Willow Springs – WERA F-USA – April 1991

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Interstate Batteries WERA Formula USA Series: Round Two
Oliver whips ’em at Willow
By Larry Lawrence
Rosamond, CA., April 14

Rich Oliver won the second Formula USA National of his career at round two of the series held at Willow Springs Raceway. Oliver, riding a Team Marlboro Roberts Yamaha YZR 500, battled for the lead with several different riders, before eventually pulling out to a 4.56 second margin of victory. Despite the length of Olivers lead at the finish, the Willow Springs race was one of the most competitive in Formula USA’s short history.

Coming into the Willow race, Oliver’s Marlboro Roberts teammate Robbie Petersen looked to be the man to beat. Petersen took on Oliver head to head at Road Atlanta and came out the victor. Oliver on the other hand, now had a race under his belt on the 500 GP bike and was gaining confidence in his ability to harness the awesome power of the bike by the lap.

A blow to Petersen’s chances came during Thursday’s practice session. The Zimbabwe native crashed his Yamaha and fortunately was not injured seriously but still would be riding in pain for the heats and final.

In a mild surprise Mike Smith was fast man in timed practice on Friday. Smith turned a lap of 1:26.81 on his Yoshimura Suzuki GSXR 1100 F/USA bike. The defending F/USA Champion downplayed his obviously skillful performance in handling the big Suzuki. Smith would only say that the bike felt good and he enjoyed the power he had coming out of the turns.

Scott Russell hustled his Muzzy Kawasaki ZX-7 around the 2.5 mile Willow Springs course in a time of 1:26.93, good enough for second fastest. Oliver was third in qualifying with a 1:27.24. Chuck Graves (1:27.51) and Petersen (1:27.74) rounded out the top five in qualifying. None of these times came close to eclipsing Scott Gray’s track record of 1:25.98 set on a Yoshimura Suzuki during F/USA practice last year.

In Sunday morning’s heat races it looked as if the the Yoshimura magic at Willow was in full force again. Smith -turning mid 1:27’s – pulled away from the GP bikes of Oliver and Petersen to win by 2.52 seconds in the first heat. Dale Quarterley finished fourth on the Human Race Team Bimota, followed by Valvoline Suzuki’s Donald Jacks.

In the second heat it was Graves on the second Yosh 1100 Superbike, holding off a hard charging Russell by a little more than a bike length. Britt Turkington, Joe Brett Williams and Danny Walker rounded out the top five.

Smith’s heat was the faster of the two. The two blue and white Yoshimura machines would line up side by side on the front row of the final.

Oliver showed little concern over the speed of the big Yoshimura Suzuki’s. “I was riding pretty conservatively in the heat race,” explained Oliver. “I think it will be hard for those guys (Smith and Graves) to maintain a fast pace throughout the entire 20 laps. I would imagine it will certainly be tough for their tires to hold up.”

Smith revealed some of his race strategy for the up coming final after his heat race win. “It will be important for me to get out front early and try to build a lead,” said Smith. “There’s no question that our bikes are tougher on tires that the GP bikes,” Smith added.

Oliver came very close to not making the final. As the riders were maneuvering their bikes into their grid positions after the warm-up lap, a crew member from another team suddenly jumped backwards right into the path of Oliver. Oliver’s bike hit the crew member sending him flying. Oliver himself was knocked off his bike. Both Oliver and the crew member were unhurt and quickly to their feet, and the Marlboro rushed to the Yamaha which was on it’s side, to asses the damage.

Fortunately for Oliver the bike sustained only a slight bend on the right handlebar.

As per his plan, Smith blasted out of the gate first. Oliver, Russell and Graves went into turn one nearly side by side. Petersen went through turn one in fifth, and as at Road Atlanta, looked in no hurry to get up to the front.

The order as the pack made its way around for the first lap was Smith, Oliver, Graves, Russell and Petersen together in a tight pack.

On lap three Oliver used the power of his Yamaha to move past Smith on the back straight. A lap later both Smith and Graves outbraked Oliver going into turn one, while Petersen moved by Russell to take fourth.

It was hard to understand how the heavier Superbike machines of Smith and Graves were outbraking Oliver’s Yamaha going into turn one nearly every lap. It turned out to be a problem with the light GP bike versus the high-winds. “Every time I would brake hard for turn one the back wheel would start to come off the ground,” explained Oliver. The cross wind in that turn was really upsetting the chassis. It got really hairy in there a couple of times.”

