2018 SEASON-OPENER GOES BIG IN ARIZONA
After a long and patience-trying off season, which was made even more lengthy thanks to mother nature, the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, was finally back in action at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park here in Chandler, AZ, just outside Phoenix this weekend. In the first of what will be multiple one-round race weekends here in the series this year, LOORRS changed things up a bit, at least as far as this track is concerned, making the Round’s racing into an evening/nighttime affair for the first time at this track. Under the gorgeous glow of the setting desert sun, tonight’s races were a big hit with the local fans, who’ve always packed the stands in droves here in Arizona since the series first ventured here in 2009, back in the old days of Speedworld up in Surprise. In this, the series’ tenth season, fans will now get to see nine classes racing in the National Series, and those nine classes’ drivers all brought their A game here tonight, putting on an excellent show for the fans to kick the season off right.
PRO 4 UNLIMITED
The final race of the night was Pro 4 Unlimited, and right off the bat, the field was missing one major player as they got into formation on the front straightaway before the start. Rob MacCachren had had a mechanical failure after qualifying, and was unable to make repairs before tonight’s race, so it would be Kyle LeDuc in his all-new Evvo 2 truck starting all alone on row one. LeDuc led the field after lap one in the new-look grey #99 Monster Energy/Toyo Tires Ford, ahead of Carl Renezeder (again, filling in for the injured Bryce Menzies this weekend), RJ Anderson, Doug Mittag, and Scott Douglas. On lap three, Greg Adler got past Douglas at turn two to move up to fifth, and on lap five, Adrian Cenni then stalled in turn three, forcing a full course caution on the next lap. Just ahead of the caution, Renezeder had been starting to reel LeDuc in, and would now get an even better shot at LeDuc on the restart. Unfortunately for Renezeder, LeDuc made an excellent restart and shot back out ahead, but further back, both Mittag and Adler got by Anderson for third and fourth on that same restart lap, though Anderson then managed to get back past Adler at turn two to retake fourth on lap eight. Bradley Morris, driving the #24 K&N Filters/Maxxis Tires Ford, then got by Adler coming out of turn one on lap ten to move into fifth, just ahead of a second full course yellow. This caution came after Randy Minnier, class rookie driving LeDuc’s 2017 championship-winning Evvo truck, rolled in turn two. Safety crews were able to right Minnier, who was then able to continue, much to the delight of the fans in attendance, and after the restart, the top five drivers held their positions until lap 14. On that lap, LeDuc got up on the bike in the second half of turn two, and rode that bike for what seemed like an eternity, or several seconds-worth anyway, before finally managing to get the truck back down on all fours. This was just the opportunity that Renezeder needed, and he squeaked by on the inside and into the lead with just two and a half laps to go. This was looking like the 2016 Lucas Oil Challenge Cup all over again, and when Renezeder just over-rotated slightly out of turn three on the final lap, LeDuc tried hard to exploit the mistake. This time, however, Renezeder was too quick to catch the error, and managed to hold LeDuc at bay, as he picked up a highly-popular win in the #7 Red Bull/KMC Wheels Ford. LeDuc was just behind in second, a strong debut for his new truck, with Mittag (driving yet another ex-LeDuc truck) third in the #81 Bilstein Shock Absorbers/Dragon Alliance Ford, Anderson fourth in the #37 Rockstar Energy Drink/Polaris RZR truck, and Morris fifth.
