Masters National at Sebring
Tuesday, February 21, 2006 The opening rounds of the 2006 Skip Barber Masters National – the sixth year of a pro rules championship for drivers over 40 – were part of the Southern/Western combined race weekend on Sebring’s 12-hour course. Defending champion-champion-champion Chris Willcox was here, as were 17 other Masters hankering to take the crown from him…
Oh, the cagey one, Mr. Willcox, toodled around, throwing :28s up on the board for eight laps, burning fuel off, getting the tires just right… In the meantime, John Mayes put up a 2:28.401 flyer on his fourth lap, but the rest of his laps were a dog’s breakfast of :29s and :30s. Michael Auriemma was consistent, putting in two :28s among a host of :29s. Willcox then ambushed everyone with the only :27 in the session, a 2:27.950, on his last lap, for the pole.
Did the other drivers get the hint? In this session, seven of the 10 fastest qualifiers put up their flyers on their last or next-to-last lap. But Willcox was on fire and paid them no never-mind, reeling off :27s in his sleep from his fifth lap onward. It was on his eighth of 11 qualifying laps that he did a 2:27.197, almost a second up on P2 Quentin Wahl.
In this eight-lapper, at the green Willcox took the lead from his pole starting spot. Wahl went from fifth to third on lap one, dispatched Auriemma on lap two for second place and then chased after Willcox. But by lap five Willcox began to pull away, eventually stretching his winning lead over The Wahl to five seconds at the checker. Dick Lippert did a lot of his finest work on lap two, going from eighth to fourth. Two laps from the end, P3 Auriemma went four-off in the Hairpin and later that lap Lippert took advantage to snatch the last podium spot. Jimmy Locke had taken over fifth place from Mike Edwards on lap three and pounded his way home, putting up his fastest lap in the process. David Casey had a bit of a roller coaster ride, going from 10th on the grid to eighth by lap two, back down to 10th by lap four, then working his up to seventh at the checker. Jeff Kaiser’s roller coaster had more downs than ups; from fourth on the grid he pedaled back to eighth at halfway, took seventh from John Peterson (hauling Dom Bastien along with him) a lap later, but then dropped back two spots a lap after that, then another spot a lap after that… then salvaged a result by getting back to eighth at the end, Peterson four seconds in arrears (he and Bastien had some wheel-to-wheel contact on the last lap exiting T10). And what of second-starting Mayes? He got bounced in the Hairpin by Edwards; Mayes ended up facing counter-race and had to wait for the parade to pass before he could re-join. So he went from fourth to 16th. To his credit, he clawed back to 10th at the flag…
Just so you know; Edwards missed qualifying and started this race DFL… Willcox again beat The Wahl, but the MoV was smaller (3.4 seconds) than race 1, and Wahl had to chase after and then get around a rock-solid Mayes on the last lap to get that P2. Locke was rockin’ in his own way. He had qualified a dismal 10th, but he went past four cars on the first go-round, got Auriemma for fifth on lap two, then snuck under Peterson going into Turn Three and brought her home for a fine fourth. Kaiser was on a roll, too: Ninth to seventh to sixth to fifth in the eight laps. Peterson couldn’t have been terribly happy with his sixth (after starting on the second row), and Lippert went up and down like a yo-yo to take eighth. Auriemma did not take advantage of his row three grid position, winding up ninth, but Ted Ballou was probably smiling, as he improved two spots from his qualifying position (12th) and in the process, knocked a full second off his best time from Saturday’s race.. What’s that you say? I forgot to mention seventh place? Yeh, that went to Edwards (see first sentence). The experienced Pop of Red Bull’s almost-15-year-old phenom John, Edwards went from 18th to 11th on lap one, got lucky on lap four when he dive-bombed David Harris – and Harris saw him and let him go, taking over ninth – then went by two more guys on lap seven, to finish seventh in a stellar effort. What if Mike had started racing at age 8 like his boy? Hmmmm…
The normally sartorially splendorous John Mayes (r.) suffers an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. Willcox (c.), looking very Timberlake-ish, denies any responsibility. Wahl (l.), meanwhile, refuses to be drawn into any controversy whatsoever.
So Chris Willcox puts his foot down again, leading flag-to-flag-to-flag-to-flag. But last year, Quentin Wahl missed the entire season (save his dominant appearance at Road America, taking pole twice and winning twice), and Jimmy Locke, Dick Lippert and John Mayes have raised their game – not to mention a new front-running player, Michael Auriemma. If Jeff Kaiser can do the whole year, he’ll keep Willcox on his toes, too.
Heading to rounds three and four at Las Vegas – where none of these boys have raced (in the track’s current configuration) – Willcox leads Wahl 42 to 32. The next six competitors are within four points of each other. Let’s see what happens in Vegas…
The rumour on the street is that Todd (l.) is only four years away from being eligible to enter the Masters National. You know, Todd could cheat like Auriemma (r.), who at 29 has already snuck into the championship early. Wonder what Willcox would think of that?