Western Series finales at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

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Saturday, April 04, 2009 The Skip Barber Western Race Series and MAZDASPEED Challenge West wrapped up their 2008-2009 campaigns this past weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Coming into the finale it was a two-way battle for the formula car title between Michael Ramies, who held a five-point advantage over Emil Sildos, with Kyle Gimple still having a mathematical chance at the title. In MAZDASPEED Challenge West Charles Ng came into the weekend having already wrapped up the championship, setting a record for the shortest last name by a Regional, National or Pro Series champion in Skip Barber Race Series history.

Group 1, Race 1 (Western Championship)

While Ramies and Sildos prepared to go out and settle the title in Group 2, Group 1 was a John Potter sandwich on a Kaiser roll, as Jeffrey Kaiser took the win from pole, leading every lap but just nipping runner-up Potter by .638 of a second. Potter was the meat in the Kaiser roll as Kyle Kaiser, Jeffrey’s son, bested Fabien Heitz, and John Scalmanini (who had the drive of the race coming from last on the grid) for the final spot on the podium. A full course yellow on Lap 10 for contact between Ted Jewell and Mike Kolacki bunched up the field for a five-lap sprint to the finish. Behind the lead group at the finish, Yuki Nakayama came through by himself for sixth, 11 seconds clear of the 7-8-9 drivers Alan Wong, Lee Kaiser (no relation) and Sam Barlaam, while Andrea Zurek completed the top ten.

Group 1, Race 2
While Race 1 was a squeaker for Jeffrey Kaiser, Race 2 was utter domination, as he drove from pole to a 20+ second victory over John Scalmanini, who in turn gapped third place Fabien Heitz by another 14 seconds. The race got off to a bumpy start with a quick caution for Kyle Kaiser, who beached his car in Turn 9, the junior Kaiser losing a couple laps between being pulling from the gravel trap and making his mandatory visit to the pits for a safety inspection. John Potter fared a little worse; retiring from second place after clouting a curb and bending his left front suspension. Race 1’s second and third place finishers would finish 16th and 15th respectively. Colin Wall came through with the race of the day for Group 1, coming from 14th on the grid to a fine fourth place ahead of Lee Kaiser, Mike Kolacki and Yuki Nakayama, who recovered from an early spin to claim 7th. Sam Barlaam, Randy Sturgeon and Ted Jewell rounded out the top ten.

Group 2, Race 1 (Western Championship)
The soon-to-be decided Western Race Series title was only a part of the drama for Group 2’s first race of the weekend. First lap and there’s contact in the Andretti hairpin between the cars of Jamie Wilson, Ethan Stone and Dan Cheadle, bringing out a full course yellow and the safety car. Stone and Cheadle retired immediately and while Wilson continued for a while he ultimately retired after 12 laps.

After a speedy clean up by the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track crew, the race went back to green on Lap 3 and the quartet of Kevin Tittle, Kyle Gimple and title contenders Emil Sildos and Michael Ramies set off to settle things between themselves. With the exception of a position change between Sildos and Ramies for second midway through, the top four held station for the balance of the race with Tittle taking the win over Sildos and Ramies with Gimple in fourth; the lead group less than two seconds apart at the finish. Behind them Gavin Sun and David Cheng contested fifth with Sun getting the best of Cheng by three-tenths at the stripe. Greg Liefooghe, Harry Cheung, Walter Kuhn and Alexey Dronov completed the top ten.

The race result eliminated Kyle Gimple from championship contention and set up a two-way battle for the title between points leader Michael Ramies and Emil Sildos; the duo heading into Race 2 with just three points between them to decide the Western Series title.

Group 2, Race 2
While Kevin Tittle swept the weekend, winning Race 2 from pole and leading all 33 laps between his two victories, the Michael Ramies/Emil Sildos battle for the title played out behind him. Lap after a lap the pair pushed theirs and each others limits; trying to gain an advantage. It all came to a head with two laps to go as the third running Ramies popped on Sildos going into Andretti hairpin, resulting in contact between the two title contenders. While Ramies was able to make an outside pass in Turn 11 and held second at the white flag, Sildos retook second on the final lap and that his how they finished, Sildos in second, Ramies in third and Kyle Gimple right behind them in fourth on the road.

On the road.

