Masters National Races 15 & 16

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 Rounds 15 and 16 of the 2006 Skip Barber Masters National were at Road America. Multiple champion Chris Willcox held a sizable points lead over Peter Ludwig and Dick Lippert and in fact could have clinched his fourth Masters title. Except that he wasn’t at Road America. Out sick, Willcox’s absence provided a tremendous opportunity for Ludwig to close the gap…

Masters National competitors Peter Tucker (l.) and Jimmy Locke contemplate racing at one of the best tracks in the world, Road America.

Qualifying 1
Ludwig took the first step in his goal to take big bites out of Willcox’s points lead by qualifying for the first race in P1. It was very close between he and John Greist – about two-tenths of a second – and the pole is worth a point. Lippert was third-quick, followed by Jimmy Locke, Michael Auriemma, John Peterson, Quentin Wahl, Peter Tucker and John Mayes (who did not put up a time).

Race 1, 10 laps
Ludwig took off and held the lead through the first lap, with the top five in grid order. On lap two, Auriemma took over fourth while Greist stayed all over the gearbox of Ludwig. In the Caroussel, Ludwig was wide of the apex and it looked like Greist might have a chance to pop going into Canada, but it didn’t happen. On lap four, Greist made the draft-pass on P.L., but Ludwig got it back by the time the field got to T7. Meanwhile, the P3 battle was getting hot and on lap six, Auriemma snatched it from Locke on the front straight. But Auriemma dropped four at Billy Mitchell and he paid the price into and out of 14 because Locke grabbed third place back. Lap seven and up front, Greist went by Ludwig again on the front straight – and kept it. Lap eight, Auriemma re-passed Locke for third.

So as the field completes lap nine and preps for their last lap moves, the order is Greist, Ludwig, Auriemma, Locke, Lippert, Wahl, Tucker, Mayes and Peterson (the top six are essentially nose-to-tail). If Ludwig stays where he is, he’ll gain 17 points on Willcox (16 for second, plus his pole point). But that’s not P.L.’s style. If he has a chance to win – any chance – he’s gonna go for it. So flying down to Five, Ludwig tries to get around Greist… and goes four-off! He begins to make a quick recovery and it even looks like he could keep second place – but he spins it in the grass! Oh, lord, what a good chance gone by… But there’s half-a-lap to go and in those two miles, Wahl took advantage of the mad scrambling and took over second place by getting around Lippert and Auriemma – and Lippert coattailed himself into third! Good race, this was…

Qualifying 2
Ludwig did it again (another point for pole), out-qualifying Greist for the pole, but this time the margin was .712. Wahl was third and Lippert fourth, followed by Auriemma, Mayes, Tucker, Locke and Peterson.

Race 2, 10 laps
Before the green, P.L. finds he doesn’t like the feel of the #49 car and begins to hop in and out of the spares, finally settling on the #61. At the start, Greist has the lead, Auriemma is in second and in Canada, Mayes goes into third. Where’s Ludwig? Trolling around, he pulls it into the pits. A very rare mechanical DNF, as the gearbox has given up the ghost. Well, so much for making up ground on Willcox…

But we’ve got a race going, and a dandy one at that. It’s Greist and Wahl up front, then a gap to third place Mayes, then Auriemma and Lippert in an entertaining squabble over fourth. Lippert takes numerous looks on lap three, but Auriemma is defending brilliantly. On lap four, Wahl drafts past Greist on the front straight for the lead while Auriemma and Lippert are torrid, going side-by-side through Five and Six! Yet Auriemma still hangs on to fourth… and in the meantime, Mayes looks to be catching the leaders. Next time around, Greist gets under Wahl in Five but by the time they hit the stripe it’s Wahl who’s the leader. Finally, on lap six, Greist takes over the lead for what will officially be the last time and holds off Wahl over the last four laps, who crosses the line at the checker about one and a half seconds later. Mayes was third, another five second behind, while the radical P4 battle went to… Peterson! His kick-ass double move in T5 took care of both Lippert and Auriemma, who in the shuffle ended up behind Lippert. Locke and Tucker rounded out the runners.

The Sunday race podium: P3 John Mayes (l.), winner John Greist (c.) and second-place Quentin Wahl.

… So as the 2006 Masters National drivers head to the season finale at Road Atlanta November 17-19, Willcox has 248 points to Ludwig’s 192. Ludwig still has a teeny-weeny chance, but all Willcox needs to do is score 6 points – that’s one 10th-place finish – and the party’s over. But we know this: Ludwig’s going to do all he can…

Rick Roso

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