Following the summer break, Lotus Cup returned to action at Thunderhill Raceway. Thunderhill is a driver's favorite, featuring a great combination of technical corners to test a driver's skill and high-speed sweepers and blind crests to test one's courage. Previous outings at Thunderhill were noted for close competition, thrilling last-lap heroics and most of all, heat. This year, Lotus Cup ran with NASA on August 29 and 30. The temperatures were thankfully mild although a strong wind from the Southeast affected vehicle dynamics on Saturday.
This year the on-track action didn't disappoint. For our Saturday race, Nicolai Elghanayan successfully converted his first overall pole position into his maiden overall win. Greg Nitzkowski finished second, adding to his points total and moving closer to that all-important Trophy-class championship. Nitzkowski also turned the fastest lap of the race, a scorching 1:54.304. Further down the grid, Scott Gibson and Michael Reynolds drove solid, consistent races from their respective class poles to emerge victorious in SuperSport (Gibson) and Cup (Reynolds). Congratulations to Jeff Raggio, who drove a strong, trouble-free race to finish second in Cup. Jeff Elghanyan rounded out Cup class podium by coming home third.
The Production-class battle was exciting to the very end. Kevin Woods started on class pole and took an early lead. Brandon Sloan fought a tough battle with Ross Jaffe for the first part of the race, then pulled away and began pressuring Woods for the overall win. Heading down the back straight towards Turn 14, with Sloan closing fast, Woods took a conservative inside line through the final two corners and crossed the stripe with Sloan just 0.119 seconds behind! Jaffe finished third ahead of Patrice Gautier, who battled through traffic to come within five seconds of making the podium. David Anderson drove a smooth and consistent pace to finish fifth. Jaffe took fastest lap honors in class, and the top four finishers in the fastest lap sweepstakes (Jaffe, Gautier, Sloan and Woods, in that order) were covered by less than 0.3 seconds! This is a testament to the closeness of the competition and the quality of the driving that has typified the series the past three years.
With Saturday's clouds and wind behind us, we began our second day of action on Sunday August 30. A good battle between Greg Nitzkowski and Nicolai Elghanayan was decided on Lap 7 when Nicolai's V6 Exige Cup suffered mechanical problems. Nitzkowski went on to claim the Trophy class win, leaving Nicolai with the consolation of having run the fastest lap of the race (1:54.668). Gibson and Reynolds won their respective SuperSport and Cup classes from pole position (as they had on Saturday), giving both gentlemen a lead in their respective championship standings. Newcomer Jeff Raggio repeated his silver-medal performance in Cup, with Jeff Elghanayan once again taking third.
The Production class once again hosted the most exciting fight, a four-way battle among Kevin Woods, Patrice Gautier, Brandon Sloan and Ross Jaffee. Woods started on pole but was quickly under pressure from the pursuing pack. On Lap 3, Gautier made a daring pass on the inside of Turn 2 to take the lead. Woods fought back and retook the lead that same lap by shooting down the inside of Turn 6. Gautier tried to retake the lead with a pass attempt on the inside of Turn 9, but Woods had too much speed heading up the hill from Turn 8. Gautier backed out and took an inside line into Turn 9, opening the door for Sloan, who attempted - almost successfully - to pass Gautier for second place on the inside of Turn 10. Meanwhile, Jaffee remained in hot pursuit in fourth place. The next lap, Gautier got a run up the front straight and tried passing Woods on the inside of Turn 1. Again, Woods had too much speed around the outside and held off Gautier’s challenge. Woods then stretched his lead and looked to be comfortably pulling away. Gautier, not to be denied, got a terrific launch out of Turn 8, followed up with a blistering Turn 9 and caught back up to Woods. The lead would change once again on Lap 6, when Gautier passed Woods going into Turn 1, Sloan and Jaffee following close behind. Woods retook the lead from Gautier later that lap and would hold on for the win. Sloan slipped by Gautier to finish second. Gautier finished third and Jaffee finished fourth. Once again, David Anderson scored a solid fifth-place finish, nipping at the heels of one of the Cup class cars. Fastest lap honors in Production class went to Woods in the Sunday race.
The series heads off to Buttonwillow for the next event. With six races to go and 150 championship points still up for grabs, anything can happen. Stay tuned!