AI West round six Sears Point summary

An epic racing weekend just about sums up the sixth round in American Iron West at historic Infineon Raceway. The return of class leaders, highly prepared challengers and new rookies built up the two-month off weekend with anticipation. After...

An epic racing weekend just about sums up the sixth round in American Iron West at historic Infineon Raceway. The return of class leaders, highly prepared challengers and new rookies built up the two-month off weekend with anticipation.

After his exceptional performance at the inaugural NASA National Championships, Patrick Lindsey returned to the West region to challenge the AI field of Gary Umphenour, Andy Bowman, Bryan McMillan, Hal Massey, and Dean Jones. The AIX class included the return of Bruce Griggs and Jonathan Witherow, along with rookies Corey Weber and Ryan Willson. This would be Ryan Willson's first race weekend with the AI group, in a well prepared Griggs Racing built SN95 Mustang.

Throwing in the wrench...with Patrick Lindsey's return, the AI points race became a big question, with a hundred "what-If" questions. Coming into the weekend, the Iceman Umphenour only led Bowman by a small margin. McMillan and Massey's consistent performance is always another wrench in the mix, leaving no room for errors by the points leaders. Yet, rumors of suspension upgrades and a new motor in Lindsey's Fox Mustang, and solid performance at the national's created drama right up to the race starts. Bowman threw in his own wrench, with the help of JBA Racing installing new exhaust and new Maximum Motorsports rear IRS (Independent Rear Suspension) coil-over shocks.

In fact, the 2006 AI points' race is still a heated battle for the top five positions. The Gentleman Massey is only 92-points behind McMillan, and Dean Jones could mix up the fight with Massey and McMillan if they make any driving errors or mechanical gremlins strike.

In AIX, the return of AIX point leaders, Team Witherow, meant a slim chance for rookie Corey Weber to close the point's gap and challenge for the championship. Mathematically, Team Witherow could lock in the 2006 Championship with a solid performance by the end of the weekend. Yet another wrench in the weekend however, was another on track performance by Bruce Griggs of Griggs Racing and rookie Ryan Willson, not having a dyno-sheet, classed his AI car in AIX. The new gun with years of HPDE and TT driving experience ended up being fast and putting pressure on the whole group.

Qualifying surprises. With suspension work and more power, Bowman in the #99 SN95 Mustang IRS-Cobra car scored his first ever AI-pole position. Bruce Griggs scored AIX pole position in the #40 "Tijuana Taxi". Lindsey started late in the qualifying session never got a clean lap and ended with poor results. On his home track, rookie Ryan Willson just beat out Weber and the SN95 4.6L motor of the Gentleman Massey pulled hard to take 3rd position in AI qualifying.

Saturday AI Qualifying Results

1. #99 Bowman - 1.53.519
2. #73 Umphenour - 1.54.721
3. #46 Massey - 1.57.071
4. #34 McMillan - 1.58.55
5. #85 Jones - 2.12.317
6. #117 Lindsey - DNQ

Saturday AIX Qualifying Results

1. #40 Griggs - 1.53.349
2. #04 Team Witherow - 1.55.310
3. #49 Willson - 1.55.656
4. #47 Weber - 1.55.828

The flying start race grouped the AI and AIX classes by time together. With this staging, the Griggs Racing #40 car and the #99 Bowman car were on the front row, giving Bowman an edge to hold off the Iceman Umphenour. With the drop of the flag, the well grouped American Iron West thundered through Turn 1 as Griggs grabbed the lead and Bowman protected the line through Turns 2 and 3 to hold off Umphenour. Bowman out-broke Griggs in each corner and just barely led Umphenour through the Turn 6 carousel, but the Griggs AIX power kept the lead. Cutting through the tight and technical corners of 7, 8, 9 and 10, Griggs continued to hold off Bowman and Umphenour with Bowman nearly passing Griggs in Turn 7a. The 3-car lead pack rocketed through Turn 10, with Bowman closing a 4-car gap to a half-car gap on Griggs rounding Turn 11. The Iceman and his hammering-torque remained on Bowman through Turn 11. Down to Turn 12 and the front straight, Bowman and Umphenour drag raced in front of the grandstands with fans on their feet, with the Iceman taking Turn 2 and Bowman nearly losing control, but saving it to remain in the fight. Griggs continued to lead, but just barely holding off Umphenour and Bowman. For four more laps, the Griggs car begins to smoke more and more, and in the braking fight to Turn 7, Griggs over shot the corner opening a door for Umphenour to pass, and just as Bowman attempted a pass in Turn 7a, Griggs shut the door, allowing Umphenour to escape up front and slowly pulls away. In the remaining laps, Bowman was never more than 1 car length behind Griggs yet did not have the engine thrust to make any pass attempt stick. By the end of the race, Umphenour opened up a 5-second gap over Griggs and Bowman, yet this was some of the closest racing all season with ap times only hundredths of a second apart.

The fights just behind the leaders were just as epic. After being last on grid, Patrick Lindsey in the #117 Fox Mustang sliced through the AI and AIX cars in the first few laps to battle Jonathan "The Kid" Witherow in the SN95 Mustang for 12 laps of the 13 total. Each driver exchanged positions four times until Witherow spun his car and on the second to last lap Lindsey was struck by the racing gods with a shattered rear shock mount and was forced to pull off track. Further back in the pack, Willson, Weber, McMillan and Massey were all exchanging positions. The older Fox Mustang of McMillan with an ailing differential was able to hold off Massey to earn third place. Massey's chassis setup changes just before the race resulted in more push in the front steering which slowed him down a bit. Taking third AIX position, the Agent47 Weber AIX car was able to hold off rookie Willson and Dean Jones bringing up the rear pack.

