VTEC Club does not disappoint. At the beginning of this season, we praised their 2018 schedule for being a little shorter (a welcomed gesture for drivers needing a break between rounds to repair their cars and bank accounts) but a whole lot more interesting. Now three events into their five-event 2018 season, that observation continues to prove true.
Buttonwillow Raceway is the gold-standard track for U.S.-based time-attack competition, so it's fitting that VTEC Clubbers get to drive it twice this year. But to keep things spicy, a new element was added for this third competition: running it in reverse. No, not in the mirrors (unless you're in Group N2-burn!!) driving the course counter-clockwise, as opposed to the traditional clockwise configuration.
This might not seem like a big deal, until you imagine what it's like to barrel down the front straight toward a much harder right-hander, brake through the esses, and round the now increasing-radius Star Mazda turn, shoot up over Phil hill backwards (still blindly), brake hard coming into Bus Stop and try not to miss the turn, run Cotton Corners and I-5 backwards, and then have enough braking power left to take the now decreasing-radius, downhill Off Ramp without flying off the track and into the pits, through a couple of trees. Oh and the pitting, staging, and track on/off are all backwards, too.
Two things could be said of Buttonwillow in the CCW 13 (for its 13 turns) configuration: it's a lot of fun, and it's very tricky, especially at first. Throw some record-breaking heat into the mix, and the added uncertainty of this being the schedule's official "NorCal v SoCal" round, and all bets were off not only as to who would emerge on the podium for each of VTEC Club's five run groups, but who would survive the round in good order altogether!
Running the track in its traditional clockwise configuration, big off-track jaunts into the dirt outside the final turn are not abnormal. But no. 420 S2000 pilot Ryan Rucker may have set a new bar for the feat while running the course in reverse, overcooking the brakes on the front straight and flying off what was now Turn 1 in a new direction with such fury that his bumper not only flew off, but split into two pieces!
Perhaps inspired by Rucker's work, Andy Tran and the no. 315 Civic hatch raised that bar painfully further n the opposite end of the front straight when he oversteered coming out of the final turn, and blasted straight into the hot pit wall.
Rucker and his S2000 were back up and running after a little handiwork, but Tran wasn't as lucky. He emerged unscathed, but the front of his Civic looked to be a total loss and couldn't even be loaded onto a trailer without the help of a ratcheting tow strap, a strong friend, and an even stronger tree.
The heat began to take its toll early, severely decreasing traction and wreaking havoc on mechanicals. Longtime VTEC Cubber and driver of the no. 363 Civic, Scott Dukeshire, laid down the fastest lap in early Group N2 competition before suffering one of the first thought-to-be heat-related engine failures, followed by San Diego resident Javier Rodriguez in the no. 156 Acura Integra, who also laid down a fast lap in the first session (good enough to keep him in Third) before roasting his brakes so hard that a line ruptured and put a quick end to his day.
The exception to this rule, however, was the eventual winner of Group N2 competition, Alan Jaquias in the no. 113 Acura Integra, who clocked his fastest run once heat had climbed well into the triple digits, belting out a 2:06.037 to take the Group N2 title.
Alan's best was even faster than the entire Group N1 and 2/3s of the Group N podium, and some big names therein. Soon-to-be-K24-powered-NSX driver and all around hotshoe Amir Bentatou won group N1 competition from behind the wheel of Muoi Tran's no. 47 Battlecraft EK Civic with a 2:07.609, followed very closely by VTEC Club organizer Duane Bada in his no. 5 "spec-B20" EK Civic (roughly a super-fun $1K all-in trackday build) and Marck Tejada in his no. 344 Acura RSX.
Group N was dominated once again by Billy Jang and his no. 369 Winmax Brakes S2000 with a 2:03.583 best time, running all day long without a hitch. Not far behind were Ryan Lafontaine and Bryan Meza in their no. 590 S2000 and no. 446 K-swapped EF Civic, respectively, with Meza signing up for the otherwise sold-out event day-of.
Similarly, Group A2 saw another back-to-back win, when Steven Kronemberger and his no. 528 FK8 Civic Type R belted out a 2:01.182 to win Group A2 class competition, fresh off the racks at Evasive Motorsports after some suspension work. Just a few seconds off was Gerry Prieto and his no. 495 S2000, followed by John Cruz and the venerable no. 174 "Goldy" EG Civic less than a second off Second-place. John and Goldy are freakishly fast, but he's thinking they were a little slower this time around due to hot temps and the car's ITBs. We might bet on a manifold swap before next round.
But running the fastest, and the only man to break into the 1-minute mark around the counter-clockwise configuration on this hot day, was none other than Jose Mejia and his no. 98 DC2 Integra Type R, blasting out a 1:57.397 to take the Group A class win and overall fastest-lap honors on behalf of Team SoCal. Jose's time was actually faster than his best time last year while running in the traditional (and faster) clockwise configuration. S2000 wheelman Son Vo (no. 9) and GReddy turbocharged, single-cam Del Sol driver (no. 267) Alex Skinner rounded out the Group A podium in Second and Third, respectively.
Despite a full day of racing in the searing sun and overwhelming central-Calif. heat, the racing was only part of the VTEC Club experience. From driver Jason Trinh and his no. 406 EF Civic trekking all the way from Colorado for the day ("primarily to hang out with old friends," in his words), to frontman Duane Bada inviting basically anyone to drive his car who wanted to, Ant Ari filming a skate-inspired VTEC Club video on a '90s Sony Handicam, and Andrew Munteanu and his no. 466 white EG winning the impromptu "Cool Car Award" from Battlecraft and Koyorad, the real experience of VTEC Club is the same as it always has been: camaraderie. Just, now with an easier and more interesting schedule.
VTEC Club journeys next to Willow Springs for a night event in August, and tiding you over until then is a metric ton of additional shots in our gallery below.