Honda Challenge – AMP Race Coverage
Turned Down For What?!?
Last Saturday NASA Arizona kicked off the 7th regional race at Arizona Motorsports Park in Litchfield Park, AZ. The track has a colorful past….built in 2003 next to Luke Air Force Base, it was shut down just a few short years later due to noise complaints. Luckily for the local and regional auto enthusiasts it was reopened in 2015 for public motorsports events once again with a 94 decibel noise limit. Last weekend’s Honda Challenge race was only the 2nd race at the facility in the last ten years. The lack of seat time for most of the drivers on this track added an interesting challenge for the drivers and teams to try and set the cars up with very little data or experience to go off of. Couple that with many of the drivers and teams having to use sound muffling intake and exhaust modifications to ensure the cars would safely pass the decibel restriction while ripping by the sound meters at 8,000+ rpms, and the field was truly leveled for this event.
The warm up session started off with Robert Rose of Team Flatspot coming out of the chute hard charging with a class leading 1:53.7 lap time. What’s more impressive is that Rose’s first lap, which was within a few tenths of his final practice time, was a whopping 4+ seconds faster than the next closest competitor until at least halfway through the practice session when the rest of the group finally warmed up and started closing the gap. With Rose setting the bar for the rest of the field, he looked to be the favorite to take pole in the upcoming qualifying session.
After practice, the group had a nice long break in the schedule to make adjustments for qualifying. Mervin Tan of Team LBR slapped on some fresh tires in hopes of taking the fight to Team Flat Spot for the coveted P1 position. Tan wasted no time in getting down to business, laying down a blistering 1:52.1 on his very first lap. Rose responded with a 1:53.8 in his second lap and was not able to improve in the subsequent laps. Rose looked like he had P2 locked down until Brandon Welsh reeled off a 1:53.7 in his 6th lap of the session, edging Rose out for the other front row position. Later in the session Leland Forbes, looked like he might break into the 53’s as well when he clocked a 1:54.4 in his 5th lap. Unfortunately for Forbes, that was the best he would record for the session which would still be good enough for P4 and put him in the second row for the standing start. The final three positions were separated by less than a half second. Kevin Andrew secured P5 with a 1:55.5. Team Late NiteMotorsports stopped the clock at 1:55.7 for P6, and Erik Woods was just a tenth of a second behind with a 1:55.9. Amazing to have such close qualifying times in a non-spec series!!
The afternoon’s race was scheduled to start shortly after 1:00PM where the Honda Challenge race group would receive a separate green flag from the rest of the field for their trademark standing start. As the rest of the race group took the green flag, the Honda Challenge group slowed down and inched toward the starting line. As they approached their marks and came to the final stop, the starter took one last inventory of the formation, unrolled the flag and a split second later dropped the green. As the Honda Challenge pack approached the first right hand turn, the jockeying for position started. Welsh and Tan were side by side into the first braking zone, with Tan having the inside line Welsh was forced to take a wider line and back out just a bit, this gave Tan just enough room to get out ahead and remain in the lead for the first lap. At the end of the first lap the group had started to separate into 2 packs with Tan, Welsh, Rose, and Forbes all battling for positions 1-4 and Kevin Andrew, Eric Dayton, and Erik Woods for the last contingency paying position #5.
By lap 3 the first pack of H2 cars had caught up to slower lap traffic and the pressure to maintain their respective positions within their own class began to rise. When the racers received the halfway signal from the corner worker, Welsh continued to look for a hole and get past Tan for P1. Rose and Forbes had their own battle for 3rd place. Kevin Andrew had opened up a nice lead over the rest of the pack and seemed to have the last contingency paying spot (P5) all but wrapped up. And oddly enough a rubber match of the Erics/Eriks has begun to develop for bragging rights for position on track behind Andrew…and first name spelling superiority.
After 14 laps the checker flag finally waved with Mervin Tan emerging victorious over Brandon Welsh, but not without one of the best 1 on 1 battles the class has seen in a long time. Robert Rose edged out Leland Forbes in their bumper to bumper battle for the final podium position. Eric Dayton was able to hold off a late attack from Erik Woods and snag 5th place. Unfortunately, Kevin Andrew’s engine begin showing signs of overheating and he was forced to retire about three quarters of the way through the race and finished in 7th place.
All in all, it was a great race to watch for Honda fanboys and casual spectators alike. Close, clean racing in the front, middle, and back of the pack. Arizona Motorsports Park proved to be a phenomenal track to race on with three hard deceleration zones with long 120-180 degree corners, forcing the drivers to strategize whether to brake late and preserve position or brake early and try for higher exit speed on the subsequent straight sectors. The seven cars in H2 (the highest single class car count in race group for the weekend) really shows that the drivers enjoy the circuit and its race friendly layout.
Next month we hit the road to travel to Southern California to take on some of the fastest Honda Challenge cars in the country at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. There are still LOTS of points up for grabs for the regional championship: seven events in the books so far and another 6 points paying races left. After the crossover event at Auto Club Speedway, the group will have a nice mid season recess to repair and improve their cars for the final part of the season in the fall. A summertime group get together will be announced shortly after the Fontana event – stay tuned for details!
Photo credit to: Adina Evanson, Jim Cozzolino, and Grayson Hiremath.