The National Auto Sport Association crowned 19 National Champions Sunday at the second annual NASA Western States Championships presented by Toyo Tires at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
More than 300 racers, in six different race groups, all competed for the chance to capture a national title. Each group is comprised of multiple classes. Group A had the American Iron (AI), Spec E46, PTB classes. Group B was Spec Miata. Group C included Super Touring 1-3 and Super Unlimited. Group D featured Spec E30 (the largest NASA class) and 944 Spec. Group E included HPD Honda Challenge and GTS 1-3. Group F highlighted the PTC-F classes, Legends, and Thunder Roadster.
Group A was the first race of the day, followed by Group D, Group C, Group E, Group A, and Group F.
Today’s Spec Miata National Championship race got off to an inauspicious start when four cars, of the 33-car field, were involved in a crash just beyond the start stand shortly after the green flag dropped. This put the race under caution for the first four laps.
When the race went green, Mason Filippi in the No. 21 Mazda Miata led the field down into Turn One and led the first six laps. But, while Filippi was leading the now 29-car field, Mark Drennan was making his move towards the front from his fourth place starting spot in the No.10 Mazda Miata.
Drennan only needed three green flag laps to take the Spec Miata lead. He passed Filippi heading in to Turn Five. From there, he opened up a gap and never looked back winning by 5.060-seconds over Filippi. Matthew Cresci finished third in the No. 51 Mazda Miata
“We had a bit of a miscue on the start,” Drennan said. “I guess there was an accident. We went around under double caution. The flags were telling us to do a double file restart, but I don’t think anybody at the front knew that. So, we ended up in single file.
“I was still in fourth place and I made a pass in the first couple of corners for third. I hung out there for a little while. I got a run going up the hill out of [Turn] Six and made a pass for second place in the braking zone for the Corkscrew.
“Then, I was on Mason [Filippi] for a couple of laps. I got a run on him out of Turn Four into Five. I acted like I wasn’t going to pass him and I passed him. I got the lead and he was on me for a few laps. Then, I started to build a gap. He had people on his tail. The gap kept increasing. So, it was smooth sailing. It was a helluva race.
“It’s about time. I’ve been working for this [win] for so long. This is my third time in the NASA Championships. I came in third my first two times. I made a mistake last year and should of had it [the win]. I’m happy all of the hard work has finally paid off.”
Driving the No. 76 Porsche 944, Daniel Williams started from the back of the 944 Spec class and drove his way through the field to capture his second-career NASA National Championship. He finally made his pass for the lead on lap 15 and went on to win by 2.612-seconds over Alberto Fonseca (No. 44 Porsche 944) and Simon Peck (No. 382 Porsche 944).
“It was really fun out there,” Williams said. “I was starting to get nervous about midway through when I couldn’t quite work through the field. Then, I got through the second place car and just started to put my nose to the grind stone. I did everything I could to get it done.
“You certainly focus on that (not looking in your mirrors when you take the lead). You don’t want to get distracted because we had lapped traffic coming up, which certainly was challenging.
“It feels really good to win a National Championship. There are lots of people to thank. You absolutely can’t do this by yourself. Thank you to NASA and Toyo Tires.”
The Spec E30 class race provided some of the best racing action of the day before the afternoon lunch break. Larry Fraser started from the Spec E30 pole in the No. 51 BMW 325i and led the first five laps. At that point, Sandro Espinosa put the nose of his No. 32 BMW 325i on Fraser’s bumper and passed him for the lead on lap six.
Espinosa would not hold the lead long as Fraser retook the lead two laps later. By this time, Raymond Zanotto, in the No. 3 BMW 325, enter the three-way battle for the top spot. Fraser, Espinosa and Zanotto would swap spots for several laps until Fraser went off between Turns 10 and 11. This dropped Fraser to sixth, while Espinosa took the lead with Zanotto right behind him.
