Rounds 5 & 6 of the 2008/2009 Western Series

Monday, January 12, 2009 This weekend was a far cry from the weather we had last month here at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. My recollection over the years is traditionally we have had great weather in December and rain in January. But this year it was the exact opposite. This weekend was gorgeous driving weather. High 60’s to low 70’s and nothing but sun shine without a cloud in the sky. The nights (and at the track before dawn) were almost as spectacular, as this weekend the moon was full and at its closest point to earth during the year.

While many drivers on the east coast are busy trying to organize a “reunion group” at Sebring, Fl. in February we had a “miniature” reunion here as we saw the return of Tom Roberts from Seattle, WA. and Jeff Kaiser from San Jose, CA. (or thereabouts). It has been way too long since we saw them last and it was great to have them back.

Group 1 – Race 1
Emil Sildos got the pole and brought the group of 13 drivers to the green flag. Instantly the field flared and we had multiple 3 wide action through turn one and in to the brake zone of two. Emil keeps the lead and is closely followed by Tom Roberts, Jeff Kaiser and Mason Marotta (who started P6). Neal Agran’s race immediately got more difficult as he spins in turn two, lap one. Big battle mid pack in to turn 5 and Kevin Tittle passes Walter Kuhn. Tittle, who started DFL due to a loss of control in qualifying, made up 4 spots on the opening lap. A few laps in and the field, more or less, has settled in to two groups. A pack of 4 (Sildos, Roberts, Kaiser and Marotta) for the lead and a gap to the next group of Mikhail Goikhberg, Kyle Gimple, Ethan Stone and Tittle battling for P5. Emil puts some good laps together and pulls a slight advantage over Roberts, who does the same versus Kaiser and Marotta who start duking out. Marotta gets by Kaiser going in to turn 5, but the next lap Kaiser gets him back going in to turn two. We all have days where we are not “on our game” and that was the kind of day Dan Cheadle was having. On lap 5 he does a “half” spin in turn 4. Proving it wasn’t a fluke he repeats it two more times, all in turn 4. Bummer. Meanwhile Goikhberg worked his way clear of the mid pack battle and closes in on the front group. Ethan Stone (being radio coached by Jonathan Bomarito) was “Mr. Aggressive” and had some possible contact calls during the race and eventually had his whole nose fly up in his face! He pitted, had it removed and continued. Just before half way and Kaiser and Marotta are still going at it. That battle ends when Kaiser spins it in turn 10. He immediately ducks in to the pits for his safety check. Three quarters through the race and Alex Jasserme and Walter Kuhn are battling hard for an eventual 8th place finish. Walter gets that honor over Jasserme. 7 laps to go and Goikhberg catches and gets by Marotta for the final podium spot. Unfortunately it was short lived as he goes 4-off in turn six on the same lap. 6 laps to go and Tittle who had worked his way up to 4th goes off the road at the exit of six and gets stuck in the gravel. This brings out a full course yellow (FCY), which helps Roberts close the gap to Sildos. Stone and Goikhberg both make use of the FCY to come in to the pits for their safety check, only losing a couple of spots. This also lets Kaiser close in and get back in the game. He is in P5. 3 to go on the restart and Emil gets on it going in to turn 11. Roberts knows it’s coming and stays right with him. Not true for Marotta as he is back a bit and has Gimple all over him for third place. Gimple pops going in to turn 2 and makes it stick. This allows Kaiser to close in on Marotta. Up front, with 2 to go, Roberts is right there behind Sildos and it is 3 wide in to turn 5 between Goikhberg, Kaiser and Marotta. Kaiser and Marotta go side by side through 5, 6 and up to the corkscrew. This allows Goikhberg to solidify P4. At the checker flag Roberts is right behind Sildos, but can’t get it done. Great drive for Roberts after being out of the car for quite some time. Gimple gives a solid performance and takes the final podium spot followed by Goikhberg. Kaiser and Marotta battle all the way to the line and have a photo finish. Marotta gets 5th over Kaiser by 7/1000! Great racing by everyone.