On lap five Graves was surprised to grab the lead from his teammate. “I really didn’t expect to be up front that early,” claimed Graves. Oliver was still in a close third. The gap back to Petersen was about three seconds. Russell was in fifth but fading on his comparatively under-powered Kawasaki ZX-7. Turkington was running quietly in sixth uncontested.

The next real battle was a six bike dice for seventh. Michael Martin on a Superstock Suzuki GSXR 1100, was fighting off Joe Brett Williams’ Honda RC 30. Right behind Williams came Quarterley, Jacks, Brian Bernard and Jeff Hagan in close succession.

On about lap seven Smith began to drop off the pace of Graves and Oliver. Smith tried desperately to stay with the leaders for a few more laps but was losing the battle. His bike Suzuki wouldn’t hooked up coming out of the turns. The back end would swing out wildly every time he applied throttle. Smith was nearly spit off three or four times before he finally realized he wasn’t going to be in contention for the win.

It appeared that Smith’s rear Dunlop slick had simply overheated, but after the race the team discovered the tire pressure was about ten pounds lower than it should have been. “We’re not really sure what happened,” said Smith. “All I know is that, one lap everything was fine and the next I had no traction. They think I might have spun the tire on the rim. That might explain the lack of tire pressure,” Smith concluded.

Soon Petersen was by the slowing Smith and began to close ground on the leaders. Up front the battle was intense between Oliver and Graves. The typical pattern was Graves getting Oliver on the brakes in turn one, then holding him off until the short back straight where Oliver would regain the lead.

In the closing laps Oliver finally used lapped traffic to put a gap between himself and Graves. Petersen’s late drive got him by Graves with two laps to go, but he could not close on Oliver.

Despite his tire problems Smith was able to hold on to fourth ahead of Russell. Turkington finished a lonely sixth.

On the last few laps Quarterley managed to ride past Martin then Williams to finish seventh. Bernard held off a frustrated Jacks to round out the top ten.

After the race Oliver said he didn’t really even think about his pre-race fall until near the end. “Once I shook off Graves and realized I was close to winning, I suddenly remembered that ‘oh yeah, I had fallen off the bike’,” Oliver said.

“The race was basically just waiting for the Superbikes to waste their tires, then pick up the pace. The one thing I didn’t count on was the wind. There were a couple of times that I had the bike leaned way over on the front straight, just fighting the wind,” said a happy Oliver.

Graves said leading the race early turned out to be bad. “My game plan was to just keep pace with the leaders until the end,” said Graves. “I suddenly found myself in the lead after Mike had his problems. I may have burnt my tires by leading instead of following someone else.”

Air Tech WERA Formula Two
Ienatsch the Man

Nick Ienatsch continued his domination of Formula Two racing at Willow Springs Raceway with a convincing win over a loaded field in the WERA Pro Series race. Ienatsch led every lap of the 20 lap final on his Del Amo Yamaha/Dunlop/ RK/Shoei/Motul/Powerbar sponsored Yamaha, winning by 3.68 seconds over rising stars Alan Scott and Kenny Roberts Jr. The win for Ienatsch marks the second straight national 250 race win for the Motorcyclist Magazine editor. Ienatsch was also the winner of the AMA 250 GP at the end of last season.

The field for the F/2 race at Willow was much deeper than the first race at Road Atlanta where there were a lot of riders on Superstock 600’s. Rick Kirk and Danny Walker had recovered enough from early season injuries to race. Atlanta winner Chris D’Aluisio made his first appearance at Willow. Fast local 250 riders were in good supply also; they included Michael Graves (Chuck’s brother), Tom Paris, Kent Kunitsuga and Don Greene.

The Road Atlanta Formula Two field was split about 50/50 amongst 600 four-stokes and 250 GP bikes. At Willow the 250’s out numbered the 600’s four to one. No 600 mounted rider would be a factor at Willow.

From the start of the weekend it was obvious that Ienatsch would be the man to beat. His 1:27’s in practice were by far the fastest lap times among the F/2 riders; in fact Ienatsch’s times would have been competitive in Formula USA.

Roberts Jr. was looking forward to this race. He had raced at Willow before and would be starting near the front instead of row 11 as he had at Atlanta. Roberts Jr. also seemed to have a care-free attitude before the race. The 17 year old looked to be immune to the pressure of having his Dad and boss Wayne Rainey on hand to watch.

Scott took command of the race at the start but Ienatsch was right in his draft. As the two went into the high-speed turn nine, Ienatsch made a daring outside pass on Scott. Ienatsch’s entry speed into the turn looked insane as he swept by Scott. “I was counting on the wind to slow me down through the exit of that turn,” Ienatsch said later. “If there hadn’t been a stiff head wind I never would have tried that.”

