Michael Essa qualified first this weekend – backing up his top qualifying spot at Irwindale Speedway last year. This makes two events in a row with a top qualifying spot for his E46 BMW. His first battle of the weekend was against Jeremy Richter who zeroed out on his follow run and then called a competition timeout. He was unable to return to the event and gave Michael Essa a pass to the Top 16.
Pat Mordaunt blew his second engine of the week in the final practice session and gave Mats Baribeau and easy pass into the Top 16. His Hyundai Genesis (with red seats – not to be confused with Dennis Mertzanis’ Genesis that has black seats) retained the V6 Lambda motor which has continued to be a problem setup for the ARK team.
Chelsea DeNofa was seemingly on his way to a victory over Dennis Mertzanis when his car shut off right by the horseshoe exit. Sources tell me he broke an axle and the mechanical gremlins continue to fall apart with the build. Dennis was given an easy pass to the Top 16 in his 1000hp Hyundai.
These guys were the first Top 32 battle to actually make two successful passes on the weekend. In the lead run Carl made a huge error resulting in a zero from the judges or a huge deduction. Forrest Wang on his follow run just sat back a little took it easy, which got him into the Top 16. All three judges favored Forrest Wang to move on.
Geoff Stoneback was the highlighted rookie of this weekend. After overcoming transport issues and clutch issues he managed to drive his way into the Top 32. He was sent packing by Kenneth Moen after two battles, but proved as a rookie he can overcome the diversity of the sport. Kenneth also looked unbeatable through most of the weekend.
The highlight of this tandem battle was the big wreck on Kyle Mohan’s follow run. These guys actually put on the best show of the weekend until Kyle planted his car into the wall, shattering his wheel. Robbie actually spins in a separate incident (off camera to LiveStream viewers) resulting in both drivers getting a 0 on the second run. The judges, after reviewing the first tandem battle where Kyle Mohan led gave, him the victory.
Kyle and his team borrowed some taillights from a car in their paddock and got to work on replacements. Speaking with Kyle after the round, the team managed to get the car back on the road with a new wheel, brake lines, other small items, and one serious alignment. He does get the car back on track for the Top 16 introductions which is quite impressive!
Marc Landerville and Fredric Aasbo was another actually solid battle. Marc maybe even had a slight advantage after the first run groupings but really messed up his exit on turn 10 and went way shallow. That was the nail in his coffin and allowing Fredric to advance into the 16. All three judges picked Fredric to advance into 16.
Jhonnattan Castro looked impressive in his CFR built Nissan 370z this weekend, but ran a little too conservative to defeat Conrad Grunewald in the Camaro. Castro looked far improved from any performance he had given in the past. Conrad really outshined him on the chase run letting Conrad move into the 16.
Dave Briggs was on fire with his performance over the weekend. In fact, he was putting out WAY more smoke than Vaughn Gittin Jr. throughout these battles. He drove Vaughn to a OMT after the first set of runs. Dave Briggs had an insane lead run and Vaughn Gittin Jr. made contact with the wall throwing him off line through turn 10. After the contact Dave has a huge correction, forcing the judges into a OMT. All three judges called for the first OMT battle.
During the OMT battle, Dave fell a little behind on the follow run probably leaving him at a slight disadvantage as Vaughn went wall to wall without hesitation. Briggs’ lead run was awesome but he couldn’t make up the big amount of space he left when chasing Vaughn. All three judges favored Vaughn to advance!
The Irish battle took place with Dean Kearney facing Darren McNamara. Dean looked insane with the Dodge Viper when he could complete the course. He was bringing out one aggressive snap entry into 10 and flying through the course. After watching both runs again and again after the event, I think the judges could of taken this either way. The judges really should of sent this battle to a OMT in my opinion, but they ended up calling it all three for Darren McNamara.
Neither of these drivers were excited about this Top 32 draw. Dai Yoshihara in a new twin turbo V8 Subaru BRZ surely wanted an easier tandem partner for his first competition round in the new car. Chris Forsberg showed little remorse with two insanely solid runs dispatching Dai in the Subaru BRZ. All three judges favored with Chris Forsberg to move into the 16.
Pat Goodin and Daigo Saito was one for the ages! Pat Goodin actually out qualified Daigo Saito so he was given the ability to lead first. Daigo was glued to Pat Goodin and didn’t give him enough space to transition heading into the horseshoe. Daigo smashed into his rear quarter panel leaving his bumper behind.
Sadly for Daigo Saito he already used his competition timeout in qualifying so he was unable to fix his car. Daigo attempted to bring the car out back to the start line but clearly had a serious front suspension issue and had to let Pat Goodin advance into the Top 16.
Tyler McQuarrie and Tony Angelo was a tame contest. Tyler was just clearly faster around the course and easily dispatched Tony Angelo who experienced various driveline issues throughout the week.
Ken Gushi and Odi Bakchis was one of my favorite battles of the Top 32. Odi Bakchis had an insane chase really showing he has progressed a ton in the off-season. In the photo above, Odi Bakchis is so close you cannot even see his car buried by Ken Gushi’s Scion FR-S. All three judges easily went with Odi Bakchis to move into the 16.
Justin Pawlak stole the playbook from old Falken Tire teammate Haraguchi and used a feint entry into Turn 9. Why the judges or anyone said this was okay is beyond me! He continued this entry to gap drivers on his lead and then dove in normally on his follow run. It was kind of a lame strategy but the judges allowed this to take place.
Justin then parked it (hence the photo) on his second run and didn’t take off. He claimed Jeff Jones jumped the light and he couldn’t catch up. Jeff Jones ran the whole course in quite an impressive fashion but managed to break an axle before he returned. Jeff Jones called a competition time out but couldn’t fix his car, so JTP was allowed to advance into the 16. It was quite a strategic play overall from his perspective , but really sold the fans short of a good battle.
Alec Hohnadell was the one of the three rookies to qualify into the Top 32. In his follow, run he really held his own following Ryan Tuerck with only a minor steering correction as his only deduction. In the end, Ryan Tuerck dismissed the rookie but he really performed well. I feel like with an easier draw in the 32, Alec could have advanced into the Top 16.
This wraps up the Top 32 round guys and we will have a Top 16 to podium summary also coming out very soon!