AI: Thunderhill Memorial weekend report

Thunderhill Raceway, Event Three, May 27-28, 2006 The third race weekend for American Iron West developed with great anticipation as the season championship points race picked up speed. Oddly enough, many drivers missed the race weekend, which...

Thunderhill Raceway, Event Three, May 27-28, 2006

The third race weekend for American Iron West developed with great anticipation as the season championship points race picked up speed. Oddly enough, many drivers missed the race weekend, which could have a big impact on the championship. Drivers making the weekend included Gary Umphenour, Andy Bowman, Hal Massey, Jonathan and Mark Witherow and Bryan MacMillan. It was an all Ford Mustang weekend for the AI group with the battle of older Fox chassis versus SN95 resulting in the closest AI racing for the season yet.

Out of the entire field, only Bowman had not driven the Thunderhill race track previously. Gary and Hal were able to attend the Friday test and tune day and Bryan was able to practice the track just two weeks before. Team Witherow spent their Friday at Infineon Raceway testing their new AIX car with the SN95 chassis and a Yates built motor, intending to bring it to the Thunderhill race, however, the car still needed some minor bugs resolved so the orange #04 AI car was campaigned again for AIX at Thunderhill.

Saturday qualifying with the CMC and FFR group was clean with the always fast Jonathan Witherow grabbing the overall pole position, just 0.327 under Umphenour who took the AI pole position.

Saturday Qualifying results were:
1. Witherow #04 SN95 Mustang - AIX - 2.01.563
2. Umphenour #73 Fox Saleen Mustang - AI - 2.01.890
3. MacMillan #34 Fox Mustang - AI - 2.02.304
4. Bowman #99 SN95 Mustang Cobra - AI - 2.03.786
5. Massey #46 SN95 Mustang Cobra - AI - 2.08.958

The big story for the race was Umphenour's shot at targeting a track record set by Guy Cunningham at 1.59.300. Witherow also wanted to try and set a lap record or at least break the 2-minute barrier. Hal Massey and Bowman, the only cars with 4.6L DOHC 32V V8 motors, sweating the constant motor-failure threat as the 4.6L Cobra motors have yet to finish a race season, so the two drivers went into the race just wanting to finish.

The five cars took the green flag with Witherow barely holding off the pack to maintain the lead going into turn 1. From Turn 1 to the Turn 9, the five cars were all within inches of each other. Umphenour was able to pass Jonathan Witherow in Turn 10 with a hard braking pass. The rest of the pack bunched up after cutting through Turn 13 and rocketed down the back straight heading into the hard braking zone prior to Turn 14. Unfortunately, Bryan MacMillan locked up his brakes and crashed into Witherow just at the apex of Turn 14, sending both drivers off course. Unfortunately, the damage to Witherow's car was enough to take him out of the race. MacMillan was able to continue racing but was disqualified as a result of the contact. This left the SN95's of Bowman and Massey chasing Umphenour, but the Turn 14 incident helped give Umphenour a healthy lead and he scored another win.

Saturday Race Results:

AI :
1. Umphenour - AI
2. Bowman - AI
3. Massey - AI
4. MacMillan - AI - Disqualified (DQ)

1. Witherow - AIX

Saturday ended with a BBQ sponsored by NASA and the AI and CMC groups headed to Roundtable Pizza to party and open up ideas for 2007 racing.

Sunday qualifying was met with more great sunny weather and another day to try for lap records. By the end of Saturday, Bowman learned the track enough to feel that he could give Umphenour a run for the race and the car setup data from the previous day might be enough to allow him to also break the 2-minute barrier. The news from qualifying results was that Gary "The Iceman" Umphenour not only broke the 2-minute barrier, but also bested the track record by just 0.037 seconds, although only race laps count so the mark was not recorded in the books.

Sunday Qualifying Results:

AI :
1. #73 - Umphenour - AI - 1.59.263
2. #99 - Bowman - AI - 2.00.873
3. #34 - MacMillan - AI - 2.01.130
4. #46 Massey - AI - 2.05.999

1. Witherow - AIX - no time, did not qualify

The Sunday race grouped the AI and CMC (Camaro Mustang Challenge) cars as one V8 thunder racing group in a standing-start with the FFR group running a rolling start flag in front. Umphenour and Bowman started on the front row followed by Massey and MacMillan in the second row with 22 CMC cars following. The group halted on the track as the starter slowly pulled the rolled up green flag and began to slowly roll it out, but Bowman in his black SN95 Mustang Cobra jumped forward but quickly stopped as the flag finally dropped... and 24 V8 rockets peel out heading to Turn 1. Umphenour and Bowman led the pack door to door and nearly rubbed mirrors all the way through Turn 1 and into Turn 2. MacMillan and Massey crossed lines and swords just behind give the leaders with no room to make any errors or they would lose position for sure. The pack was close enough to be covered by a blanket as the field thundered around the track. Bowman had the top end speed, but he could not match the torque of Umpenhour's Pushrod V8 as he chased him for the first 5 laps, unable to find a line to get by for a pass. Bowman and Umphenour were evenly matched with their best laps only 0.123 seconds apart. Massey briefly led MacMillan, but MacMillan passed the 4.6 liter car of Massey for third place and was able to maintain his spot to the end. Up front, Bowman and Umphenour continued to dice until slower cars from the FFR group appeared. At first, Bowman was able to cut through the traffic to keep on the tail of Umphenour, but soon enough the "Iceman" was able to cut through two FFR cars leaving Bowman waiting for a safe line and giving Umphenour a 7-second lead by the time Bowman was able to get through traffic. As the race ended, Umphenour took another win home along with pole position points. Bowman was second with MacMillan and Massey bringing up the rest of the AI pack. Mark Witherow was able to complete a few laps in the race with his damaged car to take AIX points home and some satisfaction in maintaining a very healthy AIX points lead for the championship race.

Sunday Race Results:
1. #73 Gary Umphenour - AI
2. #99 Andy Bowman - AI
3. #34 Bryan MacMillan - AI
4. #46 Hal Massey - AI

1. Team Witherow - AIX

Although Gary Umphenour has won four races in a row, Andy Bowman trails him just 61 points behind. The next race is June 10-11 at Buttonwillow Raceway, and we expect up to 20 AI cars on the track which may turn the points race in any direction.


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Series Road racing