Scott was impressed by the move, “I figured Nick would be coming by me at some point on the track, but I never imagined he would pass me there,” Scott said.

After his bold move, Ienatsch quickly began to pull away from the rest of the field. Scott was running second, while Roberts Jr. and Walker were fighting for third.

A move up through the field by D’Aluisio was expected, but the New England rider was still getting accustomed to the track. Four laps into the race D’Aluisio was running in seventh, involved in a battle for fifth with Graves and Paris.

As Ienatsch continued to build on his lead Roberts Jr. closed on Rainey Racing teammate Scott. By lap eight Roberts Jr. took over second place. Graves and Walker worked  together to catch and pull in behind the Roberts Jr. and Scott. D’Aluisio, Kirk and Paris were going at each other and were only a few clicks behind Graves and Walker.

With five laps to go Ienatsch had built up a six second lead, his biggest of the day. From that point on, the Los Angeles rider backed off the pace just a bit a cruised home to victory.

With two laps to go Roberts Jr. nearly stepped off his Yamaha in turn four, but made a spectacular save bring the balcony crowd to their feet. While the save was a real crowd pleaser, it gave Scott a chance to open up a couple of seconds on Roberts.

Near the end Walker seemed to drop off the pace, his wrist still not in tip top shape. Paris, Kirk and D’Aluisio in that order got by Walker with only two laps remaining.

After his near crash Roberts Jr. ignored his adrenalin induced rapid heartbeat and closed the gap on Scott but wasn’t able to make the pass. Graves held off D’Aluisio and Paris and Kirk to take a hard-fought fourth place.

“The wind scared me a little bit,” said Scott. “I was just happy to get the race in. There were a couple of times I thought I was going to be lifted off the track.”

“I race here in the wind all the time,” said the victorious Ienatsch. “You learn to read the wind and figure out how to use it to you advantage.”

Dunlop WERA Superstock
Trio of riders victorious
A Texan and two Californians came out on top in Dunlop Supersport action at Willow. The Texan was Team Hammer’s Michael Martin who came out on top in the A Superstock race. The Californian riders were Chuck Graves and Thomas Montano. Graves rode his Yoshimura Suzuki GSXR 750 to victory in the B Superstock race while Montano came through with a win in C Superstock riding a Beet Japan USA/Cycle Racer sponsored Yamaha.

In A Superstock action, Martin held a two second lead over Dean Mizdal, Graves and Dave Deveau after only one lap.

On the next lap Graves moved into second much to the delight of the decidedly pro-Graves crowd sitting atop the balcony area in turn four.

The Graves fan club fully expected their hero to reel in the visiting Texan and take the win. Instead Martin (running a string of 1:31 laps) continued to pull away; Graves could not make a dent on Martin’s three second lead.

Back in the pack Bruce Baldus was making a move through the field. Running as low as eighth place, Baldus began picking off riders like Jason Pridmore and Deveau.

By lap nine the Pennsylvania rider had moved all the way up to third. With two laps left, Baldus wadded his Hall N’ Still Suzuki in a spectacular crash in turn three. The black Suzuki did a series of high-level flips, before crashing to the desert floor. Baldus was fortunate to escape serious injury.

Up front Martin went on to a six second win over Graves. “I know Chuck is a great rider here, that made the win really nice,” said a jubilant Martin.

Graves later said his Yosh Suzuki had carbueration problems.

Hazen held on for third after a tough fight with Mizdal, Pridmore and Deveau.

Thomas Montano was the winner of the C Superstock race. Montano beat out defending WERA Clubman National Champion J. Andrew Milton.

WERA Future Stars
Edwards again at Willow
Fresh off his victory in the first ever Future Stars race at Road Atlanta, Colin Edwards II won his second straight event, this time at Willow Springs Raceway.

Unlike the Road Atlanta event where Edwards dominated, the Conroe, Texas rider was met with a strong challenge from Takanobu Koyama.

Koyama used the the ample power of his Two Brothers Racing Honda CBR 600 F/2 to give Edwards fits in the early going. Gradually Edwards pulled away by out-riding Koyama in the twisties.

Edwards is backed by Northwest Honda and Howell Fuel.

Willow Pits
Earl Roloff was honored at the WERA Pro Series race at Willow Springs. Roloff was recognized for being the first Formula USA Champion. To commemorate his F/USA title Roloff did a parade lap on the Kawasaki 900 Ninja on which he won the title. Roloff won the Formula USA Series when it was held exclusively at Willow Springs. The series went national in 1989. Kurt Hall was the Champion that year.

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Photos are in order of bike number.


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