AI: Buttonwillow round four summary

The fourth round of the American Iron West series arrived quickly from the previous race weekend with only two weeks between events. The middle of the season saw some old guard-veteran drivers return, new rookies join the series, and the ...

The fourth round of the American Iron West series arrived quickly from the previous race weekend with only two weeks between events. The middle of the season saw some old guard-veteran drivers return, new rookies join the series, and the championship points battle change hands in the AI class.

In the AIX class, the return of Ernesto Roco, Dave Martis and John Lindsey was the big story. Roco's #2 SN95 car and Martis's #32 SN95 car were both very impressive with sophisticated preparation levels that have rarely been seen before. Both Mustangs were prepared to the highest levels of racing with high-zoot parts from Griggs Racing underpinning each along with carbon fiber cladding from Tiger Racing on their flanks. The #2 car of 2005 AIX Champion Ernesto Roco sported a new engine, new wheels and several other key components for 2006 in furtherance of The Janitor's quest to sweep more records off the books. Dave Martis's car, dubbed "The Hulk" in honor of its bright Kawasaki Green paint, returned with a new STS remote-turbo and very professional workmanship after suffering damage to the car twice in test and tune days. John Lindsey had no new parts to exploit, but he also planned to return to pilot the White Lightning #22 Maximum Motorsports Fox-body car after a long hiatus.

As the teams rolled in for the weekend, the Friday test and tune sessions introduced a higher level of competitiveness to the season. Teams seemed to be holding test data closer to the vest and were very focused on finding every possible fine tuning adjustment in their quests to improve lap times. Friday test and tune was not productive as expected for the AIX field with mechanical gremlins haunting both the #2 car and the Martis #32 green machine. The Maximum Motorsports team also grenaded their engine, so they were forced to look elsewhere for a ride to qualify the team for the National Championship. John Lindsey offered them a seat in White Lightning, so the team busied themselves fitting the car to legendary ponycar pilot Ross Murray and blowing the cobwebs out of the original AIX machine. Unfortunately, Murray was entered as an AIX driver with Team Daffron so he would have to run the car in Super Unlimited. Friday also saw the arrival of AI rookie Corey Weber #47 with a impressively built car and Keith Parker, another rookie for AI, and the return of #85 Dean Jones with his fire engine red Fox Mustang. 2005 AI Champion, Gary "The Iceman" Umphenour and #99 Andy Bowman also put in some fast laps on Friday, but kept their lap times secret to not give away any possible advantage. Due to family plans, the Umphenour team would not be racing on Saturday, and this left Bowman a chance to take the lead in the points.

Saturday warm-up and qualifying started with the highly anticipated return of recently married Ryan Walton with his silver bullet #54 Fox Mustang. However, Walton developed an intermittent ignition problem in practice, which cast doubt on his chances for the race. Keith Parker decided to not race for Saturday and instead took the day to shake his new car down in Time Trials. #47 Corey Weber performed well in traffic and was able to increase speed in his new car during warm-up and qualifying. The #2 Roco car failed to qualify after a brief off-track excursion caused damage to the splitter assembly that required repair. #46 Hal Massey put in some great sessions and found he would have new battles with the rookies based on where he placed in the field. Dave Martis continued chasing some bugs, but put on a good show to qualify first for the field.

Saturday Qualifying Results:
1. #54 Ryan Walton 2.07.278 - AI
2. #99 Andy Bowman 2.08.079 - AI
3. #47 Corey Weber 2.11.866 - AI
4. #46 Hal Massey 2.15.402 - AI
5. #85 Dean Jones 2.23.502 - AI
6. #17 Keith Parker - no time, ran TT group

1. #32 Dave Martis 2.06.970 - AIX
2. #2 Ernesto Roco - no time - AIX

The Saturday Race began with a flying start along with the CMC, FFR, and SU classes. The AIX car of Ernesto Roco was not able to make the race because of the previous damage, which left The Hulk alone this day in AIX. The green flag dropped and Martis, Walton, and Bowman left the rest of the field behind as the pack made a clean bumper to bumper race through turn one. Martis saw Walton and Bowman coming up fast and decided to let the AI leaders pass by in the esses approaching the Star Mazda turn. Suddenly, Walton's ignition began to act up which gave #99 Bowman the lead approaching the Lost Hill turn. #47 Weber, #46 Massey and #85 Jones were racing door to door bringing up the AI pack. Bowman continued to lead thinking Walton had pulled out of the race and backed off into an easy pace, but suddenly Walton's ignition problems cured themselves enough to allow Walton to pick up the pace and get close to Bowman again, which forced Bowman to get back on the throttle. However, in the 4th lap, Walton finally was forced off track as the car died altogether. The black and silver #99 SN95 car with Bowman at the wheel continued home for his first American Iron win and grabbed the points lead for 2006. Hal 'The Gentleman" Massey in the #46 car pulled into the pits with a sudden power loss and odd engine noises mid-race, leaving #85 Jones and #47 Weber in 2nd and 3rd place. However, after the race in dyno-tech inspection, Weber was found to have too much horsepower for his car weight and was disqualified, which moved #85 Dean Jones higher on the podium and gave Walton third place.

