Grand Am Cup Romps on California "Roval" Fontana, CA March 24, 2002: Most Grand Am Cup teams unloaded their race cars for battle on California Speedway's new infield road course (or "Roval" - part road course, part oval) with the same setup ...
Grand Am Cup Romps on California "Roval"
Fontana, CA March 24, 2002: Most Grand Am Cup teams unloaded their race cars for battle on California Speedway's new infield road course (or "Roval" - part road course, part oval) with the same setup utilized at Daytona in February. For the Villaconn International BMW team this approached paid off as their #36 entry of Bransen Patch/Don Salama was fastest in the first practice session. Despite this early success, Villaconn had their work cut out for them to stay ahead of the pack on this very competitive race weekend.
"Fontana was very successful in some ways and frustrating in others," commented Matt Connolly who was handling the coaching duties this weekend for team driver Beau Buisson. "We were fastest (with Salama) on Thursday and always in the top three thereafter. Beau quickly got up to speed and overall the Z3s seemed much more suited to the track than we originally anticipated."
After strong showings in practice for all three Villaconn BMWs, they would face a challenge from the Lexus and Porsche camps in qualifying. When the dust had settled the grid was set. Lexus driver Andy Lally claimed pole followed closely by Buisson who had just edged out David Haskell and his Boxster. Haskell's Porsche was 1/10 ahead of Patch who would start line up fourth. Team Owner Alfredo Villamil qualified the #38 Villaconn entry 16th - the team having just completed a new engine installation. The Sport Touring I Class was to be one of the most competitive of the Grand Am Cup 250 weekend.
Starting drivers Buisson and Patch had their work cut out for them at the race start. Several racers had gotten by and both drivers settled in to regaining their positions. Tough luck was to strike, however, as the first full course caution came out just as the race leader had passed all but the top three ST Class runners. Having gone one lap down, team driver Don Salama suggested that all Villaconn could hope for now was a fourth place result.
A pit stop miscommunication didn't help the teams chances but Salama battled on and brought the #36 Z3 home 5th. Buisson and Ken Dobson teamed for a 7th place finish while Villamil and Gregory White raced the #38 BMW home in 17th after suffering contact damage and a sustained pit stop for repair. Along the way, White improved by setting race laps near their qualifying times.
"We battled neck and neck with the Lexus," exclaimed Salama after bringing his BMW up from 12th position to 5th. "Clearly, they out powered us on the straights, but we out stopped and out handled them in the infield. It was wonderful fun and a great challenge."
The Villaconn transporter now heads to Phoenix, Arizona for the April 20th running of the PIR Twin 250 Three Hour Grand Am Cup event.