Group 1 – Race 2
Goikhberg gets a good start and pops to the outside on the front row. Braking for turn two, Roberts gets in to the back of Sildos. Goikhberg doesn’t play it safe and passes Sildos for the lead in to turn 5, not even waiting for the two of them to pit. After the pit stops, Sildos comes back out in 9th but Roberts stop takes a lot of time as his wing is bent bad and the crew has to rip it off. So what was a 6-car battle for the lead almost instantly gets whittled to a 3-car battle between Goikhberg, Gimple and Kaiser. Cheadle’s bad day continues as he spins in turn 6 on lap 2. Towards the back there is a good “3 way” going on between Walter Kuhn, David Cheng and Neal Agran. This battle ends on lap 3 when Cheng spins in turn two. Agran has to check up and does a sympathy spin, leaving Kuhn all alone. He brings it home for to a 7th place finish. Over the next several laps the top 3 stay close together with Gimple putting some pretty good pressure on Goikhberg while Kaiser sits in the catbirds seat. Cheng and Agran find each other after their spins and unfortunately have contact in the corkscrew. At the half way point Gimple is able to make the move on Goikhberg and passes him in to turn 5 for the lead. 3 laps later and Goikhberg takes it back going in to the corkscrew. Kaiser had fallen back a bit but with the slicing and dicing he is back in the hunt. 3 to go and Cheng’s bad luck continued with a spin in turn six. 2 to go and it heats up for the lead. Gimple makes the move in turn five again over Goikhberg. It is short lived as he is under pressure through the corkscrew and then spins and goes 4-off exiting turn nine. This leaves Kaiser left to try over come Goikhberg and he gives it everything he’s got. Last lap and he closes in on Goikhberg with a great run through turn 5 and up to turn 6. Kaiser sets the pass up going in to the corkscrew but Goikhberg shuts the door. This hurts both of them, as Kaiser can’t back out and hits Goikhberg. Goikhberg’s car is damaged pretty badly but he keeps on going to make it the flag. Through turn 10 the damage is too much and he spins. Eventually he gets it in to the pits, but can’t continue. Kaiser takes the checkered on track, but has a penalty added to him. Once the computer stopped smoking, it was determined that Mason Marotta got his first win with Skip Barber by keeping it on the track and out of trouble. Way to go Mason! Congrads to Kevin Tittle, who started at the back, but kept it on track and ran solid to a fine P2 finish. Sildos, after his pit stop ran some great laps (fastest race lap) and with the bad luck everyone else had, was able to claw back and finish on the final podium spot.

Group 2 – Race 1
Emil Sildos took the pole for this one as well. Emil will not be at the Sebring West/South combo event so he is doubling here. Very orderly start and it is 2 by 2 through the field in to turn 2. Michael Raimes get the best start and is able to get by Sildos by the time they get to turn 3. It is short lived as two corners later Sildos takes it back in turn five and by the end of lap one has 5-6 car length lead. Ian Costa, who slipped back a little from his P2 starting position tried to get one of his spots back in turn 11 going by Goikhberg (who was also doing a double) for 3rd, but Goikhberg sets up the re-pass and gets it done by the line. Costa then gets the run on Goikhberg out of turn 4 and attempts the pass in to turn five. Goikhberg turns in, but leaves room for Costa and the two go side by side through five and up to six. They try to go side by side there, but there is not enough room and Costa goes 4-off on the outside. A few laps in and Sildos has breathing room over Raimes who has a cushion over the 5 car battle for P3 between Brandon McReynolds, Goikhberg, Gavin Sun, Jamie Wilson and Alex Jasserme. These five swap positions and battle hard over most of the race. There is another good battle a little farther back in the field between Greg Strelzoff, Steve Mayer, Chris Brassard and Greg Liefooghe. In the end Mayer gets the better finish out of this group with a solid P8 finish in his first visit to this historical track. 5 laps to go and the battles are at the front of the pack. Raimes has slowly closed in on Sildos for the lead and Gavin Sun and Brandon McReynolds are going at it for P4. 4 to go and Sildos bobbles in turn two and Raimes take the lead. Sildos tries to get it back going in to the corkscrew but Raimes says “no sir!” 2 to go and Raimes has about 6-7 car lengths over Sildos and McReynolds and Sun have been battling for P4. Sildos nails the first half of the lap and closes on Raimes. He makes the pop going in to the corkscrew but can’t get it slowed down. He ends up doing a “Zanardi” and is 4-off going down the hill. Last lap and the battle between McReynolds and Sun ends when Sun (car #4) goes 4-off in turn 4. Last lap, last corner and Strelzoff does the “dive bomb” on Jasserme. He can’t keep it on the road and goes 4-off at the exit. With the penalty Sildos slips back to P4, while Raimes takes the win followed by Goikhberg and McReynolds (who gets a podium finish in his first Skip Barber race weekend).