On lap 16, Zanotto took the lead and had it for three laps before Espinosa passed Zanotto coming out of the Corkscrew with a couple laps remaining. Espinosa held on to win by 0.285- second over Zanotto. With the win, Espinosa earn his second-career NASA National Championship. Charles Buzzetti finished third in the No. 7 BMW 325i.
“It was a great fight,” Espinoza said of the race. “I’ve got to give it to [Charles] Buzzetti, [Larry] Fraser, and Raymond [Zanotto]. They are amazing competitors. It was an amazing battle back-and-forth.
“It was tough to fight Fraser and Zanotto at the same time. When Fraser unfortunately went off and lost a couple of places, you feel bad for him because we’re all friends. We really enjoy racing each other. But, at the same time, it’s sort of a relief because you don’t have to fight two people.
“All three of us battled back-and-forth all race long. But, at the end, there was just two (Espinosa and Zanotto). I messed up in Turn Six, he got by me. Coming into the Corkscrew, he got sideways. I happened to put it into second [gear] to get a good run and slam it. I made the pass, held on for two more laps to take the win. This win was special here at Laguna Seca. I won it [a National Championship] last year at Road Atlanta – my home track. But, here this win was just amazing.
“Thank you Toyo Tires, Redline Oil, and NASA. They’re incredible. It’s the best series. It’s so much fun. The organizers are amazing.”
Donn Vickrey put on an impressive drive in his No. 201 No. 201 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup to capture his first career NASA National Title in the ST1 class. Despite starting from the back of the ST1 grid, Vickrey drove through the field to win by 9.803-seconds over Patrick Laughlin in the No. 32 Porsche 997 Cup. Martin Daszkal finished third in the No. 72 Porsche GT3.
“It was a good race,” Vickrey said. “Robert Kahn and I had the fastest lap times all weekend, but we both passed under yellow yesterday and got DQ’d. So, we both had to start from the back of the field. We had to make our way through the rest of the ST1 cars to get up to the front.
“It was a 45-minute race. So, I took my time and made sure each pass was a safe, high margin pass. I didn’t want to take any chances. Eventually, I got up to another [Porsche] Cup car and he had a pretty good pace. But, I was able to pressure him a little bit. He locked up the brakes, which allowed me to go through. At that point, it was about maintaining a good pace because the tires start going off. You start hearing all the noises in your car. I did get a misfire about two-thirds of the way through the race. It was sporadic. Somehow, I was able to keep the momentum going. I was there at the end. It was an awesome race.
“This win feels fantastic. This was my third try. The first two I had a little bit of bad luck. But, the three times is a charm.”
William Brinkop, piloting the No. 78 Chevrolet Corvette, made winning his first career NASA National Championship look easy. He started from the ST2 pole and drove flag-to-flag to pick up the win over Chuck Matthews in the No. 38 Chevrolet Corvette. Lee Arioto finished third in the No. 73 Chevrolet Corvette.
“It’s been a long time,” Brinkop said. “I’ve tried a few years now. I had mechanical issues in 2013 and 2104. There wasn’t enough cars that showed up. I moved up to ST1 and came in second. But, I still hadn’t gotten that Championship. This has been a year of strictly focusing on ST2 and nothing else. I really want to thank my sponsors because this car handled phenomenally the whole race.
“I’ve worked hard at this track. I only live two hours away and I have a lot of laps at this track. It’s my home track. So, I had a little bit of an advantage going in.
“This feels fantastic. I am really happy. I guess it really hasn’t sunk in yet. I had a really fun race.”
Michael McAleenan started from the ST3 pole in the No. 3 BMW M3 GTR and drove a dominating race. In fact, he won by 22.471-seconds over Travis Tidball in the No. 37 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, followed by Matt McIntyre in the No. 31 BMW M3. With the win, McAleenan captured his second career ST3 National Championship and his fourth NASA National Title overall.
