Spec MX-5 Challenge traveled to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first round of the West Regional Series. In addition to the appearance of respected West Coast racers like Wes Mollno, Tim Auger and Steve Borlik (Haag Performance), we had the good fortune of both the East Regional Series points leader Tyler Quance (X-Factor/DMD), and the National Series points leader Tom Martin (Winding Road Racing) coming to town. This meant that everyone had a chance for a little benchmarking which is especially helpful in judging car setup and practice regimens.
There were also some longer-standing battles that were continued at Laguna Seca. Justin Piscitell (X-Factor) had experienced multiple mechanical and on-track misfortunes, leading to only one win to date, but he was sure that with better luck he could close the gap to Quance. On the National Series front, Aidan Fassnacht (X-Factor/DMD) was only 2 points down to leader Martin, again partly due to misfortunes at Road America. In addition, western drivers were hoping to grab their share of points away from the interlopers, who can score West Region points if they do enough events.
After some practice sessions Saturday morning, the drivers got down to the business of qualifying. The battle-tested visitors put on a bit of demonstration, despite the relative lack of track experience. Martin grabbed pole by almost half a second with a 1:43.832 under warm conditions. Quance was next, followed by Piscitell and Aidan Fassnacht who just surpassed Auger, the fastest of the western drivers.
Race 1 looked to be interesting with Piscitell getting by Martin on the start (“I’ll protect the inside better next time…”). On lap 2, Fassnacht got past Quance and then Martin, though neither Martin nor Quance was concerned as there was plenty of racing left. Except there wasn’t. A crash on lap 5 brought out the double yellow and took many laps to clean up. An unsatisfying ending, but Piscitell got his second win and Fassnacht erased half of his points deficit to Martin.
The Race 1 West Region podium was:
P1: Justin Piscitell
P2: Tyler Quance
P3: Matt Fassnacht
Wes Mollno, Tim Auger and Steve Borlik were the top western drivers, and their placement may be adjusted at the end of the season when regional assignments are cemented.
The National Series Podium was:
P1: Aidan Fassnacht
P2: Tom Martin
P3: Ricardo Arruda
Arruda (Winding Road Racing) also set fast lap of the race. This lap shuffled the Race 2 grid somewhat. The rules count the faster of best qualifying lap and fastest race lap to set the Race 2 grid. Martin held on to pole, with Quance and Piscitell in their same positions. But Arruda was now P4, followed by Auger and Aidan Fassnacht.
Race 2 on Sunday started under California-perfect conditions. Martin stuck to his plan, protected the inside and made it through the T2-T3 complex in front, followed by Quance. Unfortunately, a few drivers went 3 wide on the start, taking out Wes Mollno and Aidan Fassnacht in the middle of T1. This brought out a double yellow, though not for long as the unfortunate cars were quickly cleaned up.
Quance got by Martin on the re-start, but Martin was glued to his bumper. A combination of hard driving, drafting benefits and issues for Piscitell, who was in P3, meant that Quance and Martin put a big gap on the rest of the field. On lap 8, Martin passed Quance for the lead with a tow between T3 and T5. Quance returned the favor into T2 on lap 11. Despite a lot of SM lap traffic, Quance and Martin were rarely separated by more than a few car lengths and mostly ran nose-to-tail. At the end, Martin tried a pass in T10 on the last lap, but Quance held on to P1 by 0.444 sec as the checkered flag fell. Arruda had his best race of the season, finishing P3 in the overall results for Race 2.
The National Series podium was:
P1: Tom Martin
P2: Ricardo Arruda
P3: Adam Gonzalez
The West Regional Podium was:
P1: Tyler Quance
P2: Justin Piscitell
P3: Matt Fassnacht
These results mean that Quance and Martin hold on to their points leads, although it is important to note that Quance is now the leader in East points and tied for the lead in the West points, a situation that will not be sustained after the regular season is complete and drivers are assigned to a region based on best finishes. If Quance, Piscitell and Fassnacht all score more points in the East, then Borlik, Auger and Launchbaugh, in that order, would lead the points as of this race. Regardless, the West Region situation will likely change at Buttonwillow next week as the western drivers will score maximum points.