PRO 2 UNLIMITED
Following Opening Ceremonies, it was time for Pro 2 Unlimited. Moved up in the order from their usual position of show closer, Pro 2 Unlimiteds have now become our show opener, and they certainly got things kicked off right here tonight. Rob MacCachren and RJ Anderson started up front, and ran one-two after lap one, with reigning champion Jeremy McGrath, Jerett Brooks, and Rodrigo Ampudia close behind. Contact between Bradley Morris and Carl Renezeder (filling in for the injured Bryce Menzies this weekend) resulted in Renezeder winding up nosed against the right side wall just before the start/finish line at the end of lap one, and that brought out a full course yellow on lap two. Once Renezeder had been cleared, racing resumed, and after the restart lap, Ampudia was all over Brooks in the race for fourth on lap three. A second full course yellow then dropped at the end of that lap after Erik Jacobus had rolled in turn two. Jacobus was righted by safety crews and was able to continue, with the top five continuing to hold station after the restart. On lap six, Ampudia then ran wide at turn one, which gave class rookie Brandon Arthur, running the ex-Justin Peck truck at select rounds this year (in addition to his full-season Pro Lite program), room to get by on the inside and up to fifth. Arthur then biked in turn two on the next lap, giving Ampudia and Brian Deegan room to try and sneak by inside. Unfortunately for the two of them, they made contact and slowed each other, so it was actually Bradley Morris who got by Ampudia, Deegan, and Arthur to move up to fifth in the #24 K&N Filters/Dynamic Motorsports Ford. Up front, meanwhile, MacCachren and Anderson were separating themselves from the pack, but were still locked very close to each other in the race for the lead on lap nine. Back in that hotly contested race for fifth, Deegan then got by Morris to move into the top five in his #38 Monster Energy/Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels Toyota. Several more laps passed, with the top five drivers again maintaining their positions, until the last lap, when a major malfunction (likely transmission-related) suddenly struck second-placed Anderson. Anderson’s pace slowed to a crawl, and as the field streaked past, he was even reduced to weaving his front tires back and forth to try and claw his way forward to the start/finish line. Anderson did manage to get there, but he’d fallen well out of the top five by that point, a very unfortunate ending to an extremely well-driven race. Up front, MacCachren opened the season with a win in the #21 Rockstar Energy Drink/Makita Industrial Power Tools Ford, ahead of McGrath in the new-liveried #1 Maxxis Tires/Icon Vehicle Dynamics Ram, Brooks in the #77 Rigid Industries LED Lighting/Bilstein Shock Absorbers Ford, Deegan, and Morris.
PRO LITE UNLIMITED
Despite starting on row two, Christopher Polvoorde got up to the lead on lap one in the #94 Steel-It/TIS Wheels Nissan, ahead of Cory Winner, Ryan Beat, Brandon Arthur, and Brock Heger in the initial top five for Pro Lite Unlimited. Beat got by Winner for second early on lap two, with Arthur then getting by Winner for third at turn three. Heger then passed Winner as well, although it took Heger from turn two to turn four on lap three to get the pass done, before Heger was then a bit slow out of turn three on the next lap, which briefly allowed Mickey Thomas (who’d also gotten by Winner at this point) to get by Heger. Heger got right back by Thomas, though, before a full course caution then fell at the end of lap five when Winner’s truck came to a stop just out of turn one. On the restart lap, Beat forced Polvoorde wide at turn two, allowing both Beat and Arthur to get by the leader and into spots one and two. In the next corner, Heger got spun around after Thomas hit Heger in the right front and broke Heger’s suspension. Heger, unaware of the extent of the damage, tried to continue, only to auger in at turn four, roll, and catch out an innocent Mason Cullen in the process. The whole incident brought out a full course yellow, with Beat, Arthur, Polvoorde, Mamer, and Thomas now running in the top five as the field readied for the restart.
These five held their positions on the restart lap, before Thomas then got past Mamer for fourth at turn three on lap eight. Up front, it was a great race for the lead between Beat and Arthur, with Arthur biking into turn three and nosing into Beat on lap 10. Both drivers escaped unharmed, though, and just behind, a second great race, between Polvoorde and Thomas, was now developing over third spot. On what would’ve been the final lap, a rollover for Kyle Knott, as well as a breakdown for Sarah Burgess, forced officials to call a full course caution. Just before the field had started that potential final lap, Thomas had gotten past Polvoorde for third after incidental contact between the two out of turn four had cost Polvoorde a bit of momentum. On the restart, Mamer then got by Polvoorde for fourth, while up front, Arthur tried valiantly to make a final push past Beat for the lead. Unfortunately for Arthur, Beat was just too strong, and he took the new-livery #51 Bilstein Shock Absorbers/KMC Wheels Chevrolet to the top step of the podium here tonight. Arthur finished a close second in the #6 MAVTV/Toyo Tires Chevrolet, with Thomas third in the #44 Maxxis Tires/Walker Evans Racing Chevrolet, Mamer fourth in his new #35 Falken Tires/Bilstein Shock Absorbers Nissan, and Polvoorde fifth.