“We’ve been pretty solid in ST3 all weekend,” McAleenan said. “We just wanted to keep our car out of trouble – not take too many risks. The car was perfectly balanced all weekend. It’s really suited to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – the banked cornering, the high speed stuff. It all came together for us.”
Brian Frisselle, driving the No. 17 Norma M20F BMW, was on the pole for the SU class National Championship race. He had been fast all weekend and looked to dominate the class until brake issues forced Frisselle out of contention halfway through the 45-minute race.
Frisselle’s brake issue give Jon Van Caneghem (No. 17 Mazda Elan DP02) the SU class lead and he would not relinquish it. He went on to win in dominating fashion – winning by nearly a minute and a half over Brandon Kraus in the No. 16 DR Eagle. Tom Hakker was third in the No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. This was Van Canegehem’s third consecutive NASA National Championship in the SU class.
“We had a really nice race at the start,” Van Canehem said. “Brian [Frisselle] had me covered. I got him in Turn Three. He had a little bobble, but he passed me right back. Then, we were working through traffic and I heard that he lost his brakes. He got stuck out in the gravel. A lap later, I lost my brakes too. Luckily it wasn’t in such a bad place. I just cruised around pumping them [the brakes]. I was thinking ‘oh my gosh, I hope I can make it to the end.’ But, we made it. I’ll take it.
“This win feels great because I didn’t think we’d win this weekend. Brian definitely had the speed on us during all of the [qualifying] races leading up today. But, that’s racing. You’ll take it, right?”
Charles Buzzetti is no stranger to winning NASA National Championships and today he started from the GTS 1 pole in the No. 908 BMW 325i. He made winning his fourth National Title look easy as he cruised to a 29.961-second victory over Steven Stepanian in the No. 00 BMW 325is. Thomas Atteberry drove to a third place GTS 1 finish in the No. 191 Porsche 944.
“The car ran great,” Buzzetti said. “I never really had much competition, except for the first couple of laps. Once we got clear, we just laid them down and went fast.”
Driving the No. 58 BMW 325is, Dick Hunter was just out for a Sunday drive as he started from the GTS 2 pole and drove flag-to-flag to bring home his second career NASA Title crown. He won by more than a lap over Timothy Carman in the No. 55 BMW E36 325is and Sean Aron in the No. 133 BMW 325is.
“I had a great race,” Hunter said. “I got a good jump at the start. I got a little bit of a cushion and did laps. I was out there by myself a lot of the race. I was just watching my lap counter and tried to click of real consistent laps. The car did real well. I am happy to be out here. I would like to thank NASA and Laguna Seca. This is a bucket list item for me to be out here. I always wanted to be at Laguna Seca.
“It feels awesome to win my second National Title, especially at this track. My first one was at Miller Motorsports Park. But, I’ve had a great time out here.”
Tristan Littlehale has been fast all weekend long and, in today’s GTS3 National Championship race, he proved to be the fastest once again. From the pole position, Littlehale (No. 54 BMW M3) cruised to a 53.808-second victory over Toby Grahovec in the No. 2 BMW Z4. Hugh Stewart came in third in the No. 22 BMW M3. Littlehale is now a two-time NASA National Championship. His first title came in the GTS 2 class.
“It was a great race,” Littlehale said. “Michael [McAleenan] and I were close all weekend long. It’s the closest competition I’ve ever had. I would like to thank him for offering me this great opportunity and experience.
“We ran a great race. The car was consistent all day long. The Hoosier Tires held up and we brought the car home. I would like to thank TC Designs for preparing the car and getting me where I am today.”
HPD Honda Challenge 2
Though Clint Boisdeau did not get off to a good start in the Honda Challenge 2 race, he still put on an impressive drive through the field in the No. 310 Honda Civic to capture his first career NASA National Title. Marcel DeKerpel tried to keep the race close in the No. 371 Honda Civic, but finished second – 9.172-seconds behind Boisdeau.
