If NASA wheel-to-wheel racing is equivalent to, say, soccer, then NASA Time Trial is the motorsports version of golf. Racing is perhaps a bit easier to quantify while you’re in the moment. The car ahead beat you, and you beat the car behind you. Barring any tech shed or conduct violations, you know who won the moment the checkers fly.
Time Trial is a head game. Every turn is make or break. Track conditions are changing all the time. Sure, you’re adapting to them, but you have no idea what your competitors are doing, how those changes are affecting their performance and whether you should be doing what they’re doing or something else entirely.
Then, of course, there are the rules. Drop two wheels and your entire session is nixed. That would be like being penalized a whole round of golf for a divot or hitting a ball into a sand trap. Talk about pressure.
It’s a bit of a mind flip. You could run a solid lap, but your nearest competitor ran the lap of a lifetime and now has you by a half a second. Yes, it can be that close, with cars of all different makes and models reduced to a difference of a few thousandths of a second laid out on a 2-mile-long track.
Or, in the case of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, make that 2.238 miles with 11 turns, infamously slick asphalt, some steeply cambered turns and some with none at all, unforgiving apex turtles and uphills that load a motor like no other track in the nation.
On the opening strokes, golf is a game of yards, but the last stroke comes down to millimeters. And so it goes with NASA Time Trial. The fast drivers are measured in minutes and seconds, but winners are invariably measured in thousandths of a second, which was certainly the case at this year’s Time Trial Championships at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Time Trial 1
When Timothy Bidwill pulled into the pits from what turned out to be his winning lap, he didn’t know he had bagged the TT1 championship. You see, Bidwill was chasing competitor Joe Kellerman’s fastest lap time, but what he didn’t know was that Kellerman had use a staggered setup for his fast lap, and when it came time to dyno the car, he refused and was DQ’d.
No one could blame Kellerman for that. Three pulls on a dyno with a staggered tire setup might very well damage the car’s differential. So, Kellerman took the DQ. Bidwill and Kellerman had struck up a friendship during the 2022 NASA Championships, and Bidwill said he would have been fine with second place.
Bidwill himself took a DQ the day before because he was a little bit over on horsepower, but his ECU was locked and unavailable to tech personnel. But Bidwill’s time was better than Kellerman’s and Bidwill took home the TT1 championship.
“I was impounded and then we realized that I was a few pounds or a few horsepower over, and I had a pretty good team with me from Competition Motorsports and I had my coach, Andy Lee with me. They did a great job,” Bidwill said. “While I was dealing with paperwork, they had the car set up and ready to go each and every time I got behind the wheel. I can’t thank those guys enough for helping me with the win. I was totally dialed in on that car all week.”
Coming in second place was Joe Kellerman, who finished 1.005 seconds behind Bidwill in his C5 Z06 Corvette.
Driving for Team All Gas No Brakes, Matt Wilson came in third place in TT1, logging a 1:34.399-second lap time, some five seconds ahead of fourth place.
“I loved getting to know him (Kellerman). He’s from the Great Lakes Region,” said Bidwill who was sponsored by Ben’s Soft Pretzels. “A super guy, you know, very friendly, and I would’ve been delighted to see him win TT1. It just so happened I was a little bit quicker.”
Time Trial 2
To say TT2 driver Jake Latham had a great weekend at the 2022 NASA Championships would qualify as an understatement. Latham earned pole on Friday the Super Touring 2 for the qualifying race Saturday, won that, and went on to win the ST2 championship.
But he wasn’t finished. Latham also took the TT2 championship in the third of five rounds, making his weekend a hat trick plus one. Latham’s lap was a 1:32.197. It’s worth noting that all of the top four drivers in TT2 scored their best time in Round 3.
“I’m not really sure exactly what to say. It was kind of weird in terms of the conditions and the weather because of all that rain on Sunday morning, so it was really kind of a nail biter for all of us,” Latham said. “Like, are we going to go out and try to set our best Saturday afternoon? Are we going to do it Sunday morning? Are we going to have a track, you know, for the last session midday Sunday?”
Right on his tail was 2021 TT2 champion Alessandro Sensoli, who drove his more-powerful-but-heavier Ford Mustang to second place, notching a 1:32.862, also in round three.
Frank Pacheco finished in third place in TT2 with a 1:34.594.
“It really came down to the forecast on Sunday looking terrible. Usually Sunday morning’s kind of the golden session,” Latham said. “And so finally I was just like, ‘You know what, this might be our last chance to do it, and I don’t want to lose it sitting in the pit. So if I’m going to win or lose, I’m going to do it out on track.’ So we decided to put a set of stickers on and went and saddled up. And that turned out to be the one.”
