Masters National Finale, Road AtlantaNov 20, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006 The Skip Barber Masters National finale at Road Atlanta wasn’t going to decide a title – Chris Willcox had seen to that, clinching his fourth in a row six weeks earlier at Road America – but with a track conducive to passing combined with the return of a fast master, Phil Saville, we were sure to see some awesome racing…
Race 1 Willcox had taken the pole for both races (his fifth and sixth of the year), with John Mayes alongside. Willcox led through Turn One but when the pack came flying out of Turn 12 90 seconds later, it was Mayes out front, Willcox on his bumper. Chris Oliver and Quentin Wahl weren’t letting anyone get out of their sights, either. Oliver, in fact, wasn’t happy with third and by the end of lap two he took P2 from Willcox and went after Mayes. Two laps later Oliver grabbed the point from Mayes, but that was purely temporary because Mayes took it right back a lap later.
Mayes now looked firmly in control and when Saville (back for some fun in the R/T 2000 after two years of Star Mazda Masters and who, in just three laps, had gone from 11th to fifth!) dispatched both Willcox and Wahl on lap four to take over third place, Oliver had to focus less on catching Mayes and more on fending off Saville. But savvy Saville took his time, making his move for second place on lap eight.
So with five laps to go it was Mayes up front, digging for his first win of the year, with the Barber of Saville in hot pursuit, Oliver P3, Willcox fourth and Wahl fifth. There were some looks and pops on lap 10, but no changes. On lap 11, though, things went to hell in a handbasket for Mayes: He fell off the road near the start of the Esses, handing the lead to Saville. Mayes recovered and rejoined fifth, but the victory was gone. Saville took the well-deserved win, with Oliver P2, 2 seconds back, and Willcox third, on Oliver’s gearbox. Mayes remained strong despite his mistake, however: He not only set the race’s fastest time one lap after he tasted the dirt in Four, but got around Wahl for fourth on the last lap.
Race 2 This one shook out to be a battle between Oliver and Willcox up front but more mesmerizing was the dice between Michael Auriemma and Mayes for third. Willcox led the opening lap but Oliver sliced past and led the next two. Willcox kept the pressure on, however, and put himself back in the lead on lap four. But that effort was good for just one lap because he found himself second to Oliver once again after five laps were in the book. From that point to the checker, Willcox stayed within striking distance but couldn’t make anything happen.
Okay, back to the Mayes/Auriemma race for third place… These two went hub to hub a whole bunch of times and swapped positions no less than nine times in the race’s 12 laps! Mayes had it lap one, Auriemma lap two, Mayes laps three to five, Auriemma six, Mayes seven and eight – you get the picture. Auriemma had the advantage on the next to last lap by being fourth. So his last-lap move around Mayes got Auriemma his first-ever Masters National podium. Good stuff!
Race one winner Saville found himself in a heavy duty fight with John Peterson, Peter Ludwig (fastest race lap) and Wahl all race long as those four cut each other up. Each had held fifth place at least once during the race, with Saville taking the spot over for good with two laps to go.
And thus we close the books on the sixth year of the Skip Barber Masters National. Willcox has now won four of these titles on the trot. His 2006 logbook shows eight wins, seven additional podiums and six poles in 16 starts to score 260 points. Runner-up Ludwig (210 points) made 14 Masters National starts and won four times, with an impressive nine pole positions to his credit. Wahl overhauled Lippert for third in the final standings, 180 to 175. Each had a win, with Lippert scoring six additional podiums to Wahl’s five. Fifth in the championship was Mayes. Though winless this year, ‘‘Maisy’’ had two pole positions and finished on the podium six times to end up with 167 points.
Willcox has always run a plain white helmet, perhaps decorated with some red racer tape. For Road Atlanta, he showed up with a wonderfully designed helmet honoring his racing hero: Mark Donohue and his #9 Penske Racing Sunoco Trans-Am Camaro.