Running a new qualifying format for the National Auto Sport Association Championships presented by Toyo Tires, racers were dodging rain drops Friday at Circuit of The Americas to secure pole position for Saturday’s qualifying races.
Nearly 450 racers were checking forecasts as rain threatened, but didn’t materialize during the early qualifying sessions. By midafternoon, the rains came and most racers couldn’t match their lap times from earlier in the day.
Under the new format, the best time from any of the qualifying sessions on Friday determined grid position for Saturday’s qualifying race. A driver’s finishing position in the qualifying race sets the grid position for the main Championship race on Sunday.
Spec Miata is the largest class competing at the NASA Championships, featuring more than 80 cars representing every NASA region in the U.S. More than $100,000 is up for grabs in the Spec Miata class, with the winning driver taking home a $70,000 prize check.
The top qualifiers from Friday sessions were:
Daniel Williams owes a thanks to Christopher Haldeman in finishing as the top qualifier in Spec Miata on Friday. Haldeman sold Williams his old racecar that Williams is running this weekend on the 3.4-mile course. Williams and Haldeman, running in separate groups, finished within a hair of each other. Williams ran a fast lap of 2:42.310 while Haldeman’s top lap time was 2:42.527.
“This is Chris Haldeman’s car from last year,” Williams said. “I asked him to prepare it for me and make it fast. It looks like he did.”
Whether the road course was wet or dry, it didn’t matter for Jeremy Croiset, who led both qualifying sessions. His best mark came on lap two with a 2:26.919 mark.
“We knew traffic management was going to be key to getting a good lap in qualifying,” Croiset said. “Traffic was key to getting a good lap and we missed out on that first lap, so I kept digging and digging, and found a couple decent laps.”
It’s been almost five years since AJ Hartman raced at the Circuit of The Americas, but you wouldn’t know it from his top qualifying finish in American Iron. Hartman put up a top lap of 2:29.495, a touch better than second-fastest qualifier Michael Patterson, who races in the Texas region and knows the Austin track well.
“I did an event here five years ago racing a BMW,” said Hartman when asked if he was familiar with the road course. “It was like riding a bike. It did kind of come back to me, granted it was a different car.”
American Iron Extreme
American Iron Extreme is NASA’s no-holds-barred approach to racing Detroit Iron. You can usually depend on seeing something from Ford or Chevrolet on the top step. Today, it was an AMC Javelin that took the AIX top time, with former Spec Miata and MX-5 Cup racer Matt Cresci behind the wheel. 2017 AIX Champion Robert Shaw was not far behind.
“The qualifying format definitely helped us, because this is the car’s first time on track, so any track time we can get is better, and that second qualifying session helped us learn what we should and shouldn’t do for the race coming up tomorrow,” Cresci said. “Robert is getting faster, and we have some work to do to get faster, so I think it’s going to be a race.”
Bryan Curtis knew he had a good car coming into the NASA Championships presented by Toyo Tires, having won all but three races he’s entered the Camaro this season. Curtis’ best lap was lap two where he posted 2:35.810, just 1 second better than Kevin Jander. However, after tech inspections ensued, it turned out that Jander had won the qualifying session.
Phil Hanson did score the fastest lap time during qualifying but a post-session DQ gave the top time to Marcelo Vine, a 944 Spec racer who’s come close to a championship before. This might be just the kind of boost Vine needs to propel him toward a win in the qualifying race.
Aristotle Balogh took advantage of the new qualifying format and posted the fastest time in Spec E46, a class with some genuinely talented drivers, including past champion Mark Drennan. Balogh certainly showed championship speed, but he’ll have to battle Drennan on Saturday, whose fast lap was just .100 seconds slower.
“I think NASA listened to the racers and came up with a really good approach to take a little bit of the stress off, in terms of three races. I really like it,” Balogh said. “We get two shots, so if you get stuck in traffic in one, you still have another, so I think it’s really good for all the racers.”