“On the start, I spun my wheels on a standing start,” Boisdeau said. “I knew it was going to be tough. I tried to keep it together and stay patient knowing that it would be a long race. With it being a front wheel drive, you have to manage the tires. I tried to stay cool. I tried to stay on track. Sometimes two wheels went off. At least, it wasn’t four. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky.
“This is my first Championship. It’s actually my first Honda Challenge race.”
HPD Honda Challenge 4
Steve Peterson started from the Honda Challenge 4 pole in the No. 23 Honda CRX. He had to battle other competitors and brake issues during the 45-minute race. But, he was able to hang, on pulling out a 6.984-second victory to win his first career NASA National Championship.
“It was pretty crazy actually,” Peterson said. “About halfway through, my brakes started failing. They were turning to mush. The guys behind me were out braking me. Normally, I can out brake them because my car is lighter. I’m in a CRX and they are in an Integra. I had to really slow down for the turns. So, they were on my rear end right away. Luckily, I just held them off for the win. I’m happy. I’ve never been a National Champion before.”
Rob Capetz and Corey Weber started from the AI front row and spent the early part of the race battling one another for position. Unfortunately, Capetz’s No. 18 Ford Mustang GT began to lose power. This allowed Weber to take the lead in the No. 47 Ford Mustang and cruise to a 36.686-seond win over Joe Bogetich in the No. 63 Chevrolet Camaro. Capetz finished third. With the win, Weber is now a two-time NASA National Champion.
“It was a fun race, especially the first few laps,” Weber said. “Rob Capetz and I were battling. He was in first and I was chasing him around for a while until he started losing power. We had a lot of fun. I had a nice interesting pace in the Corkscrew. That was pretty cool. It was a great race.”
Bob Schader and David Schotz started 1-2, respectively in PTB and both battled early on. Driving the No. 34 Pontiac Firebird, Schotz finally got by Schader when his No. 81 Nissan 350Z Nismo began to lose its brakes. From there, Schotz never looked by winning by 57.996-seconds over Robert Seibel in the No. 248 BMW M3. Schotz became an eight time NASA National Champion with the win.
“I got out to a great start,” Schotz said. “I tried to move some American Iron cars between Bob [Schader] and I because he’s been fast all weekend. We just stayed with a four or five car gap. It looks like he lost his brakes in Turn Two. After that, you’re just hoping not to have a mechanical issue yourself. My dad was like, ‘take it easy.’ I like, ‘I’ve got to keep my pace.’ It was a great race. Everyone was clean.”
Mark Drennan had a remarkable day at the NASA Championships. Earlier in the day, he won the Spec Miata class. This prepared him for the amazing drive he put on in Spec E46 class. He started from the pole in the No. 333 BMW 330 and drove flag-to-flag to win his second National Title of the day by 13.681-seconds.
“It was amazing,” Drennan said. “I got a great start – got away cleanly. By the Corkscrew, I had a nice gap and just kept building it. There were some cautions and I got stuck behind a couple cars and lost probably eight seconds off my lead. But, it was something like 13 seconds at the end. I am so thankful for the opportunity. This result is awesome.”
David Schotz and his No. 75 Chevrolet Corvette cruised into the NASA Championships history books with his PTC class win this afternoon. He became the all-time winningiest National Title holder with nine. In fact, he won number eight and nine about one hour apart. He beat Tim Auger in the No. 21 Acura Integra by 39.388-seconds. Benoit Pecqueur finished third in the No. 80 Acura TSX.
“To be honest, I screwed up the start,” Schotz said. “I went 3 to 2 at the start. But, Tim Auger said he thought they waved off the start so he lifted. So, I didn’t lose any positions, which really helped. Dexter, in that RX-8, just kept the pressure on. He was not letting up. We had no radios. We couldn’t get them to work. I just had to keep going. That freakin’ RX-8 was there every single time. Traffic was working for him and hurting me. I thought you know what, ‘this race is 45 minutes. Traffic will itself out. There were a couple of places where I got to gap him. Then I guess he had a mechanical [issue]. But, I didn’t know. I stopped watching my mirrors and drove my race. It was great weekend. The Hoosier Tires and Carbotech were incredible all weekend. I couldn’t be happier.”
