You need to upgrade your Flash Player to version 10 or newer.

The Speed SF Challenge Heats Up at Thunderhill West

Articles Comments Off on The Speed SF Challenge Heats Up at Thunderhill West

The Speed SF made its return to Thunderhill West and its tight, technical layout with its many blind and rapid-fire corners. The Speed SF Challenge session once again evoked strong competition across all classes. Despite a frigid start to the morning, temperatures rapidly increased through the day, making it the warmest event thus far in the 2016 season. Despite the warmer temperatures, lap times in many classes were plenty fast and a few records were broken.

The grid takes shape right before the Speed SF Challenge Session

The grid takes shape right before the Speed SF Challenge Session

In the Pretty (P) Class, the top three finishers’ fastest times clocked in within two seconds of each other. In a deep field of competitors, a couple of familiar faces made it out on top, but a newcomer had managed to join as well.

The P Class winners take a moment to ham it up for photographer Bill Wang

The P Class winners take a moment to ham it up for photographer Bill Wang

Making his debut on the podium was Miata driver, Zeeshan Khan. His fastest lap time of a 1:31.3 netted him the third fastest time in the P Class, much to even his surprise.

Khan put in a fast lap, only 0.4 seconds behind Zoe Downing

Khan put in a fast lap, only 0.4 seconds behind Zoe Downing

“I wasn’t expecting to be on the podium, actually,” Khan admitted.  “To be perfectly honest, I was just happy to get a few clean, uninterrupted laps in. The conditions were just right and it helped having a faster car to chase. Zoe was ahead of me on the track. I happened to put in a fast lap before the session ended, and that was that!”

Will we see more strong performances by Khan in the future?

Will we see more strong performances by Khan in the future?

Finishing with the second fastest lap time in the P Class was another Miata, driven by perennial front-runner, Zoe Downing.  Zoe’s 1:30.9 allowed her to claim some much-needed points as she maintains her season championship campaign. She continues to improve although first place finisher, Alejandro Rios’ time was just out of reach.

Downing's car continues to get faster at every event

Downing’s car continues to get faster at every event

“Alex’s lap time was definitely in sight! I didn’t get a full (qualifying) session in in the morning unfortunately, so I had to fight through traffic during the challenge session,” Downing lamented.

Even so, she’s still bullish on her future prospects, “The car felt great though, and I’m feeling optimistic about a #1 finish at Sonoma. Alex (Rios) and Nik (Romano) are tough competition, I think it will be a good fight for the rest of the season.”

Can Downing improve to the top step of the podium next time?

Can Downing improve to the top step of the podium next time?

Finishing in first place, once again, was the BMW 540i of Alex Rios with a class-winning time of 1:29.3. Not only did he improve upon his time from his last trip to Thunderhill West, but he also managed to capture the elusive win in a vehicle which in many ways is the antithesis of the Mazda Miata.

Proving that heavy cars are just as capable when properly driven and set up

Proving that heavy cars are just as capable when properly driven and set up

The win established a bigger gap in points between Rios and his competition in the Pretty Class.  Still, fellow competitors Zoe Downing and Nik Romano are not far behind in the most highly-contested championship in the Speed SF Challenge series.

Rios has been dominant, but with consistent performances by competitors in the P Class, can he maintain his lead?

Rios has been dominant, but with consistent performances by competitors in the P Class, can he maintain his lead?

The Pretty Fast (PF) Class was another closely contested affair with just under two seconds separating first place from third place. All three of the top finishers have been on the podium before.

Kotz's Mazda Miata showed noticeable improvements from his last outing at THill West

Kotz’s Mazda Miata showed noticeable improvements from his last outing at THill West

Finishing third was the boosted Miata of Nikolaj Kotz with a fastest time of 1:26.5. Kotz finished in second place during his last outing at Thunderhill West in the PF Class. Despite the lower finish, his fastest lap time was an impressive two seconds faster. His podium finish also put some additional distance between himself and the other PF Class challengers in the season points standings.

Kotz has a firm grasp on the second spot in the total season points standings

Kotz has a firm grasp on the second spot in the total season points standings

Finishing in second place in the PF Class was Kevin Schweigert, whose time of 1:25.4 was surprisingly the third fastest time within the entire Speed SF Challenge session.

A very impressive display by Schweigert, improving upon his last appearance by a tenth of a second

A very impressive display by Schweigert, improving upon his last appearance by a tenth of a second

Even Schweigert himself was a little surprised by his level of performance, “I’ve been trying to tweak my settings to achieve a good oversteer/understeer balance. I like to have quite a bit of rear looseness in the car, but have found that having too much, while fun, doesn’t equate to faster lap times. This time around my setup had considerably more understeer especially in turns like T2 and T6, due to heat cycled tires being on the front, which actually ended up being sorta-ok in terms of lap times.”