German Touring Series 2
A close race is shaping up between Zach Hillmann and Greg Smith, with both posting speeds within a half-second of each other. In this session, Hillmann got the better of Smith, picking off his best lap on the third trip around the track. Hillmann recorded a 2:31.364 lap time with Smith’s best time of 2:31.880.
German Touring Series 3
Keeping an eye on the sky, Roberto Crescencio knew had to get his qualifying laps in before the rain hit. But it turned out rain wasn’t his problem but slower traffic on the racecourse. Crescenscio laid down his best lap of the day on Lap 4 with a 2:28.596 time, slightly faster than Dick Hunter’s 2:28.661 mark.
“The one quick lap I got was the time I didn’t have somebody blocking me,” Crescencio said. “I don’t think they communicated clear enough that the warmup times would set up for qual one, so I didn’t push on the first one.”
German Touring Series 4
Double-dipping is the term racers use to describe the practice of racing in two classes. Michael McAleenan earned the top spot for Saturday’s qualifying race in ST2, then went out and posted the top qualifying time in GTS4. That makes two pole positions for Saturday’s qualifying races.
“I think the new format puts a lot more emphasis on the qualifying laps this time,” McAleenan said. “I understand why it was done and seems to work OK.”
Super Touring 1
Mark Burt has won championships in Super Touring 3 in 2016 and 2017. Now that he has his new C5 Corvette dialed in, he’s moved up to Super Touring 1 where he posted the top qualifying time today. Not bad for a guy on his first trip to Circuit of The Americas.
“For me, it was a new track. I did all my research at home because this is my first time here,” Burt said. “I purchased the track on iRacing and just turned a bunch of laps on iRacing. It just brought everything together. I knew where the track went. I knew kind of where I needed to be and what I needed to do. I watched videos and then driving the track in iRacing helped pull everything together. You don’t get quite the elevation changes that are here, but it’s better than showing up blind.”
Super Touring 2
Michael McAleenan is no stranger to the NASA Championships and he already has a national championship to his name. McAleenan put in some clean laps and came away with the top qualifying time in Super Touring 2.
“Before when we ran qualifying races, qualifying got you out there, but the race finishes set you up on grid for the championship race. So you have one less chance to get a good time to get out front, but it’s worked out OK. Personally, I like more racing when we’re qualifying. I understand why it was done and seems to work OK.
Super Touring 3
Justin Bordonaro just finished rebuilding his car and adding some aerodynamic aids to help the car stick. Bordonaro is racing the only Mitsubishi Evo at the NASA Championships, but all that hard work paid off when Bordonaro took the top spot in ST3. Saturday’s qualifying race is going to be a shootout because 14-time Champion Dave Schotz is just a few thousands of a second behind him.
“The car is really hooked up,” Bordonaro said. “I also brought a pro driver with me to coach me, and the video downloads we’ve been doing helped me get this top spot.”
Super Touring 4
Andy Kwitowski had one shot to get the fastest lap speed in Super Touring 4 and he took it on the first lap. The lap was good enough to make Kwitowski the driver to beat going into Saturday’s qualifying race. His best lap was 2:29.724.
“I was definitely trying to get it done with the first (lap). I was a little concerned with the cars ahead of me even though they’re out of class, just getting a clean lap,” said Kwitowski, adding, “This feels good, but it’s just the first step.”
Super Touring 5
Scott Adams is likely one of the few racers that is hoping for rain before Sunday’s Championships. Even with a dry track, Adams was the fastest in his group with a best lap of 2:35.477.
“I would love for it to rain, pour please,” said Adams, who broke a piece on his front suspension during qualifying. “I’ll be doing a rain dance about 2, 3 o’clock on Sunday.”
Adams said the toughest part of qualifying was finding space on the track to open it up. A couple of drivers moved aside so Adams could get his fastest lap.
“You’ve got to back out and let a bunch of people by, find some space and go do your thing,” he said.