Saturday AI Race Results / Best lap times

1. #73 Umphenour - 1.51.797
2. #99 Bowman - 1.51.904
3. #34 McMillan - 1.54.534
4. #46 Massey - 1.56.368
5. #117 Lindsey- 1.52.350
6. #85 Jones - 2.08.735

Saturday AIX Qualifying Results

1. #40 Griggs - 1.51.838
2. #04 Team Witherow 1.52.334
3. #47 Weber - 1.53.698
4. #49 Willson - 1.53.303

NASA sponsored a Saturday night BBQ that everyone enjoyed late into the evening.

Sunday Morning qualifying preparation began bright and early. The Iceman's chief mechanic Greg Umphenour was not going to have his driver be second on grid again, so some intensive re-checking of car setup was done. After the Saturday race, Bowman discovered dangerously loose brake caliper bolts, which needed to be re-torqued. John Griggs of Griggs Racing was supporting "The Gentleman" Massey with engine tuning, rookie Willson with suspension setup and "The Gun" Patrick Lindsey with re-mounting of rear coil-over shocks. McMillan was attempting differential repairs, but did not hold high hopes for good race results. Dean Jones was low on engine power and as this was his first time to the track he tried to gather more driving tips for the track to improve his time. Team Witherow also made differential and suspension changes. With transmission problems, Bruce Griggs elected not to race on Sunday.

Sunday AI Qualifying results:

1. #99 Andy Bowman - 1:50.344
2. #117 Patrick Lindsey - 1:51.012
3. #73 Gary Umphenour 1:52.249
4. #34 Bryan MacMillan - 1:55.020
5. #46 Massey Cunningham - 1:55.740
6. #85 Dean Jones - 2:04.663

Sunday AIX Qualifying results:

1. #04 Jonathan Witherow - 1:53.593
2. #49 Ryan Willson - 1:55.502 4 78.544
3. #47 Cory Weber - 1:58.345

For Sunday's race, Bowman, with his 2nd pole position and best class lap time for the weekend made the standing start with "The Gun" Lindsey next to him, and Umphenour and Witherow on the second row. Lindsey was the question mark as far as standing starts, but everyone knew "The Kid" Witherow tends to the ace the standing starts. The nine nicely packed American Iron West cars got the green flag and the wheels began to smoke, with Lindsey and Bowman battling for the lead into the uphill Turn 2. Lindsey won the charge with oversteer over the top of the hill and the 4.6 Liter Bowman Mustang Cobra pushing Lindsey through Turn 3. Sure enough, #04 Witherow SN95 fluorescent orange Mustang got the jump on the Iceman. Umphenour had a poor start but quickly recovered to remain on the tail of Witherow. The four-car battle raged up front as Lindsey and Bowman slowly opened up a 4-second gap from Witherow and Umphenour. On the fourth lap, Lindsey shot wide on the entry of Turn 7 and Bowman snagged the lead in Turn 7a. In the same lap, Umphenour passed Witherow in a classic pass setup in Turn 11 then powered down the front straight for the fans. By this point, with Bowman in the lead but battling Lindsey still, the Iceman Umphenour was 3 to 4 seconds behind as the pack approached the CMC back-marker traffic. The Gun Lindsey is in no way done as Bowman did his best to protect the race line. Patrick Lindsey pulled off a gutsy pass in Turn 2 which put Bowman back on the tail of Lindsey again. Bowman nearly grabbed the lead in Turn 11 with another braking maneuver, but the white flag dropped on the last lap, leaving Bowman behind Lindsey. Umphenour at this point was only 2 seconds behind Bowman, when a back-marker car slowed him down giving Bowman the chance to focus on some kind of last ditch pass on Lindsey. It was not to be however, with Lindsey protecting the line and taking the checkered flag with Bowman only .520 of a second behind and The Iceman following to take the 3rd podium spot, only 2.5 seconds behind Bowman.

The mid-pack battles also thundered between McMillan and Massey, with the #46 SN95 Mustang Cobra of Massey getting a great start to push McMillan all the way into Turn 3b. Hal Massey said "Bryan did a brilliant job of driving to hold me off, never crossing the line into anything unsportsman like." When McMillan was interviewed after the race, he said "Hal was on me the whole time and I was sure he was going to pass me if he only had one more lap". In the middle of the Massey and McMillan battle, Agent47 Weber cut into the mix in Turn 11 with his monster AIX power just as the white flag appeared and rookie Ryan Willson gained his first 2nd-place podium finish on his home track to beat out Weber. Jonathan Witherow earned first place, 12-seconds behind Umphenour, and capturing the 2006 AIX Championship.

Sunday AI Race results:

1. #117 Patrick Lindsey
2. #99 Andy Bowman
3. #73 Gary Umphenour
4. #34 Bryan MacMillan
5. #46 Massey Cunningham
6. #85 Dean Jones

Sunday AIX Race results:

1. #04 Jonathan Witherow
2. #49 Ryan Willson
3. #47 Cory Weber

The AI West points battle is down to a small gap between Umphenour and Bowman, and McMillan following up in 3rd. The next and last race is November 11-12 at Buttonwillow Raceway, where the 2006 AI championship will be decided down to the last race.

-credit: nasa pro racing

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Series Road racing
Drivers Patrick Lindsey