PRO BUGGY UNLIMITED
Class rookie Trey Gibbs, who’s moved up from Modified Kart this year, led the Pro Buggy race after lap one, ahead of Trevor Briska, Sterling Cling, Eliott Watson, and Brady Whitlock. Up front, Gibbs was quickly pulling away from the pack in the opening laps, while further down the order, Watson got past Cling for third on lap three. Gibbs had opened up a sizeable gap in the first few laps, but by lap seven, second-placed Briska had started to close that gap back down, just ahead of the Competition Yellow, which fell at the end of that lap. When that yellow flag dropped, it was now Gibbs, Briska, Watson, Cling, and Bud Ward in the top five, with Ward then passing Cling for fourth right away on the restart lap. In turn two, Briska then passed Gibbs for the lead. In the next corner, close racing with Briska, combined with some help from behind by Watson, caused Gibbs to spin, dropping the young hotshoe well down the order. The incident wound up causing a full course caution, as Watson also ended up stopped on track, and when racing resumed, it was now Briska, Ward, Cling, Chris Nunes, and Matthew Brister in the top five. Brister got by Nunes for fourth spot early on the restart lap, and on the next lap, Cling made easy work of Ward down the inside at turn one to move up to second in the new #77 Cling’s Aerospace/Southwest Waterjet and Laser Foddrill. Brister, in the #5 LAT Racing Oils/King Off-Road Racing Shocks Funco, and Nunes, in the #2 Kicker Performance Audio/BFGoodrich Tires Racer, then got by Ward in and out of turn two to grab third and fourth, while up front, Briska was now streaking away in the lead in the #59 Junior Diabetes Research Foundation Arizona Chapter/The Fab School Funco. Sammy Ehrenberg got by Ward for fifth on lap 11 in the #4 Wilson Motorsports Inc./Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels Alumi Craft, but after that, no further passes were made within the top five, and it was Briska who picked up his first career National Series Pro Buggy win- congratulations Trevor! Second was Cling, third went to Brister, fourth was Nunes, and fifth place went to Ehrenberg.
The always-exciting Modified Karts took to the track next, and were the first class out on the full-length track this evening. Mason Prater and Luke Knupp started on the front row, and it was Prater who led the way after lap one in the #505 Mod Kids USA/Tire Masters machine, ahead of Bronsen Chiaramonte, Knupp, Mia Chapman, and Ricky Gutierrez. Gutierrez got by Chapman on the inside at turn one to move up to fourth on lap two, before making another inside pass, this time on Knupp at turn two, to take over third spot on the same lap. Chapman and Braden Chiaramonte then got past Knupp in and out of turn three to take over fourth and fifth spots, with Braden then passing both Chapman and Gutierrez near turn two on lap four to move up to third. Braden’s pass may have been due in part to an incident that may have happened between Chapman and Gutierrez near turn two (out of sight of this viewer), and with two karts then getting stuck together up in that same corner, a full course yellow followed soon after. Prater, Bronsen, Braden, Gutierrez, and Chapman made up the top five for the restart, and when Braden ran wide at turn one on the restart, Gutierrez got by to move up to third spot. Ahead, Prater then biked in turn three, causing Bronsen to bobble, and that let Gutierrez get by them both and into the lead in one fell swoop. Early on the next lap, Brody Eggleston moved past Braden and into fifth spot, before a stall by Connor Barry in turn three forced a full course caution at the end of that lap.
Several drivers badly jumped the restart, forcing officials to call the field back to give the restart a second try. On that second go around, Braden got back by Eggleston on the inside at turn one to get back into the top five. Then on the next lap, Bronsen then moved up to third in the #574 RTL Traffic & Equipment Rentals/OGG Motorsports truck, and Eggleston passed Braden a second time for fifth. Chapman then rolled, with a little help from behind by Eggleston, as she exited turn one on lap seven, which brought the full course yellow back out. Eggleston got the black flag and was sent to the back of the pack, and as the field circulated under yellow, leader Gutierrez suddenly shot into the Hot Pits. That put Prater back out front for the restart, with Bronsen, Braden, Knupp, and Trey Eggleston now making up the rest of the top five. Trey got by Knupp for fourth on the restart lap, but then broke down at the exit of turn three on the next lap, causing another full course caution, and allowing Knupp and Barry to take over fourth and fifth. On the restart lap, Barry ran wide out of turn one, before spinning and finding himself facing backwards, hoping the rest of the field wouldn’t plow into him. Fortunately, the field all managed to steer clear of Barry, but shortly afterwards, Braden and Gutierrez collected after the ski jump out of turn two, causing yet another full course caution. After several laps of caution running, Knupp was finally moved up to third spot for the restart in the #554 Ultra Xtreme Race Wheels Motorsports/Super Clean kart, behind Prater and Bronsen, and ahead of Brook Jensen and Chance Haugen. These five held their positions on the restart, as well as the remaining two laps, and at the finish, it was Prater who collected his first National Series win in Modified Kart- congratulations Mason! Second went to Bronsen, third to Knupp, fourth to Jensen in the #519 ITP Tires/Vixen Offroad entry, and fifth to Haugen in the #518 Pinnacle Off-Road Motorsports/Cage Wrx machine.