Group 2 – Race 2
Good start by all, but Costa and Strelzoff get the best starts and make some pops going over the hill. It is 4 wide going in to turn two and McReynolds gets in to the back of Goikhberg. McReynolds pits and rejoins in P14. He is able to make it back up to P5 by the checker flag. Goikhberg makes it back up to P8 after rejoining in P12. First lap in to the corkscrew has multiple passes. Sildos and Costa get by Goikhberg in a one two punch and Sun gets by Mayer. Jasserme spins in turn six and goes 4-off. A great 3-car battle continues for most of the race between Sildos, Costa and Raimes. Raimes led the first lap but then Sildos took the point for the next four. After that Costa took the point and held it to the end. These three put on a great race and congrads to Ian for getting his first win in the Skip Barber race series! Behind these three there was a good battle going on between Sun and Strelzoff for P4. They kept at it for the first three quarters of the race and were joined by Jamie Wilson. Wilson started back in P9, but ran a solid race moving up a spot every 3 to 4 laps (or so). Wilson ended up getting by easily on the last lap when both Sun and Strelzoff went off in turn 2. Insult to injury for Sun as he got stuck in the gravel as well. Steve Nelson also had a last lap bobble. Coming to the checker he spun exiting turn eleven. He didn’t lose much as he was the last car on the lead lap.

Blake Atherton Memorial Blake Atherton was a crewmember for Skip Barber. He worked with us for 3 seasons before re-enlisting in the service. He was on leave this holiday season, spending time with his family when he was found dead in the morning. He died in his sleep from what has been ruled as natural causes. Blake was 28 years old. We send our condolences and best wishes to his family.

This would be one of the few memorials, in recent times that was not won by an instructor. Not because there weren’t any instructors on the grid. Per normal gridding procedures, Gerardo Bonilla and Rene Villeneuve started at the back of the pack. However they never saw the green flag as the classic “accordion effect” leaving pit lane (we teach this in our 3 Day Racing School) caught Rene out and he ran in to the back of Bonilla. They both were able to make it around to the pits but neither could continue. Greg Liefooghe got the luck of the draw and started on the pole. It was short lived as Walter Kuhn got by him on lap one. Walter pulled out a big lead over the field, but eventually Ethan Stone got around Liefooghe and started closing in on Kuhn. It took him until the halfway point of the race to catch Walter, and then it became a “mano y mano” race between the two to see who could get there first win. Ethan got by Walter and led laps 9-11. Ethan was running a little quicker than Walter but Walter dug deep and put the pedal to the medal. He caught back up to Ethan and passed him to lead laps 12 & 13. Ethan came right back and retook the lead for laps 14 & 15. It looked like Ethan was going to take it but on the last lap Walter found big speed through turns 4, 5 and got by Ethan on the way to 6. Ethan set up the re-pass and got the run up toward the corkscrew. Ethan popped to the inside in the brake zone but Walter stayed with him. They went side by side over the crest and down the hill. Unfortunately Ethan had a little too much speed and dropped wheels exiting 8A and spun! Walter cruised home for his first ever Skip Barber race series win. Congratulations Walter! Greg Strelzoff drove well and took home the P2 spot and Jamie Wilson rounded out the podium.

Next stop for the Skip Barber Race Series will be at Homestead, FL, January 24-25, for a Southern Formula 2000 weekend and a combined South vs. West MazdaSpeed Challenge Series weekend. This is a virtually sold out event and should be a lot of “fun in the sun”.


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