Quadruple Header Weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

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Monday, March 16, 2009 This past weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca saw a quadruple header Race Weekend, as both the Southern Race Series and the MAZDASPEED Challenge South made their way to California to join their Western counterparts for a little racin’. In fact, the Western Series and MAZDASPEED Challenge West drivers were such gracious hosts; they let their guests go first.

Group 1, Race 1 (Southern Race Series)
The weekend’s racing got off to a wild start as polesitter and Southern Series points leader Dennis Trebing spun out of the lead in Turn 2 on the opening lap. While the spin put him to the back of the field he kept enough of the car on-track that a visit to the pits for a safety check wasn’t required. This and a pair of full course cautions would help Trebing work his way back toward the front.

The first caution was for Robert LaRocca, who planted his #22 firmly in the kitty litter in Turn 9, requiring a pull from the friendly neighborhood track crew. He pitted and resumed soon after, finishing a lap down in 17th. The second caution came out to recover the #37 of Ross Jaffe from the tire wall in Turn 2. He was also able to continue after a visit to the pits for a safety check. He would finish two laps down on the leaders in 19th.

Out front, Michael Ramies and Michael Dцrrbecker we having a battle of their own, running nose nipple to gearbox for most of the green flag laps. In the end Ramies eked out the win by 700ths of a second over Dцrrbecker. Meanwhile, a combination of the full course yellows and off-course excursions by drivers in front of him helped Dennis work his way back up to a strong third place finish, just three-tenths of a second behind the lead pair. Mateo Perez came from sixth on the grid to a fine fourth place ahead of Andrew Chinnici and Al Carter. Jason Toft made his Regional Race Series debut with a respectable seventh ahead while Justin Davis came in eighth and Thomas Bonatz finished ninth. Greg Strelzoff rounded out the top ten.

Group 1, Race 2
Same day, another Michael 1-2 finish. This time is was Michael Dцrrbecker who eked out the narrow victory over Michael Ramies (who led every lap but the important one) with Trebing matching his Race 1 result with a third. The afternoon race was a bit calmer allowing the lead trio to gap fourth place finisher Jason Toft by about six seconds. Mateo Perez completed the top five, followed by Robert LaRocca, Thomas Bonatz, and Greg Strelzoff. Justin Davis brought his car home in ninth while Andrew Chinnici recovered from an early 4-off to finish tenth.

Group 2, Race 1 (MAZDASPEED Challenge South)
It was the fender guys’ turn next with eight cars taking the green flag. Race 1 was all 2008 MAZDASPEED Challenge champion Justin Piscitell. After starting from the outside front row and trailing polesitter Angelo Dinkov for the first six laps, Piscitell took the point when Dinkov spun and never looked back, at one point pulling out to a 16 second lead. Dinkov dropped to third with his faux pas, but recovered and was making up time when he ran out of laps. In the end Piscitell was six seconds clear of Dinkov in second, while Stephen Nakamura, who came from fifth on the grid to a strong third. Ward Herst, David Levine and Steven Molnar finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, while Chip Thielen and Diana Mould rounded out the field.

Group 2, Race 2
Where Race 1 featured a virtuoso performance from Justin Piscitell, Race 2 was a duel between him and Race 1 runner up Angelo Dinkov. From their front row positions at the drop of the green the duo began a battle that would see the lead change five times in 16 laps. Justin led away from pole and held the lead for the first before surrendering to Angelo. Angelo carried the lead before a late braking move going into the Andretti Hairpin gave the lead back to Piscitell. Justin’s lead was short-lived as Angelo battled is way back to the point a couple laps later. And so it went for the race; Angelo and Justin battling it out hammer and tongs until Angelo took the lead for the final time on the penultimate lap. Dinkov would stretch his lead to a “comfortable” .391 margin of victory over a charging Piscitell. Ward Herst was about a half-minute behind the lead duo in third ahead of Ken Greenberg and David Levine. Stephen Nakamura was as high as third before a four-off at the halfway point sent him to the pits for a safety check and relegated him to sixth, with Chip Thielen, Steven Molnar, Diane Mould and Gary Schultz, who suffered his second MDNF in as many races, completing the top ten.

Group 3, Race 1 (Western Race Series)
The first race for the West Coast guys got off to a bumpy start as Thomas Bonatz and Ethan Stone got together in Turn 2. Both drivers were fine but car damage forced both to retire. Out front, Michael Ramies got around polesitter Mason Marotta on Lap 1 and was off and running, helped in no small part by the battle behind him.

Marotta dropped as low as fourth early in the race before engaging in a battle with Kevin Tittle as Emil Sildos slipped by both of them to take second for the middle portion of the race. Al Carter worked his way up toward the front to make third place a three-way battle. The first to blink was Tittle, who went off in Turn 9 and was forced to retire with the resulting damage. Meanwhile, ahead of this battle Sildos got it wrong in Turn 4, and the resulting four-off and visit to the pits dropped him to sixth. Carter was the next to drop from the battle, beaching his car in Turn 2 on Lap 12. This left Marotta alone in second, where he would finish, nine seconds behind winner Michael Ramies.

