The Western Endurance Racing Championship series regularly visits Buttonwillow Raceway, Thunderhill Raceway and even the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah, but it hasn’t held an event at Willow Springs International Raceway in nearly a decade. Willow Springs is difficult enough during the daytime, but at night? Only the bravest need apply.
Five of Willow Springs’ nine turns are some of the fastest in the country and Rosamond, Calif., is so far from civilization that when the sun dips behind the ridge to the west, it gets dark. Really dark.
Still, 17 teams signed up for the kickoff event, a three-hour race on Friday evening. To make things even more interesting, El Niño brought in showers for Friday afternoon practice and dumped more rain during the race.
At the start, the track was mostly wet, but drying. Tire choice was tough. Teams that had phone-based radar apps knew the rain was coming, but not whether it would last throughout the race.
When the green flag dropped, Team Prototype Development leaped out to an early lead. The team had opted for rain tires and was practicing tire management until the rain came.
“We figured we could make the tires last 30 minutes in the dry, so I was running rain tires from the start, praying for the rain to come in, and the rain finally came in just as I was getting passed by Troy (Lindstrom),” said Prototype Development driver Carl Rydquist. “Literally two turns later the rain came and I passed him back. He was on the slicks and we were on rains and we got a lap on everybody.”
By the end of the first hour, Team Coldcock Whiskey (Lindstrom) had recaptured the lead by making up three laps. Coldcock scored the fastest lap in the race at 1:30.547 in the process. That’s flying on a dark, wet track. By the time the two-hour mark came around, Team Prototype Development’s two chief competitors, Coldcock and TruSpeed had dropped out of the race.
“Then we were up front, and we could run our own race until we had to come in and change to the slicks,” said Rydquist, adding that the rain tires were corded. “We were hoping for rain to come back in again, but we started to realized it’s not happening. We’re going to have to make a change. We’re going to have to change to the slick tires.”
When the checkers few, Team Prototype Development emerged with the win in ES and overall.
No stranger to WERC racing, El Diablo Motorsports and Road Shagger Racing do battle often in the E0 class and the March race was no exception. At the end of the first hour, Road Shagger was three laps down to El Diablo. Their lap times were comparable, so making up ground wasn’t going to be easy.
By the end of the second hour of racing, Road Shagger had recaptured the top spot, which it would hold till the end. El Diablo finished second followed by Team BMW Z4.
“This was Gavin Ernstone’s and my first race here, so we spent the day learning the track. It’s a fast track. It’s difficult, not a lot of reference points,” said driver John Morley. “We were on wet tires up until five minutes before the start and made the move to slicks and it turned out to be right. He had to drive through some rain, but in the long run it was the right call.”
Team GTI Racing was turning lap times at Willow Springs that would have had it in the running in E0, so it stands to reason that the team had the lead at the green flag and at the one- and two-hour marks. Posting lap times consistently in the 1:33’s, GTI Racing when on to take the win in E1.
Team BuzzBomb Racing’s Porsche 944 is a familiar car at WERC races. Team principal Charlie Buzzetti took the first stint and hammered the car through the initial dry stint, then through the downpour, handing the car over to his co-driver for the second stint. Posting consistent lap times below 1:40, Team BuzzBomb Racing was behind Team Mazdaspeed at the one-hour mark. By the second hour, Buzzbomb had fought back and was leading Team Mazdaspeed, which was on the same lap. By the time the checkers flew, BuzzBomb had a two-lap lead on Mazdaspeed.
“We didn’t have any testing on the car, but apparently we didn’t need it,” Buzzetti said afterward. “The early rain was really fun. You had to stay way off line. I had one spin in Turn 3 but I gathered it back up and didn’t lose a spot. The only thing I had was a set of shaved RA1’s, so we ran those the whole race and it ran well. The car was not quite lap-record pace, but pretty close.”
Seeing a Saturn on a racetrack is somewhat of a rarity, but not in the SoCal region. Team Sampson Racing’s Roman Vaisman has been campaigning his SC2 for a few years now and he’s even recruited friends Ryan Althoff and Molly McCarthy to build another SC2, which also was racing at Willow Springs that night.
Deeper on experience, Vaisman started with the lead and kept it all race long. His tire strategy was similar to that of BuzzBomb Racing.
“The car had a new suspension we didn’t test yet,” said Vaisman, who drove the whole three hours. “We had a used set of RA1 rain tires and ran them the whole race, and they worked great. In the beginning when it was raining they were working great, and when it dried out and the tires got worn a little bit, it was handling awesome. The suspension was set up midrange so it wasn’t stiff, wasn’t soft.”