The Western Endurance Racing Championship series kicked off the 2018 season with a 28-car field that went flag to flag with no caution periods at a dark and speedy Willow Springs International Raceway. To set the grid, drivers drew numbers from a hat, which meant some of fast cars started from the rear.
One of those cars was Team PMG Awareness. The changes the team made to the car throughout the day made the difference, and driver Tom Haacker clawed his way from the back to take the lead and the ES and overall win.
“This year I did not have a co-driver, so I drove the whole three hours,” Haacker said. “We worked on the car this morning during the test sessions. The boys figured a few things out and got it dialed in, and got it set up to be able handle what we were doing today, so I applaud the crew for that.”
Team Rangers was the lone ESR entry in an NP01. The team completed 61 laps, but took the ESR win.
Even if you pay only marginal attention to the WERC series, you know of El Diablo Motorsports. The team has been on podium after podium after podium, including the season-capping 25 Hours of Thunderhill. This team has things wired. As darkness settled in at Willow Springs, the team had the driver’s side lights aimed properly. The right side, not so much, which is critical because all of Willow Springs’ fastest turns are rights. In the end, it didn’t matter. El Diablo finished ahead of Team Das Boot Motorsports and took third overall.
“I was here practicing today, and my co-driver’s so good he just jumped in and started the race. He didn’t even practice today,” said driver Scott Smith. “We got lucky. We got passed by Das Boot toward the end of the race. I was trying to reel them back in. Luckily, they pitted, but they came out behind me, and they were starting to kind of catch up to me, so we lucked out that the race ended when it did.”
The key to racing at Willow Springs in the dark, according to Team TAPG Motorsports driver D.J. Quint, is to get plenty of laps in during the day. Then, when it gets dark, you’ve become familiar with the rhythm of the track.
Team TAPG’s opening driver led the whole stint, but the second driver had to push a bit. Toward the end, the team had established a gap that they had to maintain over second-place finisher Team MooreWood Racing.
“At the end, we had a 50-second cushion and just kind of maintained that all the way to the end. It was low drama, which is not the usual for us,” Quint said. “When the sun goes down, you know what’s out there. You’ve just got to build up to it and get yourself comfortable again. If you don’t get acclimated, it’s hard.”
Team HPDRC races a 2015 Honda Civic as part of a club headquartered at the Honda Performance Development headquarters in Valencia, Calif., about an hour away from Willow Springs. The team won the E2 championship in 2017, but still worked to improve the car over the offseason. The improvements appear to have paid off with a win, which is good because the E2 class looks to be a bit more crowded this season.
“We ran this car last year, but we made a few changes to it and this is really the first time we’ve had it out all year,” said driver James Nazarian. “I was actually impressed with how well it went. We were certainly more on the pace than I thought we were going to be.”
Team RacingRuinedMyLife.com had a light bar from an old LeMons effort gathering dust in its trailer, so they threw it on the car and went racing. Driver Neil Daly took the first stint, which required the adjustment from light to dark. He managed to keep his eyes up and looking far ahead, even when all there was to see was beyond the reach of the lights. He handed the car off to Greg Gomolka, who brought home the win, even if he didn’t know it at the time.
“It actually went pretty smooth,” Gomolka said. “The funny thing is I had limited radio communication with the pits and I didn’t realize I was in first place until I got out of the car.”