Masters National: Races 7 & 8 at The Glen
Sunday, May 29, 2005 Willcox, Willcox, Willcox. That is how every practice, qualifying, and race sheet started and finished for rounds 7 & 8 of the Skip Barber Masters National at Watkins Glen International Raceway. Second through fifth saw the same key players, but in different order. After 1st round qualifying it was Chris Willcox followed by Jimmy Locke, John Mayes, Dick Lippert, and Peter Tucker rounding out the top five. For 2nd round qualifying it was again Willcox on pole followed by Tucker, Locke, Mayes, and Lippert in P5…
The rain started just as they rolled out for the warm up lap. Sprinkles continued through the pace lap. It wasn’t coming down heavy, but the green flag waved with a flash and a huge boom of thunder, which nearly blew out the windows in the timing and scoring building!
Willcox was on pole, but Jimmy Locke on the outside front row timed it perfectly and was able to lead Willcox down to turn one and had the better rain line. By the exit Locke was first, Willcox second. John Mayes, starting 3rd, was able to get the draft on Willcox through the Esses, and by the time they got to the inner loop Willcox had gone from 1st to 3rd! This race was shaping up.
On lap two, Lippert got caught out by the slippery conditions and goes 4-off in the heel of the boot. Unfortunately he gets stuck in the gravel. Before we can get to a full course yellow Dom Bastien has slight contact with the wall at the inner loop, but is able to continue. The WGI crew does a great job getting the car out and after one lap of yellow we go back to racing. This is good for everybody, but Locke. Down to turn one, Mayes gets the run and goes for the lead. He gets in hot, slides wide and spins on the new pavement on the outside! This was only the beginning of Mayes demise. Once he got going, he then spun at the inner loop!
This gives Willcox some breathing room and he focuses on closing in on Locke. Down the back straight Willcox works the draft but has to pop to the left, as Locke is in the middle of the road. Chris gets to the turn-in first, but not enough to make it clean, so he decides to bail and go straight. He re-enters behind Locke.
Meanwhile, Peter Tucker who started 6th, but had fallen back to 9th on lap two, had slowly been making his way back through the field. Whether it was Rain-X or artful rain driving, Peter was on a tear. He was lapping almost two seconds quicker than the leaders! It wasn’t easy, as he had to snake his way through a great battle between John Greist, Keith Fisher, and Murray Marden. A big welcome to Fisher making a return after a many year hiatus!
On lap 7, with three to go, Willcox gets the run on Locke out of the toe of the boot and passes for the lead in to the heel. This allows Tucker to “Locke” on to the back of Jimmy. Meanwhile Mayes has another of his multiple spins in Turn 9, but doesn’t hit anything. Proving that it wasn’t an accident, on the next lap Mayes spins in Turn 10, but this time gets stuck in the gravel trap on the outside. Control decides to cover it with a local yellow for the last two laps, so that we can finish under green.
This is exactly what Tucker needed as he gets the run on Locke coming on to the front straight and the white flag. Their tussle allows Willcox to win with a comfortable 9-second cushion, Tucker P2, Locke P3. The mid-pack battle ends up with Fisher 4th over John Greist in 5th and Murray Marden in 6th.
Nice dry, sunny conditions with a great start and a little bumping in the middle of the pack. The bumping continued into turn one and a few nose nipples flew, but everybody got through without incident. On the first run to the inner loop, Locke drafts by Willcox for the lead. Behind these two, the battle for P3 was fast and furious, Lippert got by Mayes in the laces, but before they got back to the stripe Mayes regained the final podium spot and Lippert lost another spot to a charging John Greist.
This placed Greist, Lippert and Marden in a heated battle for P4 going into turn one. Marden makes a pop on Lippert, but he miss-matches the dive bomb and slides out on to the new pavement and spins! His spotter, wife Michele (see the Regional story from WGI), gives him the go, go, go signal and he re-enters at the tail end of the field. Back at the front Greist catches Mayes at the heel and takes P3.
Third time approaching the loop and Willcox has the run. Much like race one, Locke goes to the middle of the road and Willcox tries the outside pass. He takes a look and slots back behind. At this point everybody has a little breathing room and things stay status quo.
Next time around Willcox times the draft better and takes the lead from Locke going in to the loop. Mayes is able to make some ground on Greist, but behind Mayes, Tucker and Lippert are doing the same thing. This brings all four in contact with one another. In turn one, Tucker tries to get past Mayes, but Mayes says “No Sir!” and shuts the door. This cost Tucker a lot of speed and he loses two spots! Behind these four is Keith Fisher and Dom Bastien. They are separated from one another, but Keith can see, and smell, the group in front of him.
During this battle Jim Lowe brings his racecar into the pits with a shifting problem and is forced to retire.
The four-car train continues, but this time in to turn one it is Mayes who tries the pass on Greist for P3. Just like Tucker, he slides wide and Greist re-takes the point. Lippert capitalizes again and gets by Mayes as does Tucker! Has anyone figured out that turn one is not the place to pass? Willcox has. Mayes almost lost touch with the group, but the draft allows him to close back in.
Three to go and Tucker tries to pass Lippert going towards the inner loop. A better plan than turn one, but Lippert turns in and Tucker hits him from behind! Both are able to continue, but Lippert has rear damage, and has to pit. He can’t continue. This drops Tucker in range of Fisher who goes to town on Tucker. These two battle it out until the checker, swapping positions each lap.
What is happening at the front? A bit of cat and mouse. Initially Willcox was able to pull Locke by 8 or so car lengths, but Locke had not given up, or settled for second. He kept pushing and pushing. Willcox had set the fastest race lap on the new BF Goodrich tires the day before, but Locke broke it with three laps to go. Next lap, two to go and Willcox bests Jimmy’s time and takes the record back. Locke could see that Willcox was faster in certain sections, and that he was quicker in others. Locke went to school and learned quickly. He ever so gradually closed in.
White flag and we have three duos. Willcox and Locke, Greist and Mayes, and Tucker and Fisher. Through the Boot, Locke continues to get closer. At the exit of the heel, Willcox drops two wheels. This allows Locke to get right there. Again, Willcox gets a bad shot off turn 9 and Locke pops. They go side-by-side through turn 10, and the short chute to turn eleven! They enter eleven side by side. Willcox on the inside, Locke on the outside. Locke carries too much speed and at the apex starts to loose it! He gets a huge slide going and it looks like he is going to spin. Willcox drifts up a little bit and Locke’s right front hits Willcox’s left rear. This temporarily keeps Locke from spinning, but the inevitable happens! Jimmy does his best Danny Sullivan impersonation and does a 360 toward the inside. He keeps it moving and is able to cross the line in P2. What a finish! In Locke’s own words, “I don’t mind paying crash damage for a race like that!”
Mayes is able to get by Greist before the line for 3rd, and Tucker is able to recover to finish 5th over Fisher in 6th. Bastien takes 7th and Marden 8th. Congratulations to Jacques Guenette for jumping in with both feet in to the Masters National! He finished at the tail end, but kept in on the pavement and the lead lap. A bit better than some of the others.
The next Masters National race is July 1-3 at the fabulous Road America racetrack in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This should be another great race for the Masters, as drafting is what it is all about around this scenic 4-mile racetrack.
See you there,