Kyle Gimple stayed out of trouble and took advantage of others’ mistakes to earn a solid third place. Sildos recovered from his four-off to pick up fifth behind David Cheng and ahead of Max Riddle, who battled back from an early four off to finish sixth, and Jim Norman, who came from the back of the field to finish in seventh. Greg Strelzoff and Jamie Wilson waged their own personal battle for eighth, with Strelzoff nipping Wilson at the line by a mere three-tenths while Neal Agran completed an exciting top ten.

Group 3, Race 2
Race two for the Western Series got off to a bumpy start as Kevin Tittle got into the wall in Turn 6, bringing out a full course yellow on Lap 2. He was okay but the car sustained enough damage to leave on the hook. After a restart on Lap 5 the #7 of Neal Agran and the #25 of Jamie Wilson got together in Turn 11, with Agran coming out on the short end; stuck in the sand trap and bringing out the second full course yellow. The bumpiness continued for the duration of the race, with the #84 of Harry Cheung running into the #95 of Greg Strelzoff.

Out front Mason Marotta led with a three-way battle between Emil Sildos, Michael Ramies and Max Riddle. As the race wound down and the racing got tighter it was obvious no quarter was to be given. Kyle Gimple, working his way back after a four-off earlier in the race, and Ross Jaffe, who got caught up in a mid-pack battle during the middle stages of the race, came together in Turn 4 while battling for 11th and 12th on Lap 13.

The car contact wasn’t over yet. The trio of Sildos, Ramies and Riddle caught the leader Marotta in the closing stages. Marotta, who led every lap to this point, became the victim of a Hail Mary by Riddle, taking both out in the final turn of the final lap, allowing Emil Sildos to take the lead on the final straight and ultimately the win, ahead of Michael Ramies, who also avoided the Turn 11 incident. The Marotta/Riddle incident also allowed Al Carter to complete his run from the back of the field to a solid podium with a third, ahead of the 18th starting Ethan Stone and Greg Liefooghe. Walter Kuhn came in sixth, ahead of David Cheng, who came back from his early contact to seventh and Greg Strelzoff. Thomas Bonatz and Jamie Wilson rounded out the top ten while Mason Marotta and Max Riddle, who entered Turn 11 on the final lap 1-2, finished 13th and 14th respectively behind Harry Cheung and Alex Jasserme.

The win was a bit of back luck repaid for Sildos, who earlier this season was taken out of the lead by an optimistic pass attempt in Turn 11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Group 4, Race 1 (MAZDASPEED Challenge West)
Charles Ng was on pole for Race 1 of the MAZDASPEED Challenge West and led every lap to take a 17-second victory over Max Riddle, who battled early on with Quentin Wahl, who in turn finished third. Coming from shotgun on the field to fourth was Justin Piscitell, ahead of Ken Greenberg and Gian Luis Bacardi. Roger Mortimer was the last car on the lead lap in seventh while first-timer Gary Schultz and Thomas Atteberry both suffered early woes, finishing eight and ninth respectively.

Group 4, Race 2 After the race-long mayhem of Group 3, the Skip Barber driver coaches and staff were treated to a relatively sedate final race of the weekend from the MAZDASPEED Challenge West drivers. Charles Ng wrapped up a perfect weekend; leading every lap from pole for a commanding victory, 24 seconds up on second place Justin Piscitell, who took two races to get from last to runner-up in the group. Justin and third place finisher Max Riddle both moved up the finish order when Quentin Wahl spun out of second place on Lap 11, going four-off in Turn 9 and making mandatory trip to the pits for a safety check. He recovered to finish fourth, ahead of Ward Herst and Roger Mortimer. Thomas Atteberry (7th) and Gian Luis Bacardi (8th) rounded out the field.

This past weekend’s action had an affect on the four point championships. After 10 of 12 races in the 2008-2009 Skip Barber F2000 Western Race Series, Michael Ramies has used a win and a runner-up to vault to the top of the standings, eight points clear of leader Emil Sildos and 51 ahead of Kyle Gimple. The Western Series wraps up their season March 27-28 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The MAZDASPEED Challenge West will also finish out their 2008-2009 campaign at Mazda Raceway. Going into the finale, Charles Ng rides his weekend Laguna sweep to a 28 point lead over Kenneth Greenberg with Max Riddle a further 12 points back in third.

With two races to go in the 2008-2009 Skip Barber F2000 Southern Race Series, Dennis Trebing’s productive weekend sees him stretch his lead to 32 over new second place man Michael Dцrrbecker, while a mixed weekend sees Andrew Chinnici to third, 40 points back from the lead heading into the season finale, April 3-4 at Sebring International Raceway.

Also finishing their season in April at Sebring is the MAZDASPEED Challenge South series. After 8 races, Justin Piscitell holds a commanding 66 point lead over second place Wart Herst, who is in a tight battle for the runner-up spot with Stephen Nakamura and Angelo Dinkov.

Jim Altemus

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