By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires
This Saturday, April 1st in Irwindale, CA, we were able to witness the first career victory of Sean Hingorani, 16, at the West Coast Stock Car Motorsports Hall of Fame 150. It was the second race of the ARCA Menards West Series season. He thus offers his Venturini Motorsports team its first victory in West Series.
It was a race where there were many contenders for victory, starting with polesitter Trevor Huddleston who led almost until the halfway point before having to leave the front positions to the duo Landen Lewis / Sean Hingorani. But during the last restart 18 laps from the end that Hingorani really made the difference and gradually widened a gap of almost four seconds when the checkered flag fell.
On Friday March 31, an open practice was organized and Hingorani was the fastest in 18.185 seconds ahead of Trevor Huddleston and Braldey Erickson. However, the track conditions were very different the next day and the setups had to be modified, the track having less grip.
The times were about 0.250 seconds slower for the fastest times compared to the previous day, Erickson. Which over a half mile like Irwindale is a lot. Huddleston, on his hometrack, showed great consistency, setting similar lap times regardless of track conditions.
Besides, he was going to take pole position, his first in his career for his 55th race. He is ahead of Erickson by 77 thousandths. The second row is made up of Hingorani and Landen Lewis. Rookie Jake Bollman, Huddleston’s teammate at High Point Racing took sixth ahead of championship leader Tyler Reif.
Note that Ryan Roulette and Jalen Mack are ultimately not present, the remaining 16 drivers will all participate in the race.
Huddleston took advantage of his pole position to take command of the race and thus kept a few lengths ahead first of all of Erickson and then of the Hingorani / Lewis duo. These two will hardly leave each other in the entire race.
From lap 60, Huddleston saw the Hingorani / Lewis threat becoming more pressing as Naake-Klauer Motorsports driver Bradley Erickson was lonely in fourth position, four seconds behind the leader. Fifth-placed Todd Souza is eight seconds behind, Bollman nine seconds and the Reif brothers, Tyler ahead of Tanner, 12 seconds behind.
Eric “Bubba” Nasicmento, Jr. and Kyle Keller close out the top-10 at 14 seconds. RJ Smotherman, 11th is the first driver at one lap and is in full fight with Nick Joanides. How can such discrepancies be explained? Because something rare in Irwindale, the race takes place only under green flag and it will still last.
On the 66th lap Landen Lewis got the better of Hingorani and joined the leader Huddleston and by coming out of Turn 4 better at the end of the 71st lap, he was able to dive inside Turn 1 and the two drivers stayed side by side for two laps, sometimes going into contact. No sooner had he been passed for the first position than Huddleston saw Hingorani do the same to him but from the outside line.
At the halfway mark, the classification is as follows: Lewis, Hingorani, Huddleston, Erickson, Souza, Bollman, Tyler Reif, Tanner Reif, Eric Nascimento, Keller, Smotherman (-2 laps), Joanides (-2), Takuma Koga (-3), Bobby Hillis, Jr. (-4), David Smith (-5) and Ethan Nascimento (-30).
Note that the Japanese Koga is driving without power steering and is starting to have arm cramps. As for Ethan Nascimento, he experienced the same problem on the fourth lap of the race and lost a lot of time in the garage to repair.
On lap 78, Hingorani will take the lead by making the inside of Lewis on Turn 1. This is the third different leader from the start.
Debris on track!
The officials will wave the first yellow flag on lap 90 for debris in Turn 2. This will suit Keller (10th) since he will benefit from the free pass, which will be important for the rest of his race.
The restart on the 97th lap turned into carnage at the end of the pack. Eric Nascimento, ninth, has difficulty picking up speed. Nascimento’s transmission failed. That resulted in a pile-up with David Smith hitting Nascimento, Smotherman does the same with Joanides. Big damage for the four drivers. Among them, only the Canadian Smith will be able to return to the track.
The restart was given on lap 109 with Hingorani leading ahead of Lewis and Huddleston. But the latter had to face the threat Erickson who seemed to have better tires and took third position.
On lap 112, Souza tried to make the outside of Huddleston on turn 1. He was almost through but Huddleston touched him in the left rear, throwing the No. 13 Ford Mustang off balance, and Souza unwittingly slammed into the left-back of rookie Jake Bollman.
The two men go in spun. Bollman finishing his pirouette in the outside wall. He has to get out of his car. Souza can continue but his right front suspension is bent. But it could have been worse as Keller, Ethan Nascimento and the Reif brothers narrowly avoid the spining cars ahead of them.
At the restart, Lewis is the quickest to get into action and takes command of the race from Hingorani who had chosen the outside line. Tyler Reif takes fourth in Huddleston. But four laps later, Tyler will push Erickson into the entrance of Turn 3. It is neither the fault of one nor the fault of the other. Because the two drivers were at the same time on a central trajectory, which is not usual in Irwindale. But Erickson spins into the outside wall of Turn 4 from the back. A tired Takuma Koga benefits for the second time in a row from the free pass.
There are 18 laps left when the final restart is given at the 133rd lap and this time the opposite is happening. Hingorani took off better and took the lead from Lewis after two laps side by side. Lewis went very close to the outside wall on Turn 4, where the dust is. The Venturini driver will gradually widen a nice gap of almost four seconds when he receives the checkered flag. Huddleston was overtaken by Tyler Reif for third position.
For Hingorani, this is the first career victory in his seventh start, it is even his first top-five and even his first career top-10. It must be said that so far he had not been spared by bad luck and mechanical problems.
“Our Toyota Camry was so fast. We were fast all weekend, but my crew chief Kevin Reed Jr. has been a couple times (here at Irwindale) and finally got himself a win,” Hingorani said. “It’s so awesome to win here.”
Hingorani who will celebrate his victory in a sporty and fun way by climbing the fence and doing four pull-ups! The celebration was reminiscent of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s following the Daytona 500 earlier this year, along with the signature celebrations of Helio Castroneves and Tony Stewart.
Rounding out the top-10 are Tanner Reif, Keller, Koga, Erickson, Hillis, Jr. and Smith. It was the first career top-10 finish for Smith, who also made West Series history as the second-oldest driver to achieve a top-10 finish after Hershel McGriff. McGriff having obtained his last top-10 (7th in Phoenix in 2002) at the age of 74. David Smith is a youngster of only 73 years since March 28. But he is the oldest foreign driver to achieve this performance.
In the championship, Lowden-Jackson Motorsports driver Tyler Reif remains the leader with 88-points, two more than Landen Lewis and 10 more than Huddleston. Erickson and Kyle Keller are both 11-points behind the leader. Hingorani moved up to sixth position 13-points behind.
Next race April 22 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, CA for another 150 lap race.
See you on Wednesday for the full pilot-by-pilot analysis.