The NASA Norcal Spec e30 racers slid into a seasonably warm and toasty Willows, California to contest Round 5 of the Championship August 3rd and 4th. With temperatures forecast well over 100F and Spec e30 running the legendary track in the reverse direction for the first time in years, the event promised for thrills, chills, and some unexpected results.
In practice Friday a number of cars already suffering from the heat with Nick Theimann's car breaking a rocker, Round 4 winner Scott Clough's car's transmission mysteriously seizing up, and other various brake issues. Teams worked through the evening, and the entire field of 15 cars made qualifying Saturday morning.
Bennett McMicking set the early time to beat with a speedy 2:08.8 on his first timed lap, and Nick Theimann came back next lap dropping a 2:08.5, but perennial pole sitter JP Cadoux dropped a 2:08.1 on his third lap which looked to be the fastest any e30 would set the entire weekend. Behind the fast 3, Andy Chittum, Forest Cook, and Scott Clough, and Rina Balogh took up postion, with just around 2 seconds covering the top 8.
Race 1 took off with an incredibly long hold on the green flag, but the field tore away toward turn 15 after it finally fell. The front of the field funneled in to the T15-14 complex in order with Cadoux, McMicking and Theimann. Chittum, and Forrest Cook came out side by side on the exit of 15, with Chittum edging ahead by T12. The front then consolidated into a train of 4 cars with Cadoux unable to drop the group, but nobody able to pass.
|Crazy. But that's how it goes.|
At the back, the excitement started early with Team Unibrow CEO and driver James Gouvia getting a great standing start, while ahead of him Rina Balogh missed a shift. With the slightest of scrapes, he made it by on the inside between the wall, and joined teammate John Lothrop's car side by side into the 15-14 complex. Balogh quickly caught up, and the three battled the next lap.
"We had a good battle going for a little while, then she got our number, took off, and we never saw her again." Said Lothrop after the race.
Lothrop and Gouvia continued the battle with multiple passes and re-passes until finally Gouvia pulled ahead just at the checkered flag.
Back at the front, the train continued. McMicking had managed to put his nose around Cadoux early on in the race, but had settled into second. After the halfway point, Chittum started attacking Theimann as well, overlapping in several places. But the turning point of the race came about 8 laps in when coming down super fast 9 - 8 - 7 back straight Theimann made a move up the inside of McMicking. In video review Theimann called the move 'somewhat overly optimistic' - braking from over 110 mph into the tight T6, he put two wheels on the dirt, then caught air off the edge of the inside berm, then nosed into McMicking's rear quarter panel.
This resulted in McMicking spun on the inside of T6, Thiemann crossed up sliding to the outside and Chittum neatly driving through the hole to take over 2nd place. McMicking and Thiemann were both able to continue, but mixed into the rest of the field.
Post-race, two cars were found to be over power on the dyno including Cadoux, which handed the win to Chittum, 2nd to Forest Cook, and 3rd to Uwe Druckenmuller.
|Cook challenged at the start.|
Race 2 of the weekend started with Chittum and Cook on the front row, followed by Rina Balough and Uwe Druckenmuller. The start proved to be exciting with Cadoux, McMicking, Thiemann, Scott Clough and Ari Balogh all at the back determined to charge though the field and make Chittum earn his pole position start. This time the standing start went relatively uneventfully, aside from Lothrop taking a high-speed weed-whacking tour on the outside of T14.
Chittum, Cook and Rina Balogh ended up 1 - 2 - 3 for the first few laps while the back and midfield sorted itself out. Slowly, Chittum pulled ahead while Cook fell back with braking issues. JP Cadoux moved up quickly, but touched Rina Balogh on the outside of T9 - both ended up spinning off the outside of the turn and falling back down the field.
Bennett McMicking and Ari Balogh proved to be the most deft at making their way through the field cleanly, and made it up to 2nd and 3rd with Theimann, Clough and Druckenmuller close behind. Chittum managed to keep ahead of the fray and pull in his second win of the weekend.
Race 3 saw the highest temperatures of the weekend, with ambient just over 101, and the track temperature suitable for most forms of cooking.
The group blasted off for the final time of the weekend, and while Ari Balogh was able to get by Bennett McMicking, most of the rest of the field ended up about where they'd started. The one real challenge was JP Cadoux starting from mid-field again, still with the fastest lap times at his command - could he get around the cars around him and chase Chittum down for the win?
|Chittum's challenge was steady and fast, while keeping tires alive.|
The lap chart shows the top 10 positions covered by just 1.3 seconds of lap time, with JP putting down a few laps a half-second faster than Chittum. With about 4 laps to go, JP cleared the rest of the field, and started to bridge the 4 second gap Chittum had built. On the fast west side of the track, JP had a few ounces of secret sauce to spend and made up time, but across the technical eastern section, Chittum seemed to have saved some tires to hold off the charge.
At the flag, Chittum held on by 2.240 seconds to take his 3rd victory of the weekend.
The exciting 2019 season will conclude October 26-27 at the legendary Sonoma Raceway, where we'll be once again hoping for a little rain to cool down the warm summer.
See you there!