It was in the low eighties Saturday afternoon for some hot racing – temperature-wise as well as on-track action at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan. The SFR SCCA volunteer race marshals were kept busy waving many and various flags, chasing after/cleaning up cars/removing cars/towing cars, and chugging water in between. The sweepers were kept busy all day.
The first race of the day was Round 11 for the PWC TC-TCA-TCB cars, 44 in all – the largest field of the weekend. Half of the 20-lap, 40-minute race was punctuated with three cautions: two for a waved-off start, three for Aristotle Balogh/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing LLC BMW M2 TC when he to grief in Turn Four and DNF’d; and four for Perry Richardson/No.Tech Sports Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup TCA.
The race had three winners – overall and first in the well-subscribed TC class; first in TCA and first in TCB, which was a tight championship contention. It just so happened that all three were Mazdas on the track sponsored by their manufacturer for the past 16 years.
Left to Right: Patrick Gallagher, Eric Powell, and Henry Morse.
Winning overall and first in TC was Pole Sitter Patrick Gallagher of Thornville OH in No.54. Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 Cup. Gallagher was beaten to the lead at the start by Nick Wittmer/No.91 Honda Ste-Rose Racing Honda Accord V-6 Coupe, who started next to him on the front row. Gallagher took the lead from on the third lap and kept it to the checkered flag. He said he’d stretch his lead, bunch up for a caution, stretch his lead, repeat as necessary to the finish. Gallagher also set a new track record for the fastest TC race lap of 1:36.217, on Lap 9.
Winning TCA was Eric Powell of Orlando FL, who was probably enjoying our wonderful warm and dry weather while back home Hurricane Matthew was wreaking havoc. Powell started twenty-seventh and finished seventeenth overall, first in class, driving No.23 Tech Sport Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup. The lead swapped among three drivers: Elivan Goulart/No.70 S.A.C.Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup led the first lap after starting third in class; Daniel Williams/No.36 S.A.C Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup led the second lap, after starting second in class; and Powell led the rest. The TCA Pole Sitter, Paul Whiting/No.51 PWR & LDL Speed Shop Honda Civic Si never led a lap. Joey Bickers/No.49 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 Cup turned the fastest TCA race lap of 1:44.824 on Lap 18. He also was awarded the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining 14 positions in the race – starting 35th and finishing nineteenth.
Young Henry Morse of Redondo Beach Ca maintained his chances of winning the TCB Championship by winning that class from the pole in No.14 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2. He led the first lap, then was overtaken by P.J.Gronke/No.25 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic. Gronke led for the next 14 laps before being passed by Morse who led the last four laps. Ted Hough/No.68 Breathless Racing Mazda 2 turned the fastest TCB race lap of 1:53.521 on Lap 9. Morse is all of 16 years of age, and can only drive on the streets if he has an adult in the car who is 25 or older.
Michael Johnson/No.24 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic won the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for gaining seven positions at the start.
Left to right: Martin Barkey; Nate Stacey; and Brett Sandberg.
Touring Class Race Update: After the race results became official, there were changes. Morse was DSQ for technical infractions found in the car in the post-race inspection. He was relegated to a 44th place finishing position, and lost his chances for the TCB Championship. His Hale Motorsports teammate, Will Rodgers/No.65 Mazda 2 won the class; and the new second-place finisher, Tom O’Gorman/No.94 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit was the points leader.
Another penalty assessed was to Hough – a drive-through, which dropped him from fourth to seventh in TCB.
The GTS Round 18 race had fifteen starters and finishers. There were two leaders: Pole Sitter Scott Heckert of Ridgefield CT racing No.54 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4 for the first ten laps until he came to mechanical grief and retired by the side of the road; and then the winner, Martin Barkey of Canada in No.80 Mantella Autosport Inc KTM XBow GT4, who started second. He turned the fastest race lap and set a new record, at 1:31.962 on Lap 7 of the 33-lap race. “I didn’t know if we had a car to win it today at the start. But the race played into our hands. I thought (Scott) Heckert was going to check out at the start. I didn’t think we had something for him today. But there was a cloud of dust going into turn six and I broke earlier and Heckert went wide. That opened up the room for me to go by. Then it was just an opportunity to open up a gap in the lead. I’m relatively new in racing and I come for the battles on the track. And luckily, it wasn’t much of a battle after that. But I’m going to take it regardless and I’m thrilled with the victory.”
