The seventh of 10 Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA® Super Tour (HST) stops for 2023 opened Friday at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, CA, during a May 5-7 event hosted by SCCA’s San Francisco Region. This is the second of three West Coast destinations on HST’s calendar this year, but the very first time the series has visited Thunderhill.
It’s a hybrid weekend where Friday and Saturday races deliver points toward the Hoosier Super Tour Nationwide Points standings. A third competition day will then be conducted Sunday to decide winners of the inaugural Western Shootout Championship. A different course layout will be used each day, and Sunday’s on-track activities will be conducted as a Regional event with no HST points awarded. Drivers who perform best over all three days will be named Western Shootout Championship winners.
So, lots was at stake when things got rolling Friday morning beneath overcast skies with temperatures in the mid 50-degree range. The day began with 20-minute qualifying sessions around the three-mile layout that included the Turn 5 Crow’s Nest, followed by 25-minute races for each of the seven run groups.
A Dry Start: You couldn’t ask for more excitement than what the first run group produced. In GT-2, Tony Colicchio and his No. 79 TC Design Motorsports BMW M3 started on pole and took the lead going into the first turn. But fellow GT-2 driver Tristan Littlehale, who was also in a BMW M3, was right with him.
For the next 25 minutes, Littlehale was never more than a half-second behind Colicchio. And when the duo started working through race traffic about midway through the contest, things got real tense. But Colicchio managed to hold on for a 0.209sec victory in the end over Littlehale.
“Tristan and I are great friends on and off the track, and I’ve coached him for almost 10 years at this point,” Colicchio said. “I had to keep my eyes all over, and pay attention to what was going on. I had lapped traffic coming up in front, and Tristan was very close to take advantage of any small mistake I made. He almost took advantage of a mistake in Turn 10, but I was able to scoot out of the corner and keep him behind me. It was a great race with a really good friend.”
Also in the first run group was the American Sedan field, which saw a fantastic fight between Ford Mustang drivers Ken Pedersen and Roger Eagleton. Pedersen was out front early, and kept Eagleton at bay through the opening portion of the race. By lap eight, however, Eagleton got by for the lead. He then established a significant gap on Pederson, and eventually reached the finish line first in the No. 11 Five Star Property Management/DIG Motorsports/Circuit Hawaii car.
“Ken Pedersen is a great racer,” Eagleton said. “The only way I got around him … he made a tiny, little mistake. That was my opportunity to pounce … but I knew if I messed up, he’d pass me right back.”
The thrills kept coming in run group one thanks to the GT-3 class. Larry Hansen, in a Nissan 350Z, led most of the race. But it was Guy Laidig, in the No. 52 Goodyear Mazda RX-7, who got the win. It seems Hansen may have believed the car filling his rearview mirror was in another class, and displayed good sportsmanship by kindly letting the competitor pass. However, that driver was Laidig, and that pass was for the lead on the last lap.
Here Comes the Rain, Again: Those in the first run group had barely climbed from their cars before it started raining. Actually, it started pouring – and Spec Miata (SM) was the unlucky group that faced a wet track at the last moment.
Polesitter Jason Rawlins, in the No. 20 Miatacage.com/G-LOC Brakes Mazda Miata, still managed to skillfully hold on to the lead in treacherous conditions. But Nick Leverone was soon on his bumper. Those two managed to drive away from the rest of the field while keeping close to one another. That was until Leverone made a mistake and fell nearly seven seconds off the leader.
Easy sailing for Rawlins from that point is how the SM story usually goes. But not this time. Within a couple laps, Leverone had closed to within two seconds of the leader. A few laps later, the lead was less than a second. At the checkered flag, the winning margin was only 0.125sec – and it was Rawlins who barely got there first on dry tires.
“It was the least mistakes that won that race for sure,” Rawlins said. “I went off the track a number of times, and so did Nick. It was pretty tough. Luckily, I was able to make fewer errors, and it worked out for me.”
The rain kept coming, but at least run groups that followed SM knew what to expect. Yet everyone experienced challenges. Drivers of enclosed cars, many of them faced visibility issues when windscreens fogged up. And open-cockpit drivers, they had visibility issues just from all the spray firing back into their faces.
In wet conditions, Jim Devenport and polesitter Chip Romer had an interesting Prototype 1 contest in the third run group. It was Devenport who eventually won in the No. 23 Cranbrook Group Inc. Elan DP02 Mazda. The victory, however, wasn’t anything close to a breeze.