Per Skip Barber Race Series rules, any time there is contact between cars they are required to stop in the pits for a safety check. This late in the race and with this much on the line, neither driver stopped, choosing the 20 second time penalty instead. This moved Kyle Gimple and Greg Liefooghe on the podium in second and third respectively. Post-penalty Sildos was scored in fifth place, behind Ethan Stone but ahead of Ramies whose penalty dropped him to sixth in the order. Once the points were tallied, Michael Ramies earned the 2008/2009 Western Race Series title by two points over Emil Sildos. Fortunately the time penalties did not affect the outcome of the championship, as the “on the road” results still gave Ramies the title, albeit by one point instead of two. An exciting end to an exciting season.

Group 3, Race 1 (MAZDASPEED Challenge West)
With the 2008/2009 MAZDASPEED Challenge West title already decided in Charles Ng’s favor, a small group of drivers took to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for bragging rights heading into the off season. Ng celebrated his championship in fine style, taking pole and leading every lap for a comfortable 12 second victory over visiting MAZDASPEED South driver Angleo Dinkov, who battled first with Quentin Wahl then Kyle Gimple before claiming second. Peter Mokran came from the back of the grid for a hard-earned third place, ahead of Wahl and Gray Gregory. Gimple, making a one-off MSC start finished sixth while Doug Schirripa rounded out the field, a lap down in seventh.

Group 3, Race 2
Angleo Dinkov and Peter Mokran improved on their Race 1 results, taking first and second respectively over Champ Charles Ng, who started on pole but found himself as low as fifth before working his way back onto the podium in third, ahead of Gray Gregory. Doug Schirripa race ended early as his car dropped its muffler and ran afoul of Mazda Raceway’s exhaust decibel limit. Quentin Wahl rounded out the six car field with an early exit after a spin in turn five.

Master’s Championship Shoot-out
A wise man once said, “Get the Masters into a race together and you will have some exciting racing.” It might have been Bruce MacInness; I can’t remember, but the Race Weekend and season ending Master’s Championship Shoot-out was a wild one. Ross Jaffe led the field to the green from pole, but Jeffrey Kaiser got the jump from third and by the time the field got to the Corkscrew he built himself a pretty good lead. While Kaiser checked out on the field, Skip Barber Race Series veterans Quentin Wahl and John Scalmanini went at it.

The battle was short-lived as the caution came out for Alan Wong, who put his car into the fence in Turn 4. This bunched the field up behind the safety car for the next couple of laps and at the green Kaiser pulls out to a five car length but throws it away, spinning out of lead and dropping to the back of the field. This gives the lead to Wahl, who stretched out his lead on now second place Ross Jaffe and Scalmanini with Walter Kuhn in fourth. MSCW drivers Gray Gregory (a long-time Race Series driver in the open-wheelers) and Peter Mokran had a battle of their own mid-pack as Jeffrey Kaiser recovered from his spin and worked his way through the field. Scalmanini got by Jaffe for second before the action was halted for a second full course yellow brought out by contact between Gregory and Lee Kaiser on Lap 14.

The race would end under caution, with Quentin Wahl taking the checkers over John Scalmanini and Ross Jaffe. Walter Kuhn came in fourth ahead of Jeffrey Kaiser, who recovered to take fifth ahead of Peter Mokran and Yuki Nakayama. Mike Kolacki finished eighth, ahead of Sam Barlaam while Randy Sturgeon rounded out the field.

Final Points Standings
Western Race Series – Top Ten
1. Michael Ramies, 325
2. Emil Sildos, 323
3. Kyle Gimple, 295
4. Kevin Tittle, 288
5. Gavin Sun, 252
6. Ethan Stone-G, 248
7. David Cheng, 246
8. Greg Streizoff, 227
9. Alex Jasserme, 221
10. Ross Jaffe-G, 186

MAZDASPEED Challenge West – Top Ten
1. Charles Ng, 259
2. Kenneth Greenberg-G, 203
3. Max Riddle, 191
4. Doug Schirripa-G, 176
5. James Lustman, 158
6. Peter Mokran-M, 146
7. Kevin Marshall, 119
8. Brian Freiberg, 117
9. Quentin Wahl, 111
10. Gray Gregory-M, 80

Jim Altemus

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