SBRS: Laguna Seca: Western Regional rounds one-four report

Justin Blower, Al Unser, Robbie Montinola and Jason Richardson were a flawless two-for-two in penultimate round action of the Formula Dodge Western Regional Series from Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Each driver, along with podium fixture Burt ...

Justin Blower, Al Unser, Robbie Montinola and Jason Richardson were a flawless two-for-two in penultimate round action of the Formula Dodge Western Regional Series from Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Each driver, along with podium fixture Burt Frisselle, was racing on the heels of last week's Formula Dodge National Championship rounds. Masters racer Jose Guzman won three of four contests to wrestle the Masters points lead from Dave House with one round remaining. Montinola, by virtue of his 40-point gain, maintained his lead in the West ahead of close trailing Blower.

In the day's first race, polesitter Montinola jumped out to a strong lead and maintained a sizable gap throughout the 17-lap contest. The Laguna Niguel racer soon caught up to slower traffic but was effective at passing at optimum points on the track while his competitors, Burt Frisselle and Nick Jones, were held up and unable to dodge traffic as easily. By far, these two waged the biggest battle. Jones led late before the wily Frisselle was able to upset him for position on the outside of turn-2 to reclaim the point for good. Joe Spencer Jr. claimed the Masters win after a number of Masters racers suffered four-off excursions and penalties which effectively took them out of the hunt.

Group 2 race 1 saw Al Unser register victory in a dominant fashion, virtually unchallenged over the 2.24-mile circuit. Unser certainly benefited from track familiarity having raced here last week. John Knudsen, on the other hand, seemed off his game after two months away from the car. Still, the returning driver scored a second place result ahead of third place finisher Keith Basso, himself back from an even longer sabbatical. Newcomer Morgan Davies finished in the top-10 securing sixth place among the 13 drivers. Guzman claimed his first win of weekend after Jim Mashburn and Dave House were eliminated due to contact on the first lap. House was penalized post-race but Mashburn's car was retired early with damage.

Justin Blower narrowly edged out Michael Vukelich at the stripe in this exciting group 3 match-up, setting fastest lap of the bunch with a time of 1:38.732 sec. Chris Ortenburger followed the pair home in third place. Vukelich, Blower and Burt Frisselle battled for the lead until Frisselle went four off in turn-6, taking himself out of contention. He recovered to finished fourth behind Ortenburger. Curt Berg claimed the Masters win after Joe Spencer Jr. went four-off and had to retire due to car damage. Following in the footsteps of fellow new driver Morgan Davies, Jay Esterer was strongest among newcomers in this group with a sixth place result.

Group 4 was rife with drama. Before the start, first time polesitter Michael Vukelich led the field through turn-11 but caused a pre-race incident when he tapped his brakes and caused Ryan Smith to hit the back of Jason Richardson's R/T 2000. The pace car was called to action and bolted out to collect the field. As Smith and Richardson pitted for their contact inspection, and following another stack-up incident, the race start was black-flagged. The drivers pitted and regrouped in a new grid formation following Vukelich's disqualification. Following the rulings, Richardson timed the flag drop perfectly and got off a great start from his new third spot. He took the point at turn-2 and led all laps en route to his first Skip Barber Race Series victory. Ben Freudenberg and Chris Ortenburger followed in second and third to round out the rostrum. Jose Guzman was awarded another Masters win. New driver Ryan Smith celebrated his first start in the Skip Barber Race Series with a top-5 result.

The second day of race action featured a pelting rain which saturated the track in the early morning hours. Michelin slicks yielded to treaded tires. In the first race, Robbie Montinola repeated his group 1 dominance from pole. Burt Frisselle, ever comfortable in the wet, was challenging the point until turn-5 when he slid four-off. Although he regrouped, he was trailing Montinola by 35 seconds and couldn't mount a serious threat. Never one to give up, he laid down several consecutive fastest laps to close Montinola's gap to a 14 sec. margin at the flag. Nick Jones, who had passed into second on Frisselle's miscue, was reeled in on lap 9 and went on to finish third. Masters racer Vito Racano took the 41-plus category win over Race 1 winner Joe Spencer Jr.

Under consistently rainy skies, Al Unser led all 14 laps to prove that he's good under all sorts of conditions with a second consecutive decisive victory, again edging out series veteran John Knudsen. Knudsen's mirrors were full of hard-charging Keith Basso but he was able to successfully hold off his aggressive efforts. Richard-Smith Allen came out on top of the Masters battle, securing a fourth place result overall.

In group 3 race 2, polesitter Justin Blower scrapped with Burt Frisselle for most of the contest before Frisselle spun on the white flag lap and lost any chance to upset him. Both racers caught slower traffic heading into the corkscrew when Frisselle tried to pass in turn-9, resulting in a spin. He spun again in turn-11, stalling his car, before re-firing and motoring on to a second place result. Frisselle, who set the fastest lap in the rain, still managed to lead third place finisher Joe Spencer Jr. to the final strip by over a minute. Spencer adeptly recovered from a mid-race spin to claim his first podium, his highest finish ever in the Skip Barber Race Series.

The day's last race featured an exciting drive from Michael Vukelich, who gamely recovered from his 14th place starting position to find his way to the podium. Richardson was caught late by Vukelich but successfully fended him off by 0.54 second, affording the Oakland, California racer his second consecutive victory. Second place starter Ben Freudenberg, who had dropped to fifth mid-race, rallied to finish in third. Jose Guzman, took the Masters win and points bounty while returning driver Buddy Gaine turned in a notable drive by shaking off some rust to finish with a sixth place result.

The Western Regional Championship will be decided in final round action at Laguna Seca on April 5-7. The top-15 drivers will be grouped in a championship field for the final two races of the season. The top-11 [three racers are tied for ninth] in championship points are: Robbie Montinola, Justin Blower, Al Unser, John Mefford, Burt Frisselle, John Knudsen, Michael Vukelich, Ben Freudenberg, Tim Traver, Chris Ortenburger and Jason Richardson. The Masters racers will contest the championship in one final round at the same venue. The top-10 among the Masters set are: Jose Guzman, Dave House, Richard Smith-Allen, Joe Spencer Jr., Al O'Connor, Jim Mashburn, Bret MacDonald, Vito Racano, Curt Berg and Tom Brady.

-sbr-

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Series Other open wheel
Drivers Morgan Davies , Burt Frisselle , Skip Barber , Michael Vukelich , John Mefford , Jason Richards , John Knudsen , Ben Freudenberg , Nick Jones , Tim Traver , Brett MacDonald , Ryan Smith , Jay Esterer , Al Unser , Dave House , Robbie Montinola