AI: Willow Springs round five summary

NASA Pro Racing - American Iron West Race Report - Round Five Series Sponsors: ToyoTires, Maximum Motorsports, Steeda Autosports, Griggs Racing, J&M Products, Anze Engineering The fifth round of the American Iron West region was held in...

NASA Pro Racing - American Iron West Race Report - Round Five

Series Sponsors: ToyoTires, Maximum Motorsports, Steeda Autosports, Griggs Racing, J&M Products, Anze Engineering

The fifth round of the American Iron West region was held in blazing heat which challenged both pilots and machines at Willow Springs Raceway this July 8-9. The days were scorching by 9am and temperatures in the day got as high as 107 degrees. In the dry high desert, the weekend was set up for some hot racing.

As the series approaches mid-season, the AI and AIX points races continue to boil. Maximum Motorsports took the first two weekends, one in AI and one in AIX. Gary "the Iceman" Umphenour in the Griggs Racing Fox Mustang, commanded the AI points until Round Four where Andy Bowman claimed his first win to capture the points lead with only a small margin. Team Witherow in AIX has the points lead, but the addition of rookies Keith Parker and Corey Weber along with the return of Ernesto Roco pose a threat to the AIX leaders. Corey Weber was initially setup for AI, but due to some needed car setup changes, was forced into AIX so he let the dogs loose, and reconfigured the car to be a serious AIX challenger.

After blowing a 4.6L DOHC 32V Cobra motor at Buttonwillow in Round Four, Hal "the Gentleman" Massey surprisingly returned to Round Five with a stock modular Cobra motor. Hal earned his nickname because he is a nice and easy going guy, but on the track he has picked up the pace and is becoming a sleeping giant. As the weekend unfolded everyone was surprised at his increased performance as Massey had a good weekend and his smile was simply electric.

Ryan Walton returned also after solving his electrical troubles from the prior weekend. The "Champion To Be" has had the Irish Luck turning sour on him this year. With a plague of gremlins, the car that ran near flawlessly for four years has been slowed down by glitches all year. However, Ryan's drifter-style driving keeps the crowds on their feet and has given Umphenour and Bowman a few more gray hairs during races.

AI points leader Andy Bowman returned sporting new CCW 17x9.5 racing wheels. Obtaining the 2006 points lead at Buttonwillow Raceway caught the eyes of JBA Racing, which offered to sponsor and support Bowman. Bowman is already using Maximum Motorsports and Steeda Autosports equipment and the new JBA Racing support will help keep the #99 Cobra in the hunt with Umphenour and MacMillan.

The big news for the weekend and the season was the first showing of a S197 2005 Mustang, piloted by Spencer Sharp. "Who the hell is Spencer Sharp?" the AI group asked. Well, we were all about to find out just as he about spanked us all. Spencer, from Phoenix, is a part time Speed World Challenge driver and Grand Am Cup pilot, in addition to being a NASA American Iron racer. The 2005 Mustang was built by Multimatic Motorsports, the firm famous for building the new 2005 Mustangs that won the 2005 Grand Am Cup series. The car weighs a heavy 3500+ lbs but packs about 368hp and 373Tq, for just about perfect ratios. It was not Spencer's car however, but a customer car with its owner located in Texas, so Spencer got to be a test-pilot and work the bugs out of a perfect race car. What a tough job.

The AIX big news for the weekend was the return of Bill Daffron in the Daffron Racing #27 Fox Mustang. Daffron was last present at the season opener at California Speedway and had a hard meeting with the tire barriers in the last corners before the front straight. Newly painted and sporting a new tranny and clutch combo, Daffron meant business for his AIX return. However, technical gremlins also plagued the #27 car and serious track time was not achieved until Sunday sessions.

The AI / AIX groups qualified as follows on Saturday. Although the temperatures were rising, lap times by the AI group fell and approached, again, near record setting levels:

AI class:
73 Gary Umphenour 1.30.899 (below lap record)
54 Ryan Walton 1.31.083
86 Spencer Sharp 1.31.129
99 Andy Bowman 1.31.720
34 Bryan MacMillan 1.34.493
46 Hal Massey 1.35.218
85 Dean Jones 1.37.425

AIX Class:
47 Corey Weber 1.32.000
17 Keith Parker 1.36.380
27 Bill Daffron 1.40.488
2 Ernesto Roco - Did not qualify

The Saturday flying start race began with and exciting high-speed run down the front straight with speeds approaching 130 miles per hour. Umphenour, Walton, Sharp and Bowman were wedged in turn-one with AIX rookie #47 Weber in the mix. Massey, MacMillan, Parker and Jones all followed behind crossing lines dicing for position. The first 5 laps were a continuous change of race leaders, from Umphenour to Walton, then Sharp back to Umphenour. The #99 Cobra Mustang of Bowman maintained a pace with the leaders, but could not close the 3 car gap in the first half of the race. The epic racing up front with #86 Sharp mixing it up with #73 Umphenour and #54 Walton kept the stands breathless.

