Sonoma Raceway, USA

Yokohama Drivers Cup
15 – 17 October 2021


Masters Endurance Legends USA – Race 1
The first race of the weekend for the Masters Endurance Legends USA group had nearly three decades spanning the field, with pole sitter Cal Meeker (1987 Spice GTP) and Charles Persico (2016 Ginetta G57) competing closely in very different machinery. 

Meeker led the opening laps until Persico dove inside on lap 3 at turn 11, braking late for the overtake but not long term relief.

From pole position earlier in the day to chasing down the lead Meeker explained: “Steel vs carbon and stick versus paddle shift… I pushed as hard as I could… maybe I could have dove down in the carousel, but then he just outbreaks you again… The pitstops were nearly identical but its one thing to catch a guy, another to get by him.”

Meeker would retire on the penultimate lap after losing second gear, but set the race fastest laps on lap 9 (1:35.948s) and again on lap 15 (1:35.071s) in pursuit of Persico, who won the race with a fastest lap of 1:36.116s.

Persico, new to the series, felt the pressure:  “He was right on my bumper and I tried not to look… It was like the longest race because I’m usually pretty good at endurance, but that was a lot of pressure and it added up because on this track there’s no place to rest.  I didn’t think I was going to see him after he drove so well in qualifying.”

Lapped traffic and overtaking went by smoothly during the 45 minute session, and the GT class leader Tom Mueller (2014 Corvette C7R) managed a third place overall to share the podium with the co-piloting team of Ron Maiden and Marcus Jewell (2016 Ginetta LMP3) who took second. 

“It’s not a car that you would typically throw around, but its forgiving…this is really my second event in this car.” said Mueller, with a best lap time of 1:41.256s.  Doug Baron (2000 Porsche 996 GT3 RS) was the next closest GT Class finisher in sixth place with a best time of 1:45.398s.

John Cahalin (2016 GInetta LMP3) and Cal Meeker placed 4th and 5th for the remaining points positions

Masters Endurance Legends USA – Race 2
The final Masters Endurance Legends race of the season took place under slightly cloudier conditions from yesterday for 24 laps around the technical 2.52 mile Sonoma Raceway circuit.

In the prototype class, an anticipated duel between Cal Meeker (1987 Spice GTP) and Charles Persico (2016 Ginetta G57) saw Meeker quickly rise from 4th on the grid to right behind the race leader Persico.  Meeker pedaled his way to fastest lap of the race (1:35.079s) while pushing hard, and as he describes by lap 9, it was all to play for: 

“I got through traffic, caught [Charles] again, and this time I actually got by him.  But, I knew I had to get to the last corner out of the carousel faster because of the braking difference between our cars.  I found the ‘limit of adhesion’ in the carousel, and had never gone through it that fast…and the car just came around… Two feet in and locked up the tires so badly, that was it…”

Meeker would retire from the race following his spin, but Persico explained from his perspective:
“He got me going into turn 4, right on the next turn out of the carousel he spun…I started the race with new tires and it was a little cooler today so I didn’t go as hard, but the car was good…its a good crew, quality racers.  I met Cal and he lives right near me and man, he is just solid.”

Persico led every lap but at the very end, a last lap spin out of turn 7 nearly put him in contact with the wall.  He would finish the lap and take the checkered flag over 20 seconds ahead of the nearest car of Tom Mueller (2014 Corvette C7R).  Mueller was later reclassified third overall after a mandatory minimum time in the pits was missed by four seconds.

Alexander Marmureanu (2010 Porsche 997 GT3R) was promoted to second overall with Bruce Leeson (2012 Audi R8 LMS) in 4th overall and 3rd fastest in the GT class.

Douglas Baron (2000 Porsche 996 GT3 RS) was 5th overall and had this to share after the last race of the season:  “It’s about the camaraderie, it’s racing hard, but at the end you’re like, ‘oh you got me this time, I got you next time’, and I love that.”

Masters Historic Formula One USA – Race 1
Thornton Wins at Sonoma to take the Masters Historic Formula One Post-1978 Title.

Late class points leader Greg Thornton (1982 Lotus 91/5) took the overall victory today at Sonoma Raceway to win the title fight against rival Cal Meeker (1979 Tyrrell 009), with whom he had been battling all season.  Ahead by just 13 points into this weekend, Thornton was able to extend his lead by a further three points today, bringing a mathematical end to season.

