Rounds 3 & 4, Western Race Series
Wednesday, December 05, 2007 Rounds three and four of the 2007-2008 Western Series were at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the first weekend of December. There were two Sportsman groups, one Championship group, and the second-ever Skip Barber MX-5 Cup group, hot on the heels of its debut at Road Alanta mid-November. The weather was sunny, dry and cool. Four drivers experienced their first-ever win: newbies Roberto Dalton and Ryan Buetzer, plus two ‘‘vets’’ who have usually run up front but hadn’t yet had their breakthrough wins, Gray Gregory and David Stubbs. Big congrats all around! Below is a brief overview of the weekend…
Sarena Traver started from pole and led, and led, and led. And led some more. Until the last lap! She fell off the road on the backside of the track, which allowed Scott Panzer through for the win. Traver pitted as she should and crossed the line in second, but she was penalized for a pit lane violation that occurred during her stop and was officially classified seventh. That meant a second-place finish for Ethan Stone, with third grabbed by Marco Cirone. Chris Newman and Walter Kuhn rounded out the top five. Mid-race, there were two separate full course yellows for ‘‘beaching’’ incidents – one for Jeff Craig and the other for David Nickel, trying to make up time for a not so perfect first lap – and following the re-start for the first FCY, Roberto Sabato fell out of third place when he and Seiichiro Kita got together in the Turn 11 hairpin. Traver put up the fastest lap while Panzer’s best lap was second-quick.
It took Traver just two and a half laps to get to the front – she got around Cirone on lap three – then motored away to a 5-second win over Stone, who had passed Cirone on lap six. What about Poleman Panzer? He spun in Andretti on the first lap and rejoined DFL! He did very well to climb back to fifth at the flag, just behind Sabato, who made up for Saturday’s race with a terrific run from 12th on the grid to fourth at the checker. Traver again set fastest race-lap, a couple of tenths quicker than Stone.
G2R1 (Championship + Sportsman)
A first-turn, first-lap kerfuffel involving Roberto Dalton (Sportsman), Michael Ramies, John Scalmanini, Kevin Tittle (Sportsman) and Kevin Woods (Sportsman) required a black-all to sort things out. Ramies, Scalmanini and Tittle were done, so it was an eight-car restart. After the green it was a nice dice between Sildos and Williams, with Tom Roberts soon getting into the mix. Sildos led laps five, six and seven, but Williams took over on laps eight and nine. On lap 10, Sildos took the lead for the last time, and a lap later Roberts snatched P2 from Williams. When the checker flew, the order was Sildos (also, fastest race lap), Roberts, Williams, Jr., Ferris, Dalton (P1 Sportsman, and his first SBRS win), Manheimer, Woods and P.J. ‘‘Alpine Star’’ Rashidi.
G2R2 (Championship + Sportsman)
Early contact between Rashidi and Dalton scuppered the chances of those two frontrunners, leaving the battle at the sharp end of the field to Sildos, Roberts, Manheimer, Williams, Jr., and Ferris. Manheimer didn’t help his cause with a Corkscrew screw-up so by lap six of 16 we saw Sildos leading, Roberts second and a charging Ramies third, trailed by Ferris and new guy Ryan Buetzer (up from 12th). Then it was back and forth between Sildos and Roberts for a handful of laps but when Sildos took the lead on lap eight it was for good, although Roberts was less than a second behind at the checker and set fastest race-lap. About half a minute later came Williams in third, then Ferris and Ramies. Woods in ninth was the Sportsman winner.
Ryan Buetzer’s first race of the weekend was in Sportsman, where he spanked the field with a flag-to-flagger (congrats on his first Skip Barber win!) in a race with two FCYs for cars stuck in the beach. Seth Manheimer was P2 early on until a spin in T10, handing second place to Sam Schechter, who had David Stubbs worrying him. With four laps to go, Schechter Shanghied it in Nine, moving Stubbs to second and Ed Nigro to third. But Nigro still hadn’t pitted for contact earlier in the race with Manheimer. When Nigro finally came in he handed P3 to Jonathan Barcena, who had quietly climbed his way from row four. Roberts looked set of fourth until he got Turn Four wrong on the last lap, so the position went to Sam Rogers, with Frank Cusack in fifth about three seconds behind.
