The Western Endurance Racing Championship began its season at one of the darkest racetracks on its calendar, and most definitely the fastest: Willow Springs International Raceway. Good lighting is a must at night, as is precise driving. It’s a precarious place to knock the rust off after the offseason, but some 25 teams bought the ticket and took the ride.
Team PMG Awareness registered its Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in ESR, and it was posting lap times about a second faster than the Team Fast Toys Pescarolo 02 also racing in ESR.
Team PMG Awareness driver Tom Haacker, who drove the whole race, pitted once for fuel and tires and went on to win ESR, despite Team TSC’s Wolf GB08 posting faster lap times.
“Halfway through the second stint there was oil out in Turn 8 and a lot of cars went off out there, and I was one of them, and I kept seeing them come in behind me and I was hoping I didn’t get hit,” Haacker said. “I got out of there as quick as I could. The car felt OK, so I shook it off and went out and drove. The car was really good. It’s a new crew. They got it dialed in and all I had to do was drive.”
PMG stands for polymicrogyria, a brain development disorder. You can find more information at PMGAwareness.org. Team PMG Awareness finished second overall.
Team Fast Toys Club had its work cut out for them, largely because their engine was cutting out on them in qualifying. The GM LS3 engine’s drive-by-wire throttle on their Pescarolo 02 chassis was malfunctioning and they weren’t getting the horsepower they needed.
Come race time, they went out with what they had, including the same tires they qualified on, and it became clear about halfway into the race they weren’t going to last. However, the Team TSC Wolf GB08 chassis presented major competition, and they Fast Toys Club was vying for the overall win, too, so they stayed out on track. In the end, it worked for the class win, but not quite for overall. Team Fast Toys Club finished first in ESR and third overall on the same lap as first and second.
“When the faster car came around, they had fresh tires. There was nothing we could do. We had to stay out and babysit the tires,” said driver Gianfranco Casadei. “We did stop to drop the air pressure a little bit and to put more gas in. It as a quick pit stop. The car wouldn’t start, so we had to push the car to start it, and we lost a little more time, but we made up for it and we got first place and we’re very happy with that.”
Team Strom Motorsports switched to an Audi RS3 LMS from a BMW last season, and the team put the new car to good use in the first event of the 2019 season. The team started alongside another Audi RS3 LMS, the ES car of Team Desert Flight Racing, so they weren’t competing for the class win, but for overall it was game on.
Driver Brett Strom said the team had to change two tires in addition to adding fuel. He also ran into trouble in Turn 8 late in the race, when oil on the track caused a number of cars to spin off into the dirt, creating a massive dust cloud. Strom dusted himself off and went on to win E0 ahead of veteran Team El Diablo Motorsports in second and Team Valkyrie Autosport Toyo Tires Nissan GT-R
“The Audi, it’s a (FIA) TCR car, so it’s specific to the rules of an international series. It’s a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, front-wheel drive,” Strom said. “It fits that class internationally, but around here it has such good high-speed aero that you’re just flying through turns 2 and 8 and 9, so when we run that car flat out — we have it detuned for E0 — around here it will do like a 1:22, so it’s a pretty insane car.”
Team Strom Motorsports finished first overall.
Team Performance Plus Tires had been experimenting with setup on its car, trying to find the balance between efficiency, speed and tire wear. Given the team’s first-place finish in E1 and one fuel stop at Willow Springs, they had the speed and the efficiency.
The team had to change three tires, so they kind of missed on the tire wear criteria of their setup. Driver Karla Pestotnik got into the car for the second stint. The team changed the left front tire during that stop, but had to return to the pits to change the right front and left rear.
“When I got into the car, we had minimal grip, and I didn’t realize that the tires were corded, so I was doing what I could to keep the car on track without having a really bad lap time,” Pestotnik said. “We need more testing to nail it down right, so we probably won’t try that one again. So, it was a great race. We’re pretty happy to finish first at the first race of the season.”
Team Jackson Racing finished second, with Team Wake Ballast in third.
Last season, the E2 class was a little light on car counts. At the Willow Springs opener, it was one of the biggest classes in the whole field. Team TAPG Motorsports notched three wins in E1 in 2018, but switched to E2 for the opener, a class for which its Toyota 86 is probably better suited, anyway.
Driver DJ Quint said the race fell exactly to plan, with one flawlessly executed pit stop, and then an incident-free race. The team is comprised of engineers from Toyota’s Arizona Proving Ground, and they have been getting better and better over the last two seasons.
Team Technik/AGM finished second with 2018 E2 Champion Team HQ Autosport Racing in third.
In E3, two Miatas and one Saturn were vying for the highest step on the podium. Team Make Saturns Great Again had dropped out after eight laps, giving them third place. Team Abergel Motorsports amassed 54 laps to take second. Up front, Team DMC Velocity Racing notched 96 laps of racing to take the E3 win, but it didn’t come easily.
Turns out DMC Velocity had some issues with the car and had to stop four times, most of which were to add oil. Driver and team owner Robert Dietz said they burned eight quarts of oil in the three-hour race.
“We’d just wait till the oil pressure light would flicker, and then come in,” Dietz said. “It worked out. The car held together. It seems like second and third might have had a couple of problems that held them up, too. So, we all just fought some early season issues and kept it together.”
E3S ise NASA’s newest endurance racing class. It was designed to accommodate Spec Miatas, 944 Specs and Spec E30s so that they could race without having to make any changes to their cars to try to match the performance of an E3 car, which has a little more freedom under the rules.
Three cars took the green, and Team Interceptor Racing went on to take the win, followed by Team Big Papa Brings the Heat and Team Route 7 Motorsports. Team Interceptor driver and team owner Gavin Bristow said the first stint was solid, but their pit stop wasn’t as efficient as they would have liked.
“There were a few issues in the pit stop. We lost a little bit of time. Just trying to find the pit box … we didn’t have enough lights,” he said with a laugh. “Then my stint was a pretty solid run, despite a few accidents over in turns 8 and 9, people flying off. That got a bit gnarly quite a few times through there, but other than that it was a fairly solid run.”