The rules in Super Unlimited are that, essentially, there are no rules. You bring the fastest car you can. As long as the appropriate safety gear is in place, the sky is the limit in terms of horsepower and technology. Jim Devenport brought a Honda-powered Norma chassis and drove it to pole position just ahead of 2017 SU Champion Brian Frisselle.
“He had it, but I took it away on the last lap,” Devenport said. “Brian Frisselle and that Davidson Racing Norma has got got about 150 more horsepower than we do, so he motored by me on the back straight like I was standing still, but we’re quite a bit faster in the corners and braking and stuff, so it’s going to be an interesting race tomorrow. I’m on pole, but he’s going to beat me to that first corner by a mile, so it’s going to come down to who can get through traffic.”
Honda Challenge 2
There was no stopping Brian Shanfeld and his Acura Integra in Friday’s first qualifying session. The Glen Burnie, Md., resident’s lap speed was 3 seconds faster than second-place qualifier Robert Paszkiewicz. Michaels ran the 3.4-mile course in 2:59.894 to best the 12-car field.
Honda Challenge 4
2017 H4 Champion Rob Krider came to Circuit of The Americas with a full crew intent on helping him get to the top step of the podium again in 2018. If his lap times are any indication, he’s on his way. Krider came to Austin last week and took the opportunity to get expert instruction with the Audi Driving Experience at COTA, and he bested his competition by just over one second.
“We have two qualifying sessions. They’re both equal in magnitude, meaning you can get a fast lap in the morning or afternoon session. It doesn’t make a difference,” Krider said. “Because we’re dry right now, we wanted to put it down early and get a lap in the books and if rains, then we probably won’t even go out.”
Tom Kaminski won it all in Spec Z at the 2016 Western States Championships, so he’s looking for the top spot once again. He got the top time on Friday, which puts him on pole for Saturday’s qualifying race, despite not having much time on track at COTA.
“My typical approach to qualifying is hammer down and not think about anything else but going fast. I put some decent tires on and just drove my best,” Kaminski said. “I think five out of seven of us haven’t been here before. So, this is our first experience with COTA. It’s an amazing facility, an amazing track, and we’re just glad to be here. “
Tim Barber owns the race shop TFB Performance, so when he attends a NASA Championships event, he’s usually supporting customers. This year he’s behind the wheel and making the most of it by setting the fastest lap in Spec E30. With one eye on the track and one on the weather, Barber knew he needed to lay down a fast lap before potential afternoon rains set in.
“I kind of thought this was going to be our best session today,” Barber said. “If it gets wet, it’s going to be, or if the sun comes out, which I don’t think is going to happen, it usually slows down, so hopefully that time stands, and we keep our nose clean in the qualifying race tomorrow.”
Performance Touring D
Jose Garcia is a fan of the new qualifying system NASA put in place for this year’s Championships. Turning his best lap speed of 2:44.943 — nearly 2 seconds than his fastest competitor — Garcia looks to be the driver to beat under the new format.
“This is a whole new ballgame this weekend and we approach it that it’s something you earn,” Garcia said, adding “I’m ready for the rain. It doesn’t bother me if it rains. I prefer it dry … but you can have a lot of fun with the rain, so I’m ready for the rain, too.”
Performance Touring E
Chris Kopitski has suffered mechanical failures at past NASA Championships events, but he capitalized on the new qualifying format by posting the fastest lap in the first qualifying session of the day Friday. That puts him on pole for the qualifying race on Saturday, with eight other PTE cars behind him.
“The track is pretty good right now,” Kopitski said. “I’ve only been here once, back in May. I ran a little bit faster back then, but the conditions were better. But I’m doing well so far. The car is sticking together. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.”
A great battle is shaping up in the nine-car class with less than a second separating the top six finishers. Mike Rea came out on top, putting up his best trip around the track in 2:33.021. Rounding out the top four in the group were Gary Tinker, John Spain and Jason Oehler.