In Pro, Grant Downing was clinging to a 20-point advantage coming into Sonoma. He nabbed the top spot on the grid with a class record 7.12 at 193 mph, giving Venom Racing the number one qualifier in each category it competes in. John Lingenfelter was right there with a 7.28 to take the second spot. Adam Saruwatari opened some eyes when he scorched the track with a 7.399 at 179 mph to grab the third spot on the Pro grid. The 7.39 is the Nitto/Enkei NSX's best effort to date.
The first round was dominated by John Lingenfelter's crash (see sidebar). With the Summit Racing Cavalier on its roof after round one, the big question was: "Could Downing dominate and take full advantage of the situation?" This question was answered when Downing and the Venom Tundra duplicated their qualifying effort with a 7.12, too much for Saruwatari's 7.69. Cruz had a single to the finals.
In the money race, Cruz could not tame his big cat as the Cougar left early and Downing powered into the winner's circle with a 7.24 at 191 mph. This gave the Venom Racing team two wins and a runner-up at the Tuned By Matrix Sport Compact Nationals; that's pretty awesome. The team's achievement is further enhanced when you look at the book. Bruce Mortensen set the Hot Rod e.t. record while Downing set Pro marks for e.t. 7.12 and speed 195.25 mph.
In the other pro classes a field of 15 entrants tested their patience as Jesus Padilla retained his stranglehold on the class. The 20B-powered RX-7 lowered the class e.t. record to 10.25.
In Street Tire, there were only two competitors. Locals seemed intimidated by the likes of Mark Mazurowski and Ari Yallon, but since Mark and the Titan Motorsports Supra have already won the title, neither of the big hitters were in attendance. Robert Dito seemed to have a lock on things in his 1st-gen Diamond Star but Paul Coggeshall had something for him and unleashed a 12 in the finals to take the money, the Wally, and secure Honda's bragging rights over the Diamond Stars.
We can't rave enough about the facilities at Infineon Raceway, the weather and most of all the action down the 1320. We can't wait for next year's race but one has to wonder, "can more records fall in 2002."
The Lingenfelter LoopThe biggest drama at Sonoma was John Lingenfelter's crash in the first round of Pro eliminations. The Summit Racing Cavalier got out of the groove just past the 60-foot and Lingenfelter muscled it back in line and got back in the throttle trying to salvage his .535 to .704 reaction advantage. At the top end, tire shake sent the car on its way again and Lingenfelter tried to drive through it. The Chevy drifted right, into Manny Cruz's lane and barely missed taking the Duttweiller/DRT Cougar out. Lingenfelter overcorrected and although he missed the right-side wall the car did a pirouette and soft- landed on its lid. It then skated back into its own lane, tripping the lights in 9.37, coming to a rest after grazing the left-side wall. There was no trap speed indicated because the lights were crushed in the commotion.
Manny Cruz related to us that it was too close to call. "I remember seeing a purple fender coming at me," said Cruz. "I grabbed fourth and crossed my fingers. My car accelerated and the Cavalier just missed."