Majors at Thunderhill

With an overflowing paddock and trailers parked outside the gate, the first SCCA U.S. Majors Tour event at Thunderhill Raceway Park opened Saturday under blue skies for Rounds Five and Six of the Western Conference Majors Tour. The event featured the usual format of 30-minute timed races on Saturday and 16-lap or 40-minute races on Sunday. Each Sunday race ran the full scheduled distance on the 15-turn, 2.866-mile circuit near Willows, Calif.

Spec Miata came in its traditional form, with six cars up front in the lead back through the early stages. Kyle Kaiser’s metallic blue No. 88 Miata was the first of the lead group to fall back when he spun, and with two to go it was down to Charlie Hayes, Tyler Vance, Brian Ghidinelli and Joey Jordan.

Hayes and Vance were racing hard to hold the top spot when they went side by side, and then off the track, in Turn 9 on the way to the one-to-go board. Ghidinelli and Jordan took advantage of the off to move into the lead and begin the final lap. Ghidinelli kept Jordan behind him for the final circuit, and entered the last turn conscientiously reminding himself not to overcook the corner. With that in mind, Ghidinelli’s No. 12 Mazda Miata probably slowed too much, and Jordan got a run up the front straight to the finish. It was too little, too late for Jordan, and Ghidinelli crossed the stripe in front by less than a car length.

Sunday’s Spec Miata race started with a line of 16 cars nose to tail and all looked like they had a chance to contend. Even at halfway, with four cars running nose to tail, a train of 10 ran just five car lengths back, waiting for a mistake.

The challenge, as always, is to maintain that pace for the full race distance. With just two laps to go, only polesitter Charlie Hayes’ No. 22 22 TFB/AIM Tires/RM Autosports Miata and Elliott Skeer were left and battling for the lead. Skeer took some looks, but Hayes was driving flawlessly. Quickest all weekend, Hayes was able to finish the job on Sunday and take the win.

Derrick Ambrose and Kyle Keenan battled in B-Spec on Saturday, crossing the finish side by side after battling all race long, with Keenan taking the win. Ambrose evened the score on Sunday in the No. 71 CorkSport Mazda Performance Mazda2, catching the necessary breaks and moving away from Keenan.

Aaron Downey, who fell out of Saturday’s E Production race early with a blown fuse in the No. 5 Motorsports/Carbotech RX-3, had hardwired the ECU directly to solve the problem and found himself in a battle with Saturday winner Tony Jimerson.

Downey tried to use the traffic to break away from Jimerson’s No. 28 A.T. Mechanical RX-7, but every time Downey snuck past a slower car, it only opened the door for Jimerson to get through as well. Downey, on the same set of tires that he used to finish as runner-up at the 2013 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, was slowing dramatically near the finish as his old tires were down to the cords on the right front. Unfortunately for Jimerson, he didn’t know how dire the situation was. Still pushing hard, Jimerson spun with two to go, and Downey held on for the win.

The next Majors event for the Western Conference comes in just two weeks time at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in Southern California.

SCCA Western Conference Majors Tour
Thunderhill Raceway Park
April 13-14, 2014
Round 5 Winners

Class Driver Hometown Car
E Production Tony Jimerson Benicia Calif. Mazda RX-7
Formula Atlantic Vince Gaddini Auburn Calif. Pro Formula Mazda
Formula Mazda Mel Kemper Toledo Wash. Formula Mazda
Spec Miata Brian Ghidinelli San Rafael Calif. Mazda Miata

Round 6 Winners

Class Driver Hometown Car
B-Spec Derrick Ambrose Vancouver Wash. Mazda2
E Production Aaron Downey Rosmoor Calif. Mazda RX-3
Formula Atlantic Vince Gaddini Auburn Calif. Pro Formula Mazda
Formula Mazda Mel Kemper Toledo Wash. Formula Mazda
Spec Miata Charlie Hayes Walnut Creek Calif. Mazda Miata