Time Trial 3
In his first trip to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Austin Kent did pretty well for himself, nabbing the TT3 championship over second-place finisher Matt McIntyre, who won everything racing in ST3, despite a DQ on Friday for a splitter that was out of spec. As fast as McIntyre had been all weekend, Kent beat him by nearly a full second.
“The whole thing, the whole experience just being there was surreal, and I registered really late, so I wasn’t planning on going until relatively last minute. A buddy of mine, Michael Shumway, who owns Riot, who’s a sponsor of mine, was racing in TT1, and he talked me into it,” said Kent who posted a 1:35.555-second lap time. “I couldn’t get into the practice sessions on Thursday because they were sold out. So I was going to have to go out and have my first ever session at Laguna Seca be based on qualifying session one, on Saturday or on Friday morning. So that was a bit nerve-wracking going into it.”
Due to other drivers dropping out, Kent found his way into Thursday practice and got the seat time he needed to be comfortable. Kent lost a tire to a puncture Thursday and bent a camber arm on Friday, and he didn’t have a spare.
“I just went around and walked around the paddock, looking for help. And the TC Designs guy, Tony Colicchio, he had a spare he let me buy from him, and that basically enabled us to keep going through the weekend,” Kent said. “Tony actually took some time to sit with me and, and look over some data and, and coach me like he was coaching one of his paid clients and, you know, for somebody like him to take the time out of a busy weekend to sit with some random dude from another state was pretty incredible.”
Finishing in second was Matt McIntyre with a 1:36.518.
Third place went to James Shepard in the Moneyshift Racing Honda S2000 with a 1:37.374.
Time Trial 4
Driven by Andre Eisenbach, Team Edge Motorworks ‘ntagen just missed the ST4 championship, so Eisenbach was looking for more from his TT4 efforts.
Eisenbach took the ST4 and TT4 championships at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2019. He has since moved to the East Coast, sold that E36 and begun building an E46, but it wasn’t ready, so he rented the No. 38 car from Edge Motorworks for a race at Sonoma, but crashed when a suspension link broke. Edge Motorworks put the car back together and Eisenbach was able to drive it at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to a 1:36.537 for the TT4 win.
“The third session was Saturday morning, and that was kind of the do-or-die session. And we got a really, really good time knocked out there. I did a 1:35, probably best time. I said at the time it was for sure the best lap I’ve ever driven,” Eisenbach said. “Everything came together. The car felt wonderful. Just everything went super well. And then, so by the late afternoon, given that we were expecting rain on Sunday, I was pretty sure that I had won TT4.”
That was until his time was nullified by a splitter that was deemed illegal by a fraction of an inch. The Edge Motorworks team fixed the problem, and Eisenbach went back out on a warmer, dustier track, older tires and traffic and notched a 1:36.537 to take the TT4 win.
“I have apparently done a feat that only very few people in the world have done. I have broken the Brett Becker curse,” Eisenbach said, referring to him being picked as a favorite in Speed News’ annual “Drivers to Watch” feature each summer. “Apparently, people have warned me about it, and I thought about not even attending, you know, against such odds, but, you know, I did it in the end.”
Justin Sprugasci was just a few thousandths behind in second place with a 1:37.171.
John Friesen took third with a 1:38.255.
Time Trial 5
TT5 was hugely competitive this year, with the top three finishing within one second of one another. Tommy Lo notched his fastest time in the first session on track. Justin Ross needed another session to log his fastest time in Round 2.
Dictated by changing weather conditions, the TT weekend got cut a bit short because of a damp track Sunday morning and rainfall midday. Some drivers were able to better their lap times on Sunday, but most podium finishers got the job done Saturday morning, including Ross, who tripped the stopwatch at 1:38.931 after breaking a sway bar link in the first session.
“We knew coming into nationals it was going to be really tight between Tommy and me,” Ross said. “It shows you how good the TT5 formatting is at the moment that a Honda S2000 and an E46 BMW can be within hundredths of each other.”
Lo’s top time was a 1:39.041, just .110 seconds behind Ross. It was that close.
Driving another E46 BMW, Tim Roberts nailed his fastest time in Round 2 with a 1:39.718.
“After that, there was really no more lap time out there. Session three was in the sunny hot part of the day. Session four was raining and session five was a conflict with our ST races. We only had those two sessions to try to put a lap down,” Ross said. “It was definitely difficult. Tommy’s car just has so much grip built into it, and we are kind of balancing the power and the grip a little bit more. So there are upsides and downsides to both.”
