AI-West: Thunderhill round two summary

WEST: Rain and Wind at Thunderhill Round 2 of the American Iron West region series arrived very quickly after intense racing at the famous "roval" California Speedway just weeks before. The rumors of new cars and serious budget increases ...

WEST: Rain and Wind at Thunderhill

Round 2 of the American Iron West region series arrived very quickly after intense racing at the famous "roval" California Speedway just weeks before. The rumors of new cars and serious budget increases were found to be true this year and continue's to be. Cars continue to improve in sophistication and drivers are proving to hit faster lap times.

Thunderhill raceway is definitely one of the most favorite tracks of the west region drivers. Its rolling hills and elevation changes throughout the 15-turn, 3-mile road course, with a long front and a very fast straight, is a driver's track. Drivers in attendance for the racing included Keith Parker, Vageli Karas, Ernesto Roco, Corey Weber, Hal Massey, Bryan MacMillan, Ryan Willson, Dean Jones, Andy Bowman, Mark and Jonathan Witherow. Scheduled to race, but missing from action was Patrick Lindsey, Gary Umphenour and Ryan Walton, three of the series faster lappers. It will be a long season, but missing any race event makes winning the 2007 championship a challenge given the high competitive series.

The weekend drama began with the Friday test and tune. In his rookie season, JMC Motorsports sponsored, #17 Keith Parker in his newly and highly prepared Fox body Mustang sporting new paint, Griggs Racing SLA suspension and a fast 331 motor. Parker, a two-time NASA Time Trial champion, had never driven the Thunderhill Raceway track and found on his first lap testing, it was going to be a tough day as he drove off-track one of the corners and struggled to find the braking zones. Corey Weber of the #47 AGENT47 series sponsored SN95 car, found the new sound limit of 103db to trip his car in his first track session, and ended up having to park for the day to re-engineer his mufflers. 2006 AIX Champions, Team Witherow, appeared for test and tune in the #04 AI car with Jonathan Witherow piloting. Jonathan made good time at the track, registering for the AI class this time and was going to be a force to deal with. The "Dark-Knight" Bryan MacMillan in the #34 newly prepared Fox Mustang also test and tuned, working out a few technical issues, yet laid down fast times at his home track. And finally, Hal "The Gentleman" Massey appeared, sporting another re-built 4.6L modular motor by Griggs Racing, ever so gently breaking the motor in to challenge the AI class.

Appearing with new cars, veteran AI racer, #33 Vageli Karas in a 331Ci pushrod engine, Fox body car, and Ryan Willson in a SN95, 4.6L modular engine car. Both cars highly prepared to the maximum levels. Vageli's car built by himself and impressively built to some of the highest standards. And Ryan's car, built by Griggs Racing also built to the very highest levels. Both cars sporting the new Griggs Racing SLA front suspensions.

"Who'll stop the rain"-- and rain it did. Starting at 2am Saturday morning, the northern California track received a cold rain front that soaked the track. Braving the morning warm up and qualifying sessions, included its drama as few teams had rain tread tires on hand. Teams scrambled to adjust suspension and tire setups as best they could. Sitting out the rain sessions and hoping for a dry-race was Karas, Roco, Weber, Willson, Massey. Bowman failed to get his practice test Nitto brand tires off to get a valid qualifying session time, but used the track time for additional seat time. Keith Parker won the pole position and the extra points for the day:

Saturday Qualifying:

AI group:
Keith Parker #17
Bryan MacMillan #34
Jonathan Witherow #04
Dean Jones #85
Andy Bowman #99 -- DQ
Vageli Karas #33-- no time
Ryan Willson #49 -- no time
Hal Massey #46 -- no time

AIX group:
Ernesto Roco -- no time
Corey Weber -- no time

As the Saturday race time approached, the rain had appeared to stop, then just before the flying start began, rain fell again. Karas and Willson decided to sit the race out, not wanting to risk damaging new cars. The AI and AIX class were joined on track with the CMC and FFR classes as usual, so a full 31 cars in total would be on the 3-mile track.