Schweigert's lap times would have earned him the  win in every class except the PF and OMG Class

Schweigert’s lap times would have earned him the win in every class except the PF and OMG Class

Finishing in first place in the PF Class was Scott Smith. Not only did Scott take the win, but he also reset the PF Class record at Thunderhill West and managed to turn in the second fastest time in the Speed SF Challenge session. Scott extends his lead in the PF Class season championship with his third win of the season.

Smith's lap times in his Miata were good for the second fastest lap of the Speed SF Challenge session

Smith’s lap times in his Miata were good for the second fastest lap of the Speed SF Challenge session

“We were slower due to the heat and traffic but faster overall! I worked on momentum through 3W and 6W, and added an additional downshift at 7W. My qual time for the challenge was only 1.29, so I really had to lay down at least one clean lap during the SF Challenge to stay competitive. After the warm up lap, I was able to string three 1.24s together in a row, with the last one being my new PB. The Hoosiers had five full track days on them and have been rapidly tailing off. The guys behind me Sunday were just a tick slower, so I’ll have to find more time and/or invest in fresh tires if I want to keep pace. We missed Speed SF leaders Pat and Joe, but the rest of the crew did a fine job executing the day given their absence,” Smith noted.

Smith delivered another commanding performance. What's next for Smith?

Smith delivered another commanding performance. What’s next for Smith?

The Pretty and Fast (PAF) Class was yet another hard-fought group, with a mere 1.6 seconds separating the top three finishers. All three competitors have made it onto the top step of the podium in past events this season, so it was no surprise that the class was so tightly-matched.

Finishing in third place was current (and continuing) PAF Class record holder, John Lawrence in his Chevy Camaro SS 1LE. Lawrence clocked a 1:28.1 during the session.  His performance fortifies his position as one of the PAF Class season championship front-runners.

John Lawrence Track

Lawrence continues his streak of strong performances with another podium

While the 1:28.1 lap time was impressive, it begged the question as to what was the main culprit in the time deficit from Lawrence’s last appearance. To go from a record-shattering performance to a respectable third place was just as unexpected for Lawrence as it was for those he was up against in his class. “My car was stock before. I decided to run some new Nitto NT01 tires and some more aggressive track pads. The pads were too aggressive and caused lots of lock up/ABS issues and had an affect on trail braking. I’m not sure what happened with the NT01’s but I ran the 3 Mile (East Course) on Saturday, then the Speed SF 2 Mile event on Sunday. The grip just wasn’t there with those tires. I was 2.5-3.5 seconds slower than what I did on the Goodyear F1-G2 OEM tires which, are a pretty good street tire, but not nearly as quick as the RE-71R Bridgestone or the NT01. There were sections the track where I could not carry as much speed as I could with the Goodyears because the grip just wasn’t there. A bit frustrating, I assumed the NT01’s would quicker,” Lawrence explained, reflecting on his performance.

Ever the gracious competitor, Lawrence complimented his fellow PAF-ers, “I tip my helmet and want to say congrats to my competitors Bob, Gary and Gordon and others in the class for great drives. I guess I will go back to a stock setup for the next events.”

Lawrence's pledge to back to stock has never had such an imposing ring to it

Lawrence’s pledge to back to stock has never had such an imposing ring to it

Finishing second in the PAF Class was Gary Wong in his Honda S2000. His 1:27.4 lap time placed him squarely in between the other top finishers. Furthermore, his improved points haul draws him closer to points leader, Gordon Peng.

Wong and his S2000 have been a lock for a podium spot at recent events

Wong and his S2000 have been a lock for a podium spot at recent events

“This was the first time driving on Thunderhill West alone. I’ve driven the 5-mile maybe two years ago, so I spent the first session trying to get reacquainted. I would have had two sessions to do this if a certain someone (Gary Yeung) didn’t decide to stop on track and check out the scenery. Just kidding, Gary!” Wong joked. “I managed to get 2nd in the challenge but I felt that there were so many places I could’ve went a hair faster or braked a hair later or took a different, faster line. Guess that’s all part of learning. Overall, another great event.”

Wong is closing in on the top spot for season points in the PAF Class

Wong is closing in on the top spot for season points in the PAF Class

Finishing first was Lotus Elise driver, Bob Blackwood. Blackwood masterfully handled his Elise and kept the competition behind him, turning a 1:26.5 fastest lap.