Mid-race, Bowman was flying down the front straight coming out of Turn 9 when he suddenly lost all electrical power and the car shut down near Turn 2. Of all things that could happen, the main battery cable had disconnected from the engine computer/fuse box. Going at it door to door, #46 Massey and #34 MacMillan with #17 Parker and #85 Jones passed by. Keith "Wanna-be racing" Parker caught MacMillan and Massey and just got by Dean Jones. #46 Hal "The Gentleman" Massey raced forward to take 4th position in the AI class, and just then, up front, #54 Walton was struck by the racing gods again and began billowing out oily smoke with a suspected blown motor. This left Sharp and Umphenour dicing as the leaders to the end. Sharp #86 ended up taking the win in a narrow margin, but The Iceman Umphenour with a 2nd place finish and pole position reclaimed the 2006 points lead. Hal Massey in the #46 Griggs Racing Mustang earned his 2nd podium finish in 2006 with a 3rd place finish. In AIX, rookie #47 Weber takes first place and diced with the veteran AI leaders until the end, with Keith Parker taking a 2nd place finish in AIX.

Saturday AI race results:
86 Spencer Sharp
73 Gary Umphenour
46 Hal Massey
34 Bryan MacMillan
85 Dean Jones
54 Ryan Walton
99 Andy Bowman

Saturday AIX race results:
47 Corey Weber
17 Keith Parker
2 Ernesto Roco
27 Bill Daffron - DNS

Sunday morning warm up sessions started with #27 Daffron back on track after making tranny and clutch repairs from Saturday. #86 Sharp with the heavy S197 Mustang, melted a new set of Toyo RA1 tires in Saturday racing, and was forced to skip warm-up sessions to save rubber. Spencer said "The West region is a fast group of drivers and I had to push my tires and the car to the limits". #54 Ryan Walton did damage a motor on Saturday, with no compression in #8 cylinder, so his weekend was over. But the rest of the AI and AIX group worked the session to get valuable seat time.

Qualifying time approached and the day was already getting hotter than the previous day. With the heat, pushing the cars hard for a few quick qualifying laps was not a problem, but a 40 minute race was raising some concerns. The "Iceman" Umphenour did not seem concerned as the he landed another AI pole position and the repaired car of #27 Daffron landed AIX Pole.

Sunday AI Qualifying results:
73 Gary Umphenour 1.31.130
86 Spencer Sharp 1.32.275
99 Andy Bowman 1.32.364
34 Bryan MacMillan 1.35.849
46 Hal Massey 1.36.178
85 Dean Jones 1.40.229

Sunday AIX Qualifying results:
27 Bill Daffron 1.27.845
47 Corey Weber 1.31.093
17 Keith Parker 1.40.638
2 Ernesto Roco - did not qualify

With another flying start, the jet-hot American Iron group took the green flag again pushing up to 130+ MPH. From Turn 1 to Turn 6, #73 Umphenour lead #86 Sharp and #99 Bowman by only a bumper. Sharp was struggling with tires as Bowman nearly bumped him in every corner, but down the high speed back and front straights, Umphenour and Sharp were able to open up a few feet per lap from Bowman. Rookie #47 Weber was in the middle of the fight as #27 Daffron pulled away from the pack. This leaving some of the closest racing in the mid-pack between #34 MacMillan in the older Fox Mustang and the SN95 Griggs Racing Mustang #46 of Hal Massey. The entire race, "The Gentleman" Massey hounded MacMillan only a few hundredths of a second behind. Rookies Parker and Jones also just behind, with Jones just barely holding off Parker lap after lap and having just a few more horses to keep Parker off from a pass.

As the race went on a huge ball of fire erupted from the #2 SN95 AIX car of Ernesto Roco as he blew an engine oil line and a possible rod while flying down the front straight at 150MPH trying to defend his 2005 lap record.

Mid race, Umphenour decided to check-out and really mashed the throttle to open up his gap over Sharp and Bowman. With no chance to catch "the Iceman" and not having to battle points with Sharp, #99 Bowman settled into a easy pace in lap traffic. In only moments, nearly trapped behind back-marker FFR and Mazda GT cars, #34 MacMillan and #46 Massey raced up to Bowman out of nowhere, leaving Bowman in a panic to stay ahead, with concern over engine temps rising. Fighting the traffic, MacMillan, Massey and Bowman were virtually 3 cars wide going through Turn 8 and Turn 9 and down the front straight they were fighting for 3rd-position and the last podium spot. But #99 Bowman has the line heading into turn-1 and shut the door on the challengers. Bowman could no longer relax and pushed the car to the limits to open up a finishing gap from Massey and MacMillan.

In the finishing laps, Massey was still inches behind MacMillan, but passed to steal 4th position, as a spun FFR Cobra forced the two AI drives into separate driving lines. The race ended with #27 Bill Daffron holding off rookie #47 Weber for the AIX win and the "Iceman" Umphenour not only took pole position and the race win, but opened up his AI championship points lead from Bowman with 24 points to spare. The AI championship will be a dead-fight to the last race of the season. Team Witherow will have to perform well and finish every race to maintain the AIX points lead in October as Corey Weber pulled into 2nd place in AIX with his excellent performance over the weekend.

Sunday AI Race results:
73 Gary Umphenour
86 Spencer Sharp
99 Andy Bowman
46 Hal Massey
34 Bryan MacMillan
85 Dean Jones

Sunday AIX race results:
27 Bill Daffron
47 Corey Weber
17 Keith Parker
2 Ernesto Roco

With a two-month rest period and the first annual national event in September, the next event will be October 7-8, 2006 held at Infineon Raceway (Sears Point).

-nasa-

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About this article
Series Road racing
Drivers Spencer Sharp
Teams Multimatic Motorsports