Finishing second was teenager Nate Stacey/No.14 Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302. Two years ago, at age 14, he was the youngest-ever PWC race winner, in TCB driving a Ford Fiesta. This finish unofficially clinched the Manufacturer’s Championship for Ford. The scrappy teen is currently third in the standings and makes no bones about wanting to go for second overall. He won the Sonoma round and doesn’t like running behind.
Finishing third was Brett Sandberg/No.13 ANSA Motorsports KTM XBow GT4, unofficially winning the GTS Championship.”“I don’t think it has really set in yet on winning the championship. I was focused on trying to run a clean and smart race today. It has not been easy at all. We have had hurdle after hurdle and issues that we didn’t expect. To be honest, I didn’t know where the points would fall today. So I didn’t try to force the issue during the race. I knew we needed a good finish.”
Left to right: Martin Barkey No.80 KTM; Kent Stacey/No.14 Ford; and Brett Sandberg/No.13 KTM. Photos courtesy Melissa Lepper/PWC.
It was the first-ever GTS win for the happy Canadian.
Mark Klemim/No.62 Klenin Performance Racing Maserati Gran Turisimo won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining five positions in the race, starting thirteenth and finishing eighth.
Tony Gaples/No.11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro won the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for gaining five positions at the start.
The KIA Turning Point was awarded to Parker Chase/No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 for his car’s wheel falling off and title points implication. The barely-sixteen year old fell from third in the points standings after the incident, allowing Stacey to pass him in the points.
There was nothing scripted or formulaic about Round Five of the PWC Sprint X Series. The format called for the Gentlemen drivers to start the race, pit during a ten-minute window for a driver change with the Pro Driver teammate, and race for the finish. Two sprint races in one. However, a lengthy Red Flag changed all that. The race ended up being extended to 5:15pm, past the 5 pm time limit imposed by Monterey County for sound control.
On Lap 16 two cars had an accident. George Kurtz/No.04 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4 spun center track and was unavoidably hit by Harry Gottsacker/No.29 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4. Both cars spilled parts and fluid and had to towed. There was a lengthy cleanup process. Meanwhile, back in Turn Five, Aristotle Balogh/No.5 Stephen Cameron Racing LLC Aston Martin Vantage GT4 stopped and was pushed behind the wall and safe, where he retired. Not a good weekend for Ari. All drivers were unhurt.
Kyle Marcelli/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi R8 LM GT3 took the checkered flag, a victory in his first-ever Sprint X race. He was called just two days ago by his teammate, Drew Regitz, who asked if he wanted to go racing this weekend. The opportunity for the pivotal pass for the lead came unexpectedly. It was a Hail Mary. Catching the leaders was one thing, but passing them was another. I had a lotta fun.” He admitted the Red Flag helped their strategy. They took one tire – right rear. Marcelli turned the fastest overall and GT-X race lap of 1:28.782 on Lap 24 of the 36-lap race. Regitz and Marcelli agreed they learned a lot Saturday for Sunday’s race, and would be changing their strategy.
There were three lead changes in the GT-X class, all smooth moves. Beautiful to watch. Cooper MacNeil/No.79 Alex Job Racing Porsche led until the Red Flag, and then co-driver, Gunnar Jeanette took over and continued the lead until Lap 26. Then Mike Skeen/No.80 Lone Star Racing Dodge viper GT3-R oozed on past and moved on down the road. His co-driver was Dan Knox. Skeen led eight laps before Marcelli saw his chance and took it, leading the last two laps.
The GTS winning duo also was a last minute plan, likened by Andrew Aquilante to a Cannonball run across country – referencing the late Brock Yates who passed away this week. Aquilante and Kurt Rezzetano drove No.37 Calvert Dynamics Ford Boss 302, after deciding nine days ago to do it.
Aquilante turned the fastest GTS-X race lap of 1:32.254 on Lap 21. They finished fourteenth overall, two laps down. They led twice: from their class pole position for the first 16 laps until the Red Flag, and then from lap 18 to the finish. In between the No.4 GMG Racing Porsche Clubsport GT4 led a lap with drivers James Sofranas and Matt Halliday.
David Askew and James Burke/No.11 DXDT Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo were the fastest team in the GT Cup-X class. They finished eleventh overall, on the lead lap, and and led every lap. There were three cars in that class, and all three finished where they started. Enrique Bernoldi/No.10 DXDT Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo turned the fastest racing lap of 1:27.906 on Lap 23. He and co-driver Jeff Burton finished second in class, twelfth overall.
Sunday’s Sprint X race will be gridded based on the fastest laps set by Saturday’s Pro drivers. It will be a rolling start.
Two Sunday races will have a standing start – the TC-TCA-TCB race and the GTS race.