Jiminy Crickets, this one had enough spins to make a Maytag jealous. Poleman Stubbs took it off the road in Turn Two right at the start, so Barcena led the first two laps. He succumbed to Schechter’s advances on lap three, but it would end in tears for Sam when he, Manheimer and Barcena tied themsleves into a knot in the T11 hairpin. An FCY was needed to clear thing out so on the restart to begin lap eight James Bailey led over Rogers, Cusack, Shuichi Hatakeyama and Sean Anthony. But Bailey bailed from the lead with an error in Six so Cusack took charge, with Rogers and Hatakeyama behind him. Oh, remember polesitter Stubbs? After making his required stop following his first lap, first corner mistake, Stubbs was now rocketing up through the field. On lap 10 he moved into second place, trailed Cusack for two laps then popped for the lead with five to go. Then Rogers inherited second (and Hatakeyama third) when Cusack lost it in 11. For Stubbs, it was a great comeback. Even better, it was his first Skip Barber win. Way to go! Post-race, Hatakeyama was handed 20 seconds for failing to pit after a four-off-to-avoid in Turn Two on lap 13, so third place went to Ross Jaffe, Katakeyama classified fourth and fifth went to Andrea Zurek.
These were the third- and fourth-ever Skip Barber MX-5 Cup races, the first two having run at Road Atlanta mid-November. The MX-5s run only about 10 seconds a lap slower than the F2000s here at Laguna, and on pole was Gray Gregory with a 1:51.748, with Aaron Hollander alongside followed by Fred Chin and Ed Lever. But between qualifying and the race, five more drivers found the MX-5s too tempting to pass up: Gary Williams, Jr., Gary Manheimer, and three instructors (Jonathan Frost, Jon Morley and Rob Slonaker). It was a clean, good race, with Gregory holding off Frost for the first half of the race. But Frosty took the lead on lap nine and though Gregory stayed with him, he couldn’t muster a pass. Those two were about 30 seconds up on third place, which was disputed between Hollander, Manheimer and Williams. In the end Manheimer nipped Williams by an eyelash, with Morley crossing the line fifth. But the Steward Who Would Be Chief was forced to DQ Morley for wearing non-regulation sunglasses, so fifth through eighth were Hollander, Chin, Lever and Slonaker.
The second race had an eight-man field, with Frost, Morley and Williams out, David Nickel and Tom Roberts in. Gregory grabbed the lead right from the git-go and was never really bothered, but behind him was a different matter. Roberts went agricultural in Nine on the first lap and then finished a lap down. Mid-race, Nickel didn’t get any change back when he cashed in his tires’ grip in Turn Two. Meanwhile, second place was being held down smartly by Hollander, trailed by Manheimer. On lap eight, Chin jutted in front of Manheimer to take over P3 and went after Hollander. But on the twelfth lap, Aaron got a bit ambitious in 10 and rejoined seventh after his stop, everyone behind gaining one spot, and we saw no more position changes over the last five laps. Gregory wins – his first Skippy victory! – with Chin second, Manheimer third and Nickel fourth. Lever, being coached by Slonaker, nipped the teacher by a 10th, followed by Hollander and a lap-down Roberts.
The next Race Weekend is rounds three and four of the Southern Series, at Sebring, December 14-16. There will be another MX-5 race group there — and seats are still available. After your New Year’s celebrations, rounds five and six of the Western championships are January 11-13 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, while Homestead-Miami Speedway’s Grand-Am layout (big fun through NASCAR Turns 3 & 4!) sees the Southern Series January 25-27. Then, the first three days of February are the 11th annual Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shoot-out, at Sebring. And mark your calendar for mid-February, as the eagerly anticipated West/South Combo Race Weekend on Sebring’s 12-hour circuit is Feb. 15-17!
One more thing… We want our Race Series drivers – and their friends and their families — to know that Christmas and holiday gift certificates are on sale now. Anyone can save between $100 and $500 on the nine most-popular school programs by purchasing between now and December 31. Click here or here for more details.