 2022 will have been a hat-trick dream season for Team Palomar.
Super Touring 6
Though he doesn’t hold the points lead in the NorCal Region, ST6 racer Christopher LaBouff has four wins this season, and he looks good to take the ST6 Championship at WRLS. Of course, this being a Championships event, LaBouff is going to have to hit all the right notes on Friday and Saturday to stay ahead of Roman Vaisman in his Saturn SC2 and Michael Omelko in his E30.
We’ve got James Paul picked to win the TTU Championship, but the Super Unlimited Championships race is going to require a lot more of his focus. The Super Unlimited field at the 2022 NASA Championships is even larger than it was in 2021 at Daytona, and that was a record year.
Paul’s Élan RSR is certainly an excellent choice, but it’s staggering how many top-shelf racecars are in Super Unlimited this year. Competing cars include two C&R Lightning Crowns, Normas, a Pescarolo, a Staudcher S08, a Radical, a Factory Five GTM, two Wolfs and another Élan DP02 with multitime champion Jon Van Caneghem at the wheel. Super Unlimited is simply off the charts this year, and if Paul can pull off the win, it certainly will have been hard-earned.
Thunder Roadster GTR
All of the entries for Thunder Roadster GTR hail from the NorCal Region, so these guys know each other well, and that always makes for interesting racing. Tom Boyd holds the points lead in the NorCal Region, so we think that gives him a really good shot at holding on for the 2022 Championship. Douglas Marshall is second in the points championship in NorCal, so Boyd will have to keep him in his mirrors to pull off the win at WRLS. We’ll find out Sept. 18.