By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires
The 2023 ARCA Menards West Series season concluded this Friday, November 3 at Phoenix Raceway. The 12th and final race, the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 100, was won by William Sawalich, who dominated the 100 laps of the race. But he was not the only one to burst out with joy once the checkered flag was lowered. Indeed Sean Hingorani, by finishing third, won the champion title in fine style.
Here is the race review of the race.
Following R.J. Smotherman’s withdrawal due to the fuel cell no longer being compliant (expiration date reached) and his team being unable to replace him in time, there were ultimately 29 of them to take part in the 2023 final.
Last minute change concerning Robbie Kennealy who finally used the No. 11 instead of the No. 01. This did not bring him luck since he would experience a major brake problem on his first lap on the track which would immobilize him in turn 3. Unable to repair quickly, he was going to miss the qualifying session and start the race dead last. William Sawalich was immediately the fastest ahead of Hingorani and Dean Thompson. This trio would not leave until the end of the race.
Indeed from the qualifying session we found the same three in the same order with Sawalich in pole position. Hingorani’s two opponents for the championship, Tyler Reif and Trevor Huddleston, are respectively 8th and 21st on the starting grid. Dylan Smith, 17th, hit the wall but without much damage to his Chevrolet. As for Jake Finch, a mechanical problem saw him complete a single lap more than 10 seconds behind the poleman. Remember that Sawalich had already taken pole during the first race in Phoenix at the start of the season. David Smith, for his part, damaged his tires too badly by sliding and will have to change them for the start, forcing him to start last.
From the start, Sawalich propelled himself into the lead, despite the aggressiveness of his opponents who did not hesitate to cut as much as possible inside the dog leg to try to gain positions.
After five laps, Sawalich leads by half a second over Thompson and a second over Hingorani. Kaden Honeycutt, the “best” of the others, is fourth, more than 2.5 seconds behind! Bobby Hillis, Jr. enters the pitlane after his right front tire punctures. It is the bodywork which, by rubbing against it during cornering, is the cause of this puncture. The team notices that the sway bar is broken and must abandon.
The first highlight of the race came on lap 14 when Trevor Huddleston spun on turn 2 and caused the first yellow flag. Luckily it doesn’t hit the wall and can restart. Ryan Roulette, 26th, receives the free pass.
At the restart Sawalich retained first position ahead of Thompson and Hingorani. Honeycutt and Jack Wood complete the top-five. But we only had to wait two laps before the second yellow flag caused by the accident between Tanner Reif and Eric Nascimento, Jr. on turn 1. Nascimento had his front left tire punctured while Tanner Reif had his rear left tire punctured. is flat. Huddleston, 26th, receives the free pass.
Hingorani is Calling the Shots!
At the restart on the 26th lap, Sean Hingorani got off to a better start and took the lead from Sawalich from the outside at the exit of turn 2. He would lead with a good half second lead. Clean air seems essential in Phoenix.
Four laps later, another yellow flag following a collision at turn 2 between Johnny Bonrneman III and Joey Iest who were fighting for 15th position. If Borneman III is doing relatively well, this will not be the case for Iest who has his suspension broken. He will lose a lot of lap to repair. Tanner Reif, 25th, receives the free pass.
At the restart on the 34th lap. Sawalich will do exactly the same maneuver as what Hingorani did to him at the previous restart. He overtakes the leader from the outside and takes back, definitively, first position. Honeycutt is fourth but will start to lose positions to Wood, Tyler Reif, Landen Lewis, Kris Wright and Toni Breidinger.
Something is wrong with the No. 17 Toyota. After losing three more positions, Honeycutt’s left front tire explodes at the end of the backstretch. He manages to narrowly avoid David Smith entering turn 3 as well as the outside wall. Ryan Roulette benefits from the free pass race for the second time. This fourth yellow flag will also serve as a midway break.
At the restart on lap 50, Sawalich leads ahead of Hingorani, Wood, Thompson, Lewis, Tyler Reif, Breidinger, Bradley Erickson, Todd Souza and Wright for the top 10. But Hingorani misses his restart and is overtaken by Thompson and Wood on turn 1. On the next lap, the championship leader tries to get inside Thompson at the start of turn 3 to regain third position but he slips and touches his teammate. Sean Hingorani managed to keep control of the No. 15 Toyota but lost three more positions to Lewis, Tyler Reif and Breidinger.
Big scare the following lap when Hingorani was overtaken by Erickson and Wright on turn 1. Wright on the inside line slipped and touched Erickson who himself hit Hingorani who managed to avoid the wall. Wright wastes a lot of time. During the following laps, Hingorani will patiently move up from 10th to 5th position.
While fighting for 10th position, Nick Joanides and Todd Souza collided on turn 1 on lap 66. The impact against the wall was very violent but fortunately the two pilots escaped without physical injuries. On the other hand, the two Fords are very damaged and it is abandonment for the two veterans. This offers Honeycutt, 18th, the opportunity to benefit from the free pass and return to the leader’s lap.
On the 74th lap, the restart was given with Sawalich leading but having a hard time facing Dean Thompson and Jack Wood. The latter took second position on the 75th lap but two laps later Thompson took it back from him. At that point, on the 80th lap, William Sawalich was 1.7 seconds ahead but the suspense grew as Thompson reduced the gap on the leader.
With a tenth by lap, he is only 6 tenths behind the leader on the 95th lap, 4 tenths on the 96th lap, 2 tenths on the 97th lap. Thompson slips through the lapped cars with more ease than the leader. The gap is almost identical on the 98th lap. But Sawalich finds clean air and manages to get back ahead. Half a second under the white flag and finally 850 thousandths under the checkered flag.
William Sawalich, the East Series champion, concludes his great 2023 season with his first career victory in the West Series. He is the only driver to have won races in all three ARCA series in 2023, the East, the National Series and the West! “This was very special. We finished where we should have left off in the first race of the year [at Phoenix]. We capitalized on every opportunity and had a couple of good restarts. I worked on a few things myself and I think I’m ready for next year.” Sawalich said.
Dean Thompson finished second and Sean Hingorani, third, was the new West Series champion. The top five is completed by Jack Wood and Tyler Reif, 2023 vice champion. The rest of the top10 is made up of Lande Lewis, Bradley Erickson, Tanner Reif, Kaden Honeycutt and Colombian Sebastian Arias.
Honeycutt gives Steve McGowan and Bruce Cook the owners’ championship. This is the first time in history that the champion team is not that of the champion driver.
“This was such a great season with Billy Venturini. We fought so hard today and really wanted to win this race, but these guys brought me a fast car everywhere. This was such a great opportunity over here [at Venturini Motorsports] and I’m so thankful for it. We were just as fast as [Sawalich], if not faster I think.
“We could have raced him for the win there, but unfortunately we got into a racing incident with [Thompson] and weren’t able to get there. This was still a strong, third place finish and we got the championship. “It’s so great. This was our first try at it and we got it done on our first try. I can’t wait to see what we do next year.” Hingorani said.
The next race on March 8 at Phoenix Raceway, Avondale, AZ, for the first race of the 2024 season.
See you Wednesday on Kickin The Tires for the full driver-by-driver analysis of this Phoenix race.