“The car’s been brilliant.  I hit the curb hard on lap 3 and I was very, very concerned, picked up a little vibration.  I wasn’t sure if I had a tire going or just a weight fell off…Normally I get faster as the tires come on and then what we did, the boys just told me ‘you’ve got to sit around about the 29’s, so we just sat at 29’s… We were very lucky because I thought I was losing a tire.”  Thornton took fastest lap of the race with a 1:29.664s on lap 9.

Meeker was complimentary of his competition after today’s race:  ”We started second and finished second, I thought that was pretty much how it was going to play out… Bud Moeller gave me a pretty good run and was really good today…  There’s no rest on this track and I’m a little bit new to it.  A fun run… It was a good, close championship and [Greg] deserves it, he’s raced perfectly all year long.”

Bud Moeller took third in his recently acquired 1982 Williams FW08/01, while Nicholas Colyvas (1976 Shadow DN5), Gray Gregory (1976 March 761) and Charles Warner (1979 Shadow DN9) rounded out the top six finishers.  The non-ground effect class championship leaders were not classified as Ron Maydon (1977 LEC CRP1) retired early after an earplug came loose and Chris Locke’s 1976 Lotus 77 developed a misfire just short of the 11 lap minimum distance.

Masters Formula Atlantic Plus – Race 1
Following dominant qualifying and practice sessions yesterday, Danny Baker brought home the win in the first of Masters Formula Atlantic Plus races this weekend.  

Behind him, the field enjoyed a spirited fight with Todd Willing, Steve Cook and Dwight Matheson fighting it out for podium places.  Second place finisher Willing explained:  “It was a nice little dice with Steve at the start, to’ing and fro’ing a bit, then Dwight joined the party for a corner at least.  I was able to get Steve down into turn 11, tried to set off after Danny but he was long gone already.”

Yesterday was Willing’s first ever outing at Sonoma Raceway, a circuit known to come with a learning curve: “We went a little faster than yesterday, learning the track, and this is my first time on here… it’s a very technical track.”

Baker took pole, win and fastest lap, and gave his competition credit:  “Everything worked great…I thought they gave me the [white flag] early, and I saw one of our newer drivers out there and I was like, I don’t want to steal a lap from him at the very end… we came around again, and it was just the halfway mark…I was like – ‘uh oh’!  Todd was coming… and he made me get back into it pretty good.”  

New to the Masters Formula Atlantic Plus group is Chris Bender (P5 today), competing in the group with a newly purchased 1976 March 76B.  Chris has raced with Masters Historic Formula One previously.  Further down the grid, the Chevron specialist Ed Swart qualified and finished ninth today in his 1978 B45, just a month ahead of his 84th birthday.  After a lifetime spent racing sports and open wheel cars in both Europe and America, this weekend marks his farewell to Masters Formula Atlantic Plus racing, and his last race with the group will be tomorrow at 4:15pm.

Masters Formula Atlantic Plus – Race 2
After a dominant pole, fastest lap and win yesterday, Danny Baker (1979 Ralt RT1) was the driver to beat today and it was down to Sonoma Raceway newcomer Todd Willing (1974 Chevron B27) to show up with something for him, even after a clutch line failure took away Willing’s margin for error.

Baker stormed off early taking five consecutive fastest laps with Steve Cook (1974 Chevron B27) and Willing trading positions behind him.  Willing stepped up with a fastest lap of 1:34.112s on lap five and held on to second place while Baker went on to retake fastest lap (1:33.909s).  On the sixth lap, Willing answered with a 1:33.219s to take the fastest lap of the race, and Baker felt the pressure:

“It felt as quick as yesterday, but it wasn’t… I really wanted the fastest lap.  I kept checking Todd out as I was leaving turn 11 and I’m like – wow – he’s actually gaining on me so I just better put my head down and go.  I thought he was quicker than me, but it was all about the gap on the first lap again.”
Willing managed his car well on a track he’d never raced before this weekend, and was very upbeat after the race despite not being able to use his clutch:

“It was the best conditions we’ve had all weekend… I think I’m now in the groove on the track and know where I’m going. The car just ran like a jet, but I ended up losing the clutch line, so I had no clutch for the majority of the race.  Normally it’s okay, you don’t use the clutch that much, but if you kind of have a bit of a fumble sometimes… that’s how Steve got back past me at the end when I had a box full of neutrals and off he went at turn 11.  It was good, clean fun.  You know you’re in safe hands when you’re wheel to wheel with these guys.”

This was Baker’s second win of the weekend.  Cook took second from Willing with just three laps left, and they were followed by Dwight Matheson (1976 March 76B), Chris Bender (1976 March 76B) and Geir Ramleth (1982 Ralt RT4) in the final points positions.