A Weekend of Firsts: SCCA Hoosier Super Tour Buttonwillow

The top five “firsts” this past weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in 2020

#5.Buttonwillow Raceway Park was run counterclockwise – the “first” time in a while for the SCCA Hoosier Super Tour. Buttonwillow has more than 40 different race and test configurations designed to emulate street and road racing courses throughout North America. For the past couple years, Super Tour events have been run on the No. 25A clockwise, 3.02-mile configuration. This year, however, there’s been a switch to the 2.95-mile, No. 25 counterclockwise layout. So, what does that actually mean for competitors?

“You wouldn’t think running counterclockwise would make a big difference because it’s the same configuration, but we’re just running it the opposite way,” said Michael Lewis, a 35-year SCCA member who has nine Runoffs® National Championships to his credit and who has been racing at Buttonwillow for 25 years. “Counterclockwise actually completely changes the characterization and the handling characteristics of the car. Suddenly, a third-gear corner is now done in fourth gear because you’re entering it so much faster. You’ve got to be able to adapt. In particular, the braking areas are much more challenging because you have to crest hills, and you’re in turning zones while braking. It’s tricky. It’s really quite a driver’s test.”

#4. First time we’ve heard of a racer turning off a car with his knee (while battling for the win). Nick Leverone of Flatout Motorsports, a top-tier driver in Spec Miata and T4 and, at times, other classes, was contending for the win in Spec Miata during Saturday’s race, until he accidentally switched the race car off with his knee. Nick is over 6’ tall, which is not uncommon in Spec Miata. However, we wondered if this had happened to him before, perhaps due to his height. The answer. “Never.” We suppose there is a first time for everything.

(While discussing Spec Miata, a shout-out to Steven Powers for taking home wins both Saturday and Sunday. He faced fierce competition from Dakota Dickerson, Justin Casey, Tristan Littlehale, and Nick Leverone.)

#3. The new open-wheel FX class debuts in the first west coast Super Tour event – and it got air. Bill Weaver and Steve Martin, both Mazda drivers, battled with a tight finish during Saturday’s race. “There was a big melee at the exit of turn one,” commented Weaver. “I’m not sure who was even involved in it, but cars were going everywhere. I hit somebody. The front of my car launched up into the air, probably about three feet into the air. But it came down and the wheels were still on, so I just kept driving it. No front wing and a wet track is exciting to say the least. But we got it done, finished the race and had a great time.” On Sunday, the race was not as exciting, but Weaver made it two-for-two on the weekend.

#2. First event of the 2020 GT-3 Challenge presented by MPI. Opening round of this year’s GT-3 Challenge presented by MPI took place this weekend as part of the Hoosier Super Tour at Buttonwillow Raceway Park with 11 cars taking green each day.

Michael Lewis (pictured above), in the No. 32 Goodyear Mazda RX-7, started on pole in both races and led every lap on his way to two victories. Taz Harvey, in a Mazda RX-7, Jose Rodriguez, also in a Mazda RX-7, Michael Heintzman (pictured above in 3rd place), in a Mazda Miata, and Tony Ave, in a Nissan (pictured above), diced it up over the weekend, each earning a podium. If not for some misfortune, Mike Henderson and Guy Laidig could have earned a podium position. The depth of drivers was impressive. Outside of the SCCA National Championship Runoffs®, this was the deepest GT-3 field.

The GT-3 Challenge is a series boosting participation in the GT-3 class and supported by Mazda, Max Papis Innovations, Penske Racing Shocks, AiM Sports and Hoosier Racing Tire, with new partners Goodyear Tire, Carbotech Performance Brakes and Bell Racing Helmets jumping aboard this year. There are five scheduled GT-3 Challenge rounds in 2020 – the others taking place at Hoosier Super Tour events at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen International, as well as Road America in July, and finally SCCA’s National Championship Runoffs® in October.

#1. Spec MX-5 debuts. Sporting the turnkey engine from Mazda with the Roush cylinder head and MAHLE pistons, the Penske single-adjustable racing shocks, Spec ECU flash and more of the components that were developed based on Mazda’s four pillars – Affordability, Reliability, Tech-ability, and really fun to drive –the Spec MX-5, piloted by Richard James, performed very well. If not for on-track misfortune (“that’s racing”), James had the speed to podium in the STL class. His next event, and largely where the Spec MX-5 race cars will make their first big splash, is Willow Springs next month – site of the first Spec MX-5 Challenge Series event.