“Chip and I took off at the start, and he checked up a bit in Turn 8. I got a run on him and then got around him before the double-yellow came out,” Devenport said. “It was brutal. At times I had to pull out of line because I couldn’t see at all. On the restart, he had to eat my spray. It was definitely challenging.”
Less Wet Win: The rain subsided a bit later in the day, but it left confusing track conditions. The surface wasn’t soaked, but it certainly wasn’t dry either. That’s the scenario that faced Spec Racer Ford Gen3 (SRF3) drivers as they pulled off grid for the fifth run group.
After claiming a Formula Enterprises®2 win earlier in the No. 99 Bulldog Motorsports/Liquid Death car, Caleb Shrader started on pole for the SRF3 event. He looked fast, and took the SRF3 lead on the first lap. But less than a half-second behind him was venerable SRF3 ace John Black in the No. 17 Flat Out Racing machine.
Both drivers could be seen searching for the best way around the circuit in tricky conditions. With about five minutes remaining in the contest, Black was only 0.132sec behind Shrader. Then with only a few laps remaining, Black was ahead. He then stretched the lead a bit before taking the checkered flag.
“It was pouring so hard, I almost didn’t go out for the race,” a smiling Black said afterwards. “It just looked like it was going to be miserable out there.”
Black admitted he believed Shrader couldn’t be passed. But the younger driver made a small mistake, and that was all Black needed to get the advantage.
“Track position was all that mattered in that race,” Black said. “Once you were out in front, you don’t have any spray in your face, and you could really go for it.”
Saturday’s Schedule: More HST action takes place Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. However, things will be a bit different as the day’s course will now include the Turn 5 bypass, which still produces a circuit length of three miles. All seven run groups will have morning qualifying sessions of 20 minutes on the new layout, followed by 35-minute or 18-lap contests where Hoosier Super Tour Nationwide Points are earned.
Saturday’s activities from Thunderhill can be followed live, online and free with the Hoosier Super Tour enhanced video and audio package. Brian Bielanski and Larry MacLeod will provide the play-by-play call, and DriversEye Live delivers video from upwards of 12 cameras around the circuit.
Following the broadcast online is simple. Coverage is streamed at the SCCA YouTube channel and SCCA Facebook page. Post-race video interviews with some Friday winners, and Saturday victory podium celebration videos, will be viewable at the SCCA Road Racing Facebook page. And as usual, live Timing and Scoring is available throughout the weekend at www.scca.com/live.
Friday Race Winners: Below are provisional race winners from Friday’s Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour at Thunderhill Raceway Park with Class: Name, Hometown and Car.
American Sedan®: Roger Eagleton; Burlingame, CA; Ford Mustang
B-Spec: John Tritsch; Tigard, OR; Mini Cooper
E Production: Albert Correia; San Jose, CA; Porsche Boxster
Formula Atlantic®: Joe Briggs; Healdsburg, CA; Pro Formula Mazda
Formula Continental®: Jerry Dutch Schultz; San Clemente, CA; Van Diemen RF01
Formula Enterprises® 2: Caleb Shrader; Tigard, OR; SCCA Enterprises FE2 Mazda
Formula F: Denny Renfrow; Kelseyville, CA; Piper Honda DL7
Formula Vee®: Quinn Posner; Camas, WA; Protoform P3
Formula X: John Ertel; Half Moon Bay, CA; Star Formula Mazda
GT-2: Tony Colicchio; Campbell, CA; BMW M3
GT-3: Guy Laidig; Woodside, CA; Mazda RX-7
GT-Lite: Brian Linn; Hermosa Beach, CA; Nissan Sentra SE-R
GT-X: Casey McLoed; Placerville, CA; Ford Mustang
Spec Miata: Jason Rawlins; Gaston, OR; Mazda Miata
Spec Racer® Ford Gen3: John Black; Olympic Valley, CA; Spec Racer Ford Gen3
Prototype 1: Jim Devenport; Alamo, CA; Elan DP02 Mazda
Prototype 2: Tim Day Jr.; Scottsdale, AZ; Stohr WF1
Super Touring® Lite: Tim Auger; Monterey, CA; Acura Integra
Super Touring® Under: Marc Hoover; Shingle Springs, CA; Mazda MX-5
Touring 1: Clark Nunes; San Jose, CA; Chevrolet Camaro
Touring 2: Roger Eagleton; Burlingame, CA; Ford Mustang
Touring 3: Sean Lovett; Petaluma, CA; BMW E46
Touring 4: Scotty B. White; Auburn, WA; Ford Mustang
Photo: Tony Colicchio took the GT-2 win Friday at Thunderhill Raceway Park during the first day of Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour competition.
Photo by Randy Jones