ALTON, Va. – Eliminating a 41-second gap to the leaders, Joey Essma used a late decision to go to rain tires to win in the F1600 Championship Series amid mixed conditions at Virginia Int’l Raceway on Saturday morning.
Taking the victory on Saturday morning in round seven of the 2018 season, Essma triumphed over Dario Cangialosi and points leader Tyler O’Connor.
Essma’s Team Pelfrey squad made the decision to move to wet Hoosier tires late, opting to start well behind the field on the 17-turn circuit. When the green flag dropped on the front of the field, Essma was more than half a lap behind.
The rain picked up, and drivers on dry-weather tires saw their pace plummet as they gambled on a slippery 3.4-mile track, while others took the time to pit for wets.
Essma closed in rapid fashion, and was also helped by a full-course caution early in the race. He passed car after car on the restart, going from seventh to first in one lap and winning by 3.8 seconds to take his second victory of the F1600 season.
“It was a brilliant call by the Team Pelfrey crew, and they gave me a great car,” said Essma. “The track was pretty wet and we had the car and pace to catch back up to the field, which is what we did and came out on top.”
Cangialosi restarted the race well behind the field, taking time to move to wet-weather tires with a pit stop. He was another driver that passed car after car, carrying the momentum from two wins at Watkins Glen in May to finish runner-up for K-Hill Motorsports.
“I was taking it easy at the start, trying to figure out the track,” Cangialosi added. “I came up through the field; it was a fun race.”
Tyler O’Connor completed the podium in the No. 12 K-Hill Motorsports entry.
“It was a tough call. We didn’t know what tire to start on. It was dry and as soon as we got to the grid it started raining pretty heavily,” said O’Connor. “We started on slicks, and the first few laps were really interesting. I managed to get in the lead despite it being super slick. I had some really big moments, and then we were able to come down pit lane and put on the rains. It was the right call, the back of the track was really damp, and from the restart we worked our way back up.”
Ryan Bjerke matched his best career finish ever with a fourth place run for Raceworks, leading laps on slick Hoosier tires in the rain. Dexter Czuba was next in line at the flag, rounding out the top five.
The Masters Class saw Scott Rubenzer take another win in a strong 2018 season, ahead of Mike Scanlan and Joel Haas.
“We didn’t have rain tires in the pits, there was no choice (but to stay on slicks),” Rubenzer said. “The race was pretty treacherous. I just tried to keep it on the track and keep it straight.”