Young Guns Couch & Ketcher Impress at Buttonwillow During the West Region’s Second Round

Wyatt Couch claimed pole for both races this weekend.

The Spec MX-5 Challenge presented by Toyo Tires headed to Buttonwillow last weekend for Round 2 of the 2022 West Region season. Seven racers in total were able to compete during the Easter weekend, seeing Wyatt Couch & Clayton Ketcher showcase their skills while battling it out at the front for both races.

During practice on Friday, the drivers came to grips with the unforgiving curbs of Buttonwillow, with many having to make adjustments to their racing line before qualifying the next day.

Haag Performance fielded two cars for the weekend (AJ Zarcone & Steve Borlik).
Todd Launchbaugh fine-tuning his Spec MX-5.

Wyatt Couch put on a clinic during Saturday’s qualifying session, claiming pole position by over half a second to AJ Zarcone, with Clayton Ketcher snatching 3rd on the grid just .01 seconds behind Zarcone. Mollno, Launchbaugh, and Borlick completed the first three rows, while new entrant Andres Prieto had mechanical difficulties with his freshly built Spec MX-5, and was unable to qualify.

Couch, Zarcone, Ketcher, and Mollno started from the first two rows for both races.
Racers taking a break after Saturday’s qualifying.
Wyatt Couch suited & booted for Race 1.

Later Saturday afternoon, the racers headed out on track for the first of the weekend’s two races. Unfortunately, Todd Launchbagh wasn’t able to start the race due to a technical problem. After a great start for pole-sitter Wyatt Couch, he felt the pressure from a fast-charging Clayton Ketcher behind, when both Couch & Mollno went wide while exiting the “Bus Stop” corner, giving clear air to new race-leader Ketcher. As the racers finished the 4th lap, the running order was Ketcher, Zarcone, and Couch. Wes Mollno would then mount an incredible recovery, reclaiming P4 by lap 8, and clinching a podium position the following lap when AJ Zarcone suffered a mechanical fault after a valiant effort to keep Couch behind him.

The last lap of Race 1 showcased the talent of young guns Wyatt Couch & Clayton Ketcher, seeing them bunched together again as they weaved through lapped traffic. Couch briefly took the lead on the second to last corner of the race, however ran wide in the final turn, with Ketcher able to keep it on track and claim his second victory of the season. Mollno landed on the last step on the podium 10 seconds behind the 1st and 2nd place finishers, where Prieto had a great drive to get into 4th place after not setting a qualifying lap, with Borlik finishing in 5th.

Race 1 winner, Clayton Ketcher.
Podium finishers Wyatt Couch, Clayton Ketcher, and Wes Mollno.
Racers and Crew Members unwind Saturday night during a large dinner, with over 30 attendees.

After a great dinner Saturday night, the racers returned to the track on Easter Sunday for the last race of the weekend. The starting grid varied slightly from Saturday’s race, with both Prieto & Borlik moving up positions, starting P5 & P6 respectively, and Launchbaugh heading up the rear of the field. Prieto had an aggressive start, sending the field 3 wide into turn one after the green flag waived, claiming P4 which he would relinquish on lap 3, with Mollno making a great pass.

Race leaders Wyatt Couch, Clayton Ketcher, and AJ Zarcone would steadily break away from the rest of the field until lap 6 , seeing the Spec MX-5 racers begin to catch traffic. Zarcone went wide at the exit of the “Bus Stop”, creating a massive dust cloud behind him, with 2 more drivers following him off the track due to the limited visibility. Todd Launchbaugh headed for the pits on lap 9 after the off-track excursion, with Couch enjoying a 2.5 second lead from Ketcher. His comfortable lead lasted for 2 laps when the leaders caught more lapped traffic on the final lap of the race, seeing Ketcher inch closer to Couch’s bumper only .200 seconds back. Couch would then pull away from Ketcher, seeing him win by over .670 seconds, and claiming a flag-to-flag victory – his second of the season. AJ Zarcone would stand on the last step of the podium; the young racer’s first of the season, just over a second behind P2 finisher Ketcher.

Race 2 winner, Wyatt Couch.
Podium finishers, Clayton Ketcher, Wyatt Couch, and AJ Zarcone.

After 4 races, just 3 points separate young guns Wyatt Couch & Clayton Ketcher in the West Region’s points standings. Wes Mollno sits in P3 of the region, with Borlik, Zarcone, Launchbaugh, and new entrant Prieto close behind. The West Region will be back in action in May, heading to Portland to join the National Option racers for Round 3. The Spec MX-5 Challenge Series returns racing next weekend, when the racers of the North Region battle it out on the tarmac of the Pittsburgh International Race Complex.

Mazda MX-5 Cup racer, Chris Nunez, was on hand helping racers with data analysis.
Aaron Jeansonne was also in Buttonwillow to assist the drivers, seen here speaking with Steve Borlik.
Andres Prieto’s new Spec MX-5 challenger.
Clayton Ketcher with Charlie Hayes and his mother, Gina.
Chris Nunez speaks with Todd Launchbaugh on the grid before Sunday’s race.
Current 2022 Spec MX-5 Challenge West Region driver standings.

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