Time Trial 6
At this year’s NASA Championships, TT6 had four competitors driving two Mazda Miatas, one E30 BMW and one Saturn, and they all knew the weather was going to be dodgy all weekend.
Driving a Spec E30 BMW, Michael Omelko knew he had to put down his best laps as early as possible to beat the weather that was coming. He ran a high 1:49 in Round 1, but thought there was a little more in himself and in the car, so went back out in Round 2 and ran a 1:49.112. That was good enough for the TT6 win, which was fortunate because Omelko was not able to drive in Round 3 due to damage sustained to his car in the Spec E30 race that afternoon.
“I looked at the weather forecast and it very much looked like Saturday’s going to be the day where we were going to decide who’s going to podium, right? And so for me, it was important to have good lap nailed down on Saturday already,” Omelko said. “When you look at the times, Roman Vaisman, I think he did a 50.3, which was only 1.2 seconds slower than my fastest time. And I know him from the past five years and he is a super-fast driver, especially on one lap.”
Vaisman, who had been at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca working all week setting up equipment and directing IT and production for the livestream, only had one session on track and nailed down second place with a 1:50.302.
Coming third was Xavier Calderon, who borrowed a Spec Miata from NASA NorCal’s Tony Senese. Calderon’s lap was a 1:50.765, just .463 seconds behind Vaisman.
Time Trial Unlimited
The first thing Jonathan Finstrom wanted to do was thank his sponsors Roger Krause Racing, The Protector, Waferz, Butter Boys, Hanshaw Motors and Hoffer Performance for all their help in getting him to the NASA Championships.
A former professional hockey player in the minor leagues with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Florida Panthers organizations, Finstrom is familiar with competition and he had plenty of it in 2019 TTU champion James Paul, whose Élan RSR has a horsepower advantage over Finstrom’s Staudacher S12 prototype. Finstrom said he didn’t get a clean lap because his Avon tires don’t come in till lap four or five. By then, he had caught slower traffic, so his fast lap was done in traffic, ahead of Paul, who was later DQ’d.
“He was running good. His car has a little more power than mine, but mine is a little better in braking and cornering, so it’s kind of a yin-yang thing, but yeah, he was definitely close,” said Finstrom, who ran the fastest lap of any car all weekend at 1:22.225. “So I just tried to focus, put down a good lap when I had my opportunity, and I was able to achieve that. Johnny O’Connell is my driving coach and I had a good team behind me, V2, Motorsports, to get the car prepped.”
Craig Coker came in second in TTU in his Tesla Model S Plaid edition, a car that weighs more than 4,700 pounds. Coker lapped WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca at 1:29.599.
Coming in third was Steve Louden in his 7-UP-liveried SEBECO NP01-EVO. He turned 1:42.089 to take third place in TTU.
Time Trial EV
NASA NorCal driver Matt Cresci had big plans for the weekend, but it seems the only one that came together was taking the TTEV championship in the Rattlesnake Electric Sports Tesla Model 3, with a lap time of 1:39.879 on Sunday morning after a DQ for missing a meeting on Saturday.
Cresci also was competing in TTU in an electric-powered Radical that the team finally got put together just days before the event. They were chasing software problems all weekend, so their goal of setting the EV track record for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca didn’t come to fruition.
Cresci also was racing in Spec Miata. Because he didn’t qualify well, he finished 18th.
“I was on triple duty that weekend. I just couldn’t make a meeting and I sent a proxy, which I wasn’t supposed to do, but that got me DQ’d from all of Saturday,” said Cresci who will attempt the EV record in the Radical sometime in the near future. “So, the winning time was actually the morning session from Sunday when it was damp. So we were very fortunate to actually get the win in damp conditions.
“It’s a common misconception that electric vehicles are easier to drive due to the fact that they don’t have any gears or transmission to deal with,” Cresci said. “It’s offset by the fact that there’s no noise. So you’re missing an entire reference point of how fast you’re going based on RPM and gear for each corner. So you have to do it almost entirely based on visual reference points and visual senses more so than this little audio sense that helps you understand how fast you’re going. So it’s a big challenge, especially in TT where you only get one or two laps and all you’ve got is your eyeballs to figure out your reference points and hit your marks.”
Jordan Priestly came in second in TTEV, also driving a Tesla Model 3. Priestly posted a 1:40.419-second lap time.