Blackwood continued to improve lap times well after the Challenge session had concluded

Blackwood continued to improve lap times well after the Challenge session had concluded

Blackwood’s performance should cause other PAF Class competitors to take notice as his strong performance establishes himself as a potent force in an already deep, competitive field.

Will we see more of Blackwood on the podium at future events?

Will we see more of Blackwood on the podium at future events?

The Flat-Out Fast (FOF) Class saw its closest competition since its February event at Laguna Seca.

In third place was Basil Guan, whose lap time of 1:30.7 was not only quick enough to net his first points in the FOF Class, it was also fast enough for Guan to make his debut album on the podium. Not a bad way to jump into the competition!

Guan nets his first points in the FOF Class. What's next for Basil?

Guan nets his first points in the FOF Class. What’s next for Basil?

Finishing second in the FOF class was Michael Ostby. His 1:26.3 was slower than his personal best from his last performance, but was still strong enough for yet another second place finish.

Ostby continues to collect points, but still hasn't managed to collect a second win this season

Ostby continues to collect points, but still hasn’t managed to collect a second win this season

“I was way off the mark once again in qualifying. I don’t feel like it’s bragging when you run three seconds faster than your qualifying lap. With Matt (Misencik) taking it easy today, this would have been a good opportunity to push for a win. It’s a respectable performance, but it shows I still have work to do,” Ostby explained.

Ostby continues to add to his points lead, but is striving to make steps towards getting another FOF Class win

Ostby continues to add to his points lead, but is striving to make steps towards getting another FOF Class win

Winning first place in the FOF Class was Matt Misencik in his supercharged E46 BMW M3. Misencik is no stranger Speed SF Challenge wins, but this marks the first time he has won in the FOF Class. The 2014 PAF Class champ brought his new car to the track and with only one lap, was able to seal the victory.

Could Misencik elevate the bar in the FOF Class?

Could Misencik elevate the bar in the FOF Class?

“The car makes some healthy power but does struggle with heat soak issues. These issues are definitely exacerbated by the higher the ambient temps we see as we get into the summer months. To make matters worse, I was forced to run on some old Continential DW street tires for this event, which have much less grip than the usual suspects you see at the track and tend to struggle in excessive heat as well. This combination wasn’t the most ideal for setting the fastest lap times but the lack of grip and short window of opportunity on a relatively tight and technical course was a fun challenge for me,” Misencik explained, reflecting on his day.

“Thunderhill west is mostly about raw mechanical grip. In a heavier car with power and a lack of mechanical grip I really had to focus on modulating the throttle while blending in the proper steering inputs to control the wheel spin and sliding on corner exits. Braking was also tricky since I could come into corners with so much speed but the tires were quick to run out of ideas. I really had to move my braking points back further than I thought to get the front end tucked all the way into the apexes. All in all it was one of the most fun events I’ve had in awhile. That track really forces you to become so in-tune with what the car and tires are doing and I always find it so rewarding to drive at least one good lap there.”

Misencik's entry into the FOF Class could spell trouble for the other competitors

Misencik’s entry into the FOF Class could spell trouble for the other competitors

Unfortunately, with Gary Yeung’s retirement, no one was treated to the competition between the fast-lap juggernauts of Gary Yeung and Dan Avon, which meant that Avon won the OMG Class uncontested. In doing so, Avon managed the fastest lap of the Challenge session and a new lap record, beating his old record by 1.2 seconds, turning in a 1:21.4.

Avon's E46 BMW M3 continues to be a veritable tour de force at the Speed SF Challenge

Avon’s E46 BMW M3 continues to be a veritable tour de force at the Speed SF Challenge

“It was awesome to be back at Thunderhill West for another great Speed SF event. Since my first visit to the new West circuit, I’ve taken some weight out of the car and installed some new aero bits. Also, the circuit is a bit quicker than when I previously visited as Thunderhill added some additional track runoff, most noticeably in the area leading up to Turn 1. The new West circuit is definitely growing on me and I am really looking forward to the next SpeedSF event here!” Avon remarked after a very positive day.

Dan's record-breaking lap shows that he's dedicated to continually improving his lap times

Dan’s record-breaking lap shows that he’s dedicated to continually improving his lap times

Join Speed SF for their next event, May 9th at the legendary Sonoma Raceway!

SPEED SF Registration Page – CLICK HERE

PHOTO CREDIT – Bill Wang from Bill Wang Photography

Check out Bill’s work and Speed SF photos Click here for Bill Wang Photography