Montinola claims Western Championship; Guzman is best of Masters.
After a long, sometimes grueling campaign, Robbie Montinola celebrated his first ever Formula Dodge Regional Championship at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, his two podium results elevating him to Best-of-the-West. Montinola's final 225 points proved too much for season long championship nemesis and fellow National Championship racer Burt Frisselle. Al Unser, too, had a chance to claim the title but needed to win both races and have Montinola finish fourth or worse in both to claim the glory. Masters racer Jose Guzman ran out his hot streak in the 40-plus category to claim the championship over runner-up Dave House.
Late in the group 1 race, Jim Mashburn looked to be running the table, trying to put a lapped car between himself and hot pursuer Vito Racano. However, light contact ensued during the ill-fated pass attempt which resulted in a time penalty for Mashburn equivalent to a safety check. The penalty cost him the win despite leading the 17 lap duration of the race. Racano, who started ninth, was promoted to capture his first Skip Barber Race Series win. New driver Phil Saville showed racing savvy in his first Skip Barber event and also benefited from the penalty assessed to Mashburn as he was promoted from third to second overall. 12th place starter Al O'Connor advanced nine positions to round out the podium in third, his first podium in an Skip Barber race. Inspired though that was, Brooks Stevens had an even more sensational driver, picking off 12 positions to finish in sixth and claim the most progressive driver award. Bret McDonald recorded the fastest lap with a time of 1:41.873 seconds.
Group 2 saw Burt Frisselle on pole for what promised to be a very challenging race with two drivers that had the championship at stake and four other competitors battling for the runner-up position. After a clean start with 18 drivers taking the green, turn-11 set the stage for drama as a prominent passing zone. On the first lap, Jason Richardson tried to pick off a few cars when he had contact with Jose Guzman, who was shunted off into the gravel trap leading to a black flag situation and the field being re-gridded. Following the second clean start, Frisselle established a comfortable lead over a hot battle for second between Michael Vukelich and Robbie Montinola, who scrapped as the field knocked on their door. With four laps to go, John Knudsen dropped a wheel and hooked across the track into the wall in turn--6 leaving his R/T 2000 vulnerably exposed. The pace car was deployed to bring about order, eliminating the five second advantage Frisselle had built up. At the green flag, the board showed two laps to go leading to a very exciting finish. On the last lap, Michael Vukelich challenged Frisselle for the lead by going side-by-side through turn-9 but Frisselle held strong to finish first. Montinola took advantage of Vukelich having compromised his line through turn--9 and 10, and managed to secure second place by 0.01 seconds at the finish line. Montinola would celebrate his championship on the podium.
In the day's final race, Japanese racer Seiji Tojima completed a long and steady climb to the top in Skip Barber Race Series competition, claiming his first series' win in three years of Western series play. Tojima, starting from pole, kept hard charging series veteran Steve Sylvester and David Busby at bay. The pair, who had a very tight battle for second, ultimately came together in turn-2. The result of the contact was a 20 second safety check time penalty assessed post-race which allowed for Curt Berg, an ever present threat, to collect second while setting the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1:40.994 sec. The same post-race time penalty promoted Dan Boland to third, his first podium with the Skip Barber Race Series.
Sunday's racing began with another first time winner in Skip Barber Race Series competition, with Jim Mashburn overcoming the prior day's misfortunes and the hurdle of a grid position of fifth to take the lead on lap 4 from Saturday's winner Vito Racano. Once in front, Mashburn never looked back. Racano held onto second place, while Richard Smith-Allen reeled in Tom Brady as they battled for the final podium position. With two laps to go, Brady spun in turn eleven giving Smith-Allen a bit of breathing room and securing him the third place result. Joe Spencer Jr. also drove a very heads-up race and earned the title of most progressive picking up 12 positions from 17th to get into the top-5.
Having clinched the championship, Robbie Montinola did not sit back and give other competitors a piece of the glory. At the start, Montinola stuck to the back of Burt Frisselle as the pair pulled away from the field. On lap 12, Montinola capitalized on a miscue by Frisselle in turn-10 to take the lead and later fend off any charge he mounted. The battle for third was highly contested, with John Mefford warding off a charge from Jason Richardson, who set the fastest race lap at 1:38.957 in his pursuit. Tim Rose's ninth place finish from 16th earned him most progressive driver distinction.
The Rising Sun continued to shine on Seiji Tojima, as the young racer successfully defended his pole position from all comers to win his second consecutive race. David Blackburn shared in the light of the Rising Sun as he progressed to third place on the track from 16th when a penalty ruling assessed against David Busby furthered his progression to the second place finish. Steve Sylvester also overcame a grid position of sixth to finish third.
The Masters race took nail biting to another level. Jim Mashburn endured a scrappy battle with Jose Guzman and Dave House to claim a photo finish victory. Guzman, the newly crowned Masters champion, finished in second, setting the fastest lap in the process with a time of 1:42.184. House, who led briefly mid-race, followed in third. Joe Spencer Jr. continued to impress by advancing four spots in a strong field to finish in the top-5.
The Dudley Moore Memorial was choreographed as an Australian Pursuit pit lane release in order to have all competitors arriving at the checker flag within seconds of each other. Kris Cowen, Western Series Crew Chief, led 12 of the 17 laps to take the non-points paying win over Dave House and John Knudsen. Rick Skelton led 5 laps before succumbing to Cowen on lap 5.
Congratulations to Robbie Montinola, Jose Guzman and to all series competitors on a great season!