Driving the No. 27 Mazda MX-5, Joshua Allan became a two-time NASA National Champion with his 37.433-second PTD class win over David Vodden in the No. 1 Mazda Miata. Ali Naimi finished third in the No. 14 Mazda MX-5.
“It was a very difficult race,” Allan said. “I knew I had Eric Powell behind me. He was starting in the back. I was trying to make as much of a gap as I could because I knew he’d be running through the field. He caught up to me sometime mid-race. We had a pretty good battle. Then, we got caught up in traffic. It really made a difference in this race. We just tried to manage the traffic and not get caught up in the other races.
“Eric had a little misstep in the Corkscrew. I had the opportunity and passed him. He was out for the race, unfortunately. From then on, it was just a race of trying to keep the car healthy, trying to keep my tires and brakes cool, and just finish the race.”
Ben Anderson started from the PTE class pole in the No. 38 Mazda RX-7 and drove flag-to-flag to capture his second career NASA National Championship. He won the PTE class going away with a 38.200-second win over Tommy Lo in the No. 77 Mazda Miata. Gian Bowles finished third in the No. 147 Mazda RX-7.
“Coming off the trailer, we were really good,” Anderson said. “We had good pace. We knew the challenge was going to be the Championship race. It’s a 45 minute race. With the Mazda RX-7 we have, it’s a 2,900 pound car on a 205 section tire. So, tire management was really crucial. What’s great about the Mazda RX-7 chassis, is it is super balanced. That means it allows the driver to be gentle with the car all the way through the race.
“I had some tough competition from Chris [Kopitski] and Tommy [Lo] all the way up to the very end. But, it really was all about hitting consistent laps. It was a really fun day that ended up going our way.”
Ian Anderson drove the No. 21 Thunder Roadster to a 25.149-second win in the Thunder Roadster class. Douglas Marshall (No. 4 Legends Thunder Roadster) and Ralph Bush (No. 38 Inex Thunder Roadster) completed the podium.
“Normally these races are pretty lame,” Anderson said. “I just kind of walk away from most of them. I started first. I had everyone behind me and never looked back.”
NASA Championships presented by Toyo Tires Western States Sunday’s National Championship race winners, provisional:
944 Spec, Daniel Williams, No. 76 Porsche 944
American Iron, Corey Weber, No. 47 Ford Mustang
GTS1, Charles Buzzetti, No. 908 BMW 325i
GTS2, Dick Hunter, No. 58 BMW 325is
GTS3, Tristan Littlehale, No. 54 BMW M3
HPD Challenge 2, Clint Boisdeau, No. 310 Honda Civic
HPD Challenge 4, Steve Peterson, No. 23 Honda CRX
PTB, David Schotz, No. 34 Pontiac Firebird
PTC, David Schotz, No. 75 Chevrolet Corvette
PTD, Joshua Allan, No. 27 Mazda MX-5
PTE, Ben Anderson, No. 38 Mazda RX-7
Spec E30, Sandro Espinoza, No. 32 BMW 325i
Spec E46, Mark Drennan, No. 333 BMW 330
Spec Miata, Mark Drennan, No. 10 Mazda Miata
ST1, Donn Vickrey, No. 201 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
ST2, William Brinkop, No. 78 Chevrolet Corvette
ST3, Michael McAleenan, No. 3 BMW M3 GTR
SU, Jon Van Caneghem, No. 7 Mazda Elan DP02
Thunder Roadster, Ian Anderson, No. 21 Thunder Roadster
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a 2.2-mile, 11-turn undulating road course located in the foothills of the Monterey Bay area. The track is known for its high speeds and signature downhill Corkscrew turn. The challenging road course is sure to provide exciting racing throughout the championships weekend.