The tenth stop for the BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series was last weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. The 11 turn, 2.24 mile track set among the rolling hills of the Monterey Peninsula is one of the most picturesque race ...
The tenth stop for the BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series was last weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. The 11 turn, 2.24 mile track set among the rolling hills of the Monterey Peninsula is one of the most picturesque race courses in California. The elevation changes and surrounding hillsides create opportunities for fans to see most of the course from any vantage point. The famous Corkscrew turn at the top of the course is an exciting portion of the track to watch as the drivers are challenged by the downhill twists.
Epic Racing has entered two cars in each of the BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series races so far this year. However, there was just one Epic Racing Ford Mustang competing at the GlobalCenter Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca. Steve Pelke drove the #19 Kay Manufacturing Mustang, hoping to get his best finish of the season on his favorite west coast track. Gary Johnson who had been driving the #9 BBQ Smoke House Mustang in addition to serving as Team Manager for Epic Racing focused all of his attention during the race weekend on management and performance of the team.
The decision to run just one car at Laguna Seca was made at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix in Houston earlier this month. Steve Pelke was 13th in the Drivers' Championship after the Houston race, but only four points separated the drivers in 9th through 13th positions. The team goal is to get Steve into the top 10 before season's end, and it is expected that the additional support from Gary during race weekends will help accomplish that objective.
During the first practice session on Friday morning, Steve ran a respectable 1:31.086 with an average speed of 88.453, placing him 16th among the field of 34 entries. After the session, the information captured by the CDS Commander II race data system was analyzed by Steve and Gary to determine the transmission gearing and shock adjustments that were needed prior to the second practice session. The new gearing selected was designed to reduce the number of gear changes on each lap by nine shifts, and provide optimum power levels.
While Steve was able to shave nearly a second off his lap time during the afternoon practice session, many of the other competitors improved as well. With a 1:30.388 lap time, the Kay Manufacturing Mustang was 19th fastest in the field. In an effort to get more speed, the transmission was pulled again so that first and second gear could be changed. Additionally, the front springs were changed to a stiffer spring as the crew worked to give Steve a better handling car.
With Steve's 1:30.388 practice time, he missed making the fast group for Saturday's qualifying session by a tenth of a second. This worked against us as the slower group's qualifying session was cut short due to a car going off course. The group made only three laps at the start of the session and the cars were just getting up to speed when Jim Briody's #24 Camaro broke a drive shaft. It took the safety crew 20 minutes to remove him from the gravel pit, leaving only five minutes in the qualifying session. Steve was able to get in only three more laps, never got the tires warmed up or the car fully up to speed and ended the session with a best lap of 1:31:339. Even though he was a full second slower than during the practice session, Steve would line up 19th for the start of the race.
Although the time on the track was short, Steve reported that the transmission gearing was ideal and the car seemed to be handling well. The crew made a few minor shock adjustments for fine tuning and prepped the car for the race.
A good crowd was on-hand for the sunny Sunday afternoon 45 lap race when the green flag flew at 4:00pm. Racing did not last long as the day's first yellow flag was shown on lap 3 when Kevin Nielson went off course in turn 10. The race restarted on lap 6 with Steve running in 20th position.
On lap 18, Ken Murillo #22 spun at the top of the corkscrew and blocked the racing line. To avoid colliding with him, drivers were forced to go off track to the right or stay single file to the left. As Steve came around turn 7 headed into the corkscrew he steered the car wide left to avoid Murillo. Mike Davis #11 came in just behind Steve and attempted to go left and pass Steve at the same time. The cars bumped and both continued with minor damage.
A full course yellow flag was thrown on lap 32 in order to pull Tomy Drissi #15 from the gravel at turn 6. At this point, Steve was in 16th position, and had just been lapped by the leader, Boris Said #33 and the second place car of Kenny Wilden #40. Due to the rules for restarts after a yellow flag, Steve was in a poor position relative to the drivers running in front of him. Steve was in 16th position and the third car in line behind the pace car. The 15th place car of Mike Davis was at the back of the pack, essentially a full lap ahead of Steve. The opportunity to pass for position was lost for the balance of the race.
The pack returned to green flag racing on lap 37. As they headed into turn 2, Steve went off course and radioed that the motor had died. He was able to restart the engine instantly and get back on course, but lost two positions, dropping to 18th.
Within two laps, Steve gained the two positions back, and remained in 16th position to the race end. At the front, there was an excellent battle with Kenny Wilden driving the Derhaag Motorsports #40 to the first Trans-Am Series victory for both the team and driver. Boris Said #33 finished second and Paul Gentilozzi #1 took the final podium position in 3rd place.
During the post-race debriefing, Steve reported that he had been battling under-steer throughout the day, making it very difficult to steer the car through an effective race line in the turns. Analyzing the Commander II data, it appeared that the spring change may not have improved the handling as desired.
With the 10 points earned for the 16th place finish, Steve moved into a tie with Willy T. Ribbs for 12th place in the Drivers Championship.
Our next race is the Johnson Controls 100 on Sunday, October 29 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jack Willes, formerly with TWC Motorsports, will join Epic Racing for the weekend and will drive the #9 BBQ Smoke House Mustang. Jack has had four top 10 finishes this year including 3rd at Charlotte, 6th at Mosport, 5th at Detroit and 7th at Houston.
The race will be televised live on Speedvision at 6:00pm EST and 3:00pm PST. (Don't forget to set your clocks back the night before!) There will be an encore presentation on Friday, November 3 at 12:00noon EST and 9:00am PST.