The flying start dropped with a slow flag, and Keith "Wanna-Be Racing" Parker in the #17 Fox red-white-and-blue Mustang pulled away from the pack, getting lucky with a dry race line. Parker quickly opened up an 8-second lead on the first lap alone and appeared to be heading for his first rookie win. Struggling with grip and a wet track, MacMillan, Witherow, Massey, Jones and Bowman battled for each slippery corner. Amazingly, the skillful drivers held their driving lines with no contact and no off track excursions. The pack was door-to-door and slip-streaming bumper to bumper fighting it out. The JBA Racing-Steeda-AGENT47 sponsored car of #99 Bowman, equipped with the ABS and IRS suspension, picked away slowly at Massey, then Jones, then Witherow and then MacMillan. Witherow battled for grip and MacMillan fought Bowman until mid-race, when it appeared that Parker was long gone, Parker slides off the track in turns 3 and 4, cutting a few blades of grass with his splitter to boot--. Parker allowed MacMillan and Bowman to get close. Just then, the rain begins to fall again on the back half of the track causing greater challenge to maintain lap times. Bowman is on the tail of MacMillan with only a few laps left in the race, and over takes him in the turn 10 braking zone. MacMillan can not recover his position due to the lack of grip, and Bowman begins to reel-in Parker. On the 2nd to last lap, Bowman catches Parker in the uphill turn-8 and nearly slides off the track in a late braking move, but the ABS system saves him as he captures the lead position. Racing to the end in the closing laps, Jonathan Witherow creeps up to MacMillan and makes a brave pass to re-take 3rd spot. By this time, the track is soaked and the class is spread out just trying to finish.

In AIX, Ernesto Roco was fast, but decided to bring the car into the pits after only 2 laps, not wanting to risk his highly prepared car. Corey Weber in the #47 car, however, pulls off an amazing finish in the rain, some how keeping his 600Hp, slick-Hoosier tire car on the track to complete the full race session. It was truly a feat for Weber, and an experience he will not forget soon. Weber in the AGENT47 car takes first place.

Saturday Race Results:

AI Class: 99 Andy Bowman 17 Keith Parker 04 Team Witherow 34 Bryan MacMillan 46 Hal Massey 85 Dean Jones

AIX Class: 47 Corey Weber 2 Ernesto Roco

Saturday night, NASA put on the usual BBQ event, and the partying began. The rain was over--

Sunday morning, drivers returned to their cockpits, strapped in, and warmed up their race cars for some serious dry-weather racing. The rain was gone, but 30 to 40 MPH wind gusts took its place, which caused some questions on the impact of aerodynamics, down-force and cornering speeds. 2006 National Champion #2 Ernesto Roco did not drive 500+ miles north to just sit, and laid down record lap times in the qualifying session. Just hearing his AIX car in the practice sessions was an impressive site, and the front straight speeds nearly broke a few windows. With 600Hp and a professional-class car, Corey Weber also laid down rocket fast laps and was intent on giving Roco a fight, however, the AGENT47 car experienced an axle failure and was forced into the pits, and found the failure too severe to fix at the track. Roco laid down a 1.52.06 lap, never seen at Thunderhill in the AIX class before.

In the AI class, all cars rolled on the out lap, suddenly the #99 Bowman car was struck by the racing gods and began to lose battery power and what appeared to be a failing alternator, so he pulled into the pits after one lap. #17 Wanna-Be Racing Keith Parker takes his second rookie pole position and the extra points, with MacMillan and Witherow very close behind pole position. Working out his new car, Ryan Willson puts down some excellent lap times and presents a real threat for the race and the championship season, just barely beating out veteran racer Hal Massey. With new cars comes testing, and Karas puts fast laps, however is DQ'd due to being too light in weight on the scales, burning more fuel than expected and was unable to find the car fuel burn rate due to the previous day rain. The race grid was setup for excitement with Vageli and Bowman sitting at the back of the pack--.