Saturday Race Results:
1. AI - #99 Andy Bowman
2. AI - #85 Dean Jones
3. AI - #54 Ryan Walton
4. AI - #46 Hal Massey
5. AI - #47 Corey Weber - DQ

1. AIX - Dave Martis

NASA sponsored party for the hot evening, as the day ran to a close with the teams making plans and repairs for Sunday racing.

Sunday morning came with warmer temperatures, which gave some concern to the drivers. The morning also saw the return of "The Iceman" Umphenour and Bryan MacMillan. Rookie Keith Parker ended up in the AIX class, as his wheel track width was too wide for the rules. Corey Weber also decided to run in AIX as he was unable to decrease engine power to meet the weight-horsepower rule at the track, so he took out his restrictors to give him a more competitive shot in AIX.

Bowman made changes to his car with the help of Hal Massey to try and combat the Iceman's return and the always fast Walton, but Umphenour was still too fast and produced a 1.2 second faster lap than Bowman for the pole position with Walton unable to get a good lap in with continued electrical gremlins. In the AIX class, Ernesto Roco returned after spending Saturday making repairs and began to feel the balance of his new car setup and by laying down some fast times and taking AIX and overall pole for the Sunday race.

Sunday Qualifying Results:
1. AI - #73 Gary Umphenour 2.06.075
2. AI - #99 Andy Bowman 2.07.310
3. AI - #85 Dean Jones 2.17.198
4. AI - #54 Ryan Walton - no time
5. AI - #34 Bryan MacMillan - no time
6. AI - #46 Hal Massey - no time, engine failure

1. AIX - #2 Ernesto Roco 2.00.080
2. AIX - #32 Dave Martis 2.11.592
3. AIX - #47 Corey Weber 2.12.424
4. AIX - #17 Keith Parker 2.14.704

The Sunday race began with a flying start with the SU, AIX, AI together. As the cars warmed up on the out lap, Walton experienced his electrical problems again and ended up having to park the car. As the green flag dropped, the thundering V8's of American Iron raced down the front straight. Because of the gap created when Walton dropped out, Bryan MacMillan had the opportunity to gain full speed as the green flag dropped and easily caught Bowman and Umphenour in the Sunset turn. SU and AIX cars diced together as the pack bunched up and MacMillan took a smooth line to gain 2nd position behind Umphenour. Rookies Parker, Weber and Jones all remained bumper to bumper in tight action. Roco up front in the #2 SN95 car sliced quickly through the SU cars and targeted lap record speeds. In the 3rd lap of the race, Bowman was on the tail of MacMillan trying to regain 2nd position, when the #32 car of Martis went off and heaved up a dust cloud. MacMillan managed to get through before the cloud thickened, but Bowman was significantly slowed up behind the heavy dust after the Star Mazda corner. After clearing the cloud, Martis returned to the racing line with Bowman on his tail looking for a line. The Martis car had damage in front to splitter, hood and fenders from going agricultural, so Martis moved aside for Bowman to chase MacMillan. In 2 laps, Bowman was back on the tail of MacMillan nose to tail and just as a pass was setting up, the hot Buttonwillow temperatures forced the #99 car to back off with nerve-racking water and oil temps. The final AI podium saw Umphenour winning in stride, with MacMillan and Bowman in the next two spots.

In AIX, Ernesto Roco completed his first 2006 race with a win and lap record by breaking the two-minute mark with a best lap of 1.59.858. Rookies Weber and Parker made clean finishes in AIX to stand for their first podium finishes after Dave Martis had to retire early.

Sunday Race Results:
1. AI - #73 Gary Umphenour
2. AI - #34 Bryan MacMillan
3. AI - #99 Andy Bowman
4. AI - #85 Dean Jones
5. AI - #54 Ryan Walton - DNS / DNF

1. AIX - #2 Ernesto Roco
2. AIX - #47 Corey Weber
3. AIX - #17 Keith Parker
4. AIX - #32 Dave Martis

As the weekend closed, Andy Bowman held the AI points lead with only 20 points to spare, just ahead of the 2005 Champ Gary Umphenour. Team Witherow continue to lead in AIX with a 388 points lead, but to maintain it, real work will be required as the ever fast Ernesto Roco and Dave Martis have clearly returned as challengers for the AIX West title in 2006. The next event will be at Willow Springs Raceway July 8-9, 2006. See the American Iron Racing and NASA Pro Racing websites for news and updates.


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Series Road racing
Drivers Ross Murray