Masters National: Leaving Las Vegas, It’s Willcox with Two Wins

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 The last time the Race Series had been to Las Vegas was 1999 and since then, the track had re-vamped its ‘‘outside’’ road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Rounds three and four of the Masters National proved the circuit to be not easily, um, mastered…

Race One
Surprise! Chris Willcox was not on pole. In fact, Willcox wasn’t in the first row. Or the second. You had to go aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way back to row three to find the driver who’d taken the pole and the win in the first two races at Sebring. Peter Ludwig, who hadn’t been able to make the openers, blitzed the field in qualifying; he was the only driver in the :56s, up more than a half-second on Dick Lippert. Quentin Wahl and Jeff Kaiser Roll made up row two, Willcox and John Peterson row three.

At the green for what was supposed to be a 15-lapper, Wahl got the jump on Lippert so it was Ludwig and Wahl side-by-side – Peter on the outside — into One, a quickish third gear righthander. With cold tires and hot blood, but no contact, they both pirouetted off into the stony bits! Thank you, said Mister Lippert, now your leader, while Kaiser (who had pug-nosed his R/T in the T1 contretemps) and cagey Willcox slotted into P2 and P3. Next time down into One, Willcox got inside Kaiser for second, but Kaiser fought him all the way through the turn. Kaiser’s compromised exit opened the door for a charging John Mayes (rocketing up from eighth) who ducked underneath Kaiser at the exit. But Kaiser was on it and flew up to Two, determined to take the position back. He got underneath Mayes and they went door handle to door handle through the corner. Just past the exit, they touched and Kaiser spun around. He rejoined last, and retired with damage the next lap…

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Poleman Peter Ludwig (37) is headed for the stones, but Quentin Wahl looks like he’ll be okay…

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John Mayes took over P2 five laps in, but when the race was red-flagged he lost the chance to chase Chris Willcox down.

Willcox, meanwhile, went hunting for Lippert and put him away on lap four. A lap later, Mayes also got past Lippert. Then the front remained essentially static – Willcox, Mayes, Lippert — but mid-pack we saw some fine tussles involving Dom Bastien, Jimmy Locke, Mike Edwards and the quickly recovering Wahl and Ludwig. By lap 10, Peterson had consolidated fourth, with Edwards, Wahl, Ludwig and Locke fifth-through-eighth. Ninth was Dom Bastien (who had been as high as fifth, early on). Tenth and 11th were Jim Lowe and Murray Marden, who early in the race had gotten into David Casey in Turn Six and turned him around. On lap 11, Marden went after Lowe in the Turn Nine hairpin… and it didn’t work. Rubber on rubber ensued and Lowe went airborne and flipped. He was fine, but the race was red-flagged. Scoring went back to the last green lap, so at least Lowe kept his 10th…

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Dick Lippert led early on and wound up a fine third.

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Chris Willcox – a cone-killer with a killer helmet paint job – did what he does best: Won twice, in a walk.

Race Two
In qualifying Ludwig again was the man. Again he was the only one in the :56s, and again Willcox was third row. Edwards qualified second, just nipping Mayes, Lippert two-tenths behind him. Peterson was alongside Willcox in the third row, with Wahl, Locke, Bastien and Dario Cioti rounding out the top 10.

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Ludwig had made a dog’s breakfast of race one, but recouped himself Sunday with a second place.

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John Peterson’s races were relatively quiet. Served him well, leaving Las Vegas with a fourth and a third.

At the start, Willcox was wicked-good and by the time the field got down to One, he was already on the inside, just behind polesitter Ludwig. Edwards was right alongside Ludwig as they turned in… but Edwards couldn’t hold it on the track and went four-off. Heading out of Two, Ludwig had three car lengths on Willcox, who had Mayes right on his gearbox. Wahl, Bastien and Locke were not far behind, either. Donald MacDonald made up a bunch of spots – he went from last to eighth on the first lap – just behind Lippert, who lost three spots on that first go ‘round. Kaiser had crunched his nose somewhere, then spun off in One on the second lap. Things got even hairier on lap three. First, leader Ludwig took it off the road in One. That handed the lead to Willcox (who would not relinquish it the rest of the way), and Ludwig re-joined second, but the dust and dirt and reactions to the spin put Mayes and Peterson next to each other as they blasted up to Turn Two. Wahl went late under Mayes, they touched and Wahl got airborne and rotated the back end of his car over the front end of Mayes. They both got under way, but the collision allowed Bastien into third and Locke into fourth. Fifth, sixth and seventh were Lippert, Peterson and Casey. (Wahl’s collision ‘‘put a lot of camber’’ into his left-front and eventually he had to retire.)

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The John Mayes ‘‘mono-hedral’’ wing set-up didn’t slow him down much. Falling back as far as eighth (laps three and four), ‘‘Maisy’’ climbed back to fourth at the end – and now he’s second in points.

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Dom Bastien had one of his better weekends in Vegas (well, we don’t know how he did at the tables), leaving with a ninth and a fifth

For the rest of lap three and for all of lap four, the order was Willcox, Ludwig, Bastien, Locke, Lippert, Peterson, Casey, Mayes, Wahl and Edwards. By this time, Willcox began to check out from Ludwig, who in turn was gapping third place. It was Peterson who was climbing the lap chart; behind Lippert, those two both went by Locke on lap five, and on the next lap, Peterson did the business to Lippert to take over fourth. It took Peterson a couple laps to hunt down Bastien, who had to give up P3 to Peterson on lap eight. Bastien held fourth all the way until the last lap, when he finally succumbed to Mayes’ advances. Lippert survived to sixth, with Edwards 15 seconds up the road from Casey and Kaiser. Marden was 10th. Lowe and Donny Mac were the last of the runners (Locke, who spun out of sixth place on lap nine, parked it with damage on lap 11).

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Race one podium, left to right: Mayes, Willcox, Lippert.

So Willcox showed yet again that even when he doesn’t start from the front row, he’s still extremely hard to stop. The double win gives him 82 points, 34 more than second place Mayes, who had left Sebring fifth in points. Falling from second to fourth was Wahl, while an even steeper fall was suffered by Locke: third to seventh. Lippert is your new P3 man. With all the shuffling in the standings, what’s happened is second-through-seventh is covered by just 14 points. And Locke, Ludwig, Kaiser, Bastien and Casey aren’t far behind them.

Click here for the media version of the Masters National points standings.

Next up is VIR (May 5-7), where the Masters National hasn’t been since 2002. That year, Willcox entered one of the two races – he won, and Peterson was third, Edwards sixth (plus a P2 on Sunday) – but it was one of VIR’s short courses. This year it’s the full course. Willcox is brilliant at winning these races, but he’s got a lot more competition this year. Look out, Turn one…

Click here to see all the Masters National photos from Vegas…

Rick Roso

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