Sunday Qualifying:

AI Class:
17 Keith Parker 2:03.241
34 Bryan MacMillan - 2:03.284
04 Jonathan Witherow - 2:03.843
49 Ryan Willson - 2.07.790
46 Hal Massey - 2:07.993
99 Andy Bowman - 2:20.230
85 Dean Jones - 2:21.000
33 Vageli Karas - DQ

AIX Class
2 Ernesto Roco 1.52.06
47 Corey Weber 2.02.765 -- axle failure

Another flying start, the well packed door to door American Iron race rocketed past the green flag and stat finish line, headed for the very fast turn 1 with Ernesto Roco easily taking the corner and pulling away from the AI class cars. Keith Parker gets a good start, but has to slide in behind Roco gaining speed off Roco's slip stream, and Parker begins to open up a lead once again. Like mad-dogs after meat, Witherow, MacMillan, Willson, Massey, Karas, Bowman and Jones dice into turns 1, 2 and 3, driving like full time pro racers the group is only inches off each other. Bowman and Karas nearly tap fenders into turn one slicing just past Massey and Jones and rolling in behind Witherow. Massey was giving no ground and closes the door on Jones and looking for the leaders to make mistakes to retake positions. Dean Jones in the #85 car finds a position when #49 Ryan Willson snaps a shifter handle and is unable to continue the race and is forced into the pits.

The raging battle continues between the four car train of MacMillan, Witherow, Karas and Bowman. In some of the highest level racing to date, two Fox body cars sporting pushrod motors battle two SN95 cars packing modular 4.6L engines. MacMillan battles and skillfully holds his line to keep other behind, in several daring moves after 4 laps, MacMillan loses positions to Witherow and Karas and Bowman inches behind. Heading downhill high speed into left turn 10, Bowman is not expecting the battling Witherow, Karas and MacMillan to early brake and is forced to the inside grass. Sliding sideways at high speed and expecting to crash into other cars, somehow missing Karas and MacMillan. Bowman recovers, to battle MacMillan for two more laps and over taking him in turn 1, but MacMillan is never more than a few feet behind Bowman. Just ahead, Witherow and Karas are in a corner to corner battle for position, with the young-gun Jonathan Witherow using every skill he can muster to hold off the veteran #33 Karas. With Bowman in tow, Karas displays some of the most professional moves on track to find lines around Witherow in the SN95 4.6L car. MacMillan putting pressure on Bowman, and Bowman on the bumper of Karas fighting for championship points, just watching the leader Keith Parker pull away, with only a few laps to go, Bowman attempts a high speed run into turn 1 and spins the car at well over 100MPH, somehow avoiding an accident and pointing in the right direction, but MacMillan re-takes 4th position. Bowman again re-gains speed yet is unable to challenge MacMillan. Yet, the 2nd and 3rd place battle between Witherow and Karas continues, and Karas over takes Witherow in a braking zone with only 1 lap to go.

The race ends with Keith Parker taking the pole to pole win, and the new lead in championship points. #99 Andy Bowman takes the AGENT47 ( series sponsor Fastest Lap Award of the weekend and $250 dollars. MacMillan ends up 2nd place and Bowman ends up 3rd place due to tech-inspection issues with Karas and Witherow.

Sunday Race results:

AI Class:
Keith Parker #17
Bryan MacMillan #34
Andy Bowman #99
Hal Massey #46
Dean Jones #85
Ryan Willson #49
Vageli Karas #33 -- DQ
Jonathan Witherow #04 -- DQ

AIX Class:
Ernesto Roco #2
Corey Weber #47 -- did not race

The next race is Willow Springs Raceway May 5-6, 2007. See the American Iron Racing website at for points and series information.

-credit: nasa

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Series Road racing