With a three car team, chances are you are going to experience a full range of results anytime you hit the dirt. That was the case for Banning Motorsports at the Best in the Desert, BlueWater Desert Challenge in Parker, Arizona. At first glance, the BlueWater Challenge sounds easy. Three 26 mile laps run on Saturday and then again on Sunday. The challenge comes from the Parker terrain and the frantic pace; every second counts when you have no chance to make up lost time.
The deep shifting sand that makes up a good portion of the Parker course is constantly moving as every car goes by. A smooth corner on lap one can become a huge hole on lap two; waiting to take out an unsuspecting driver. With the abbreviated distance, slowing down and driving more cautiously is not an option. Drivers need to hang it out and rely on quick reflexes and pure driving ability.
Qualifying went well for the Banning Motorsports / FORD / General Tire / NEO Synthetics class 1100 cars who would be the first off the line in heat two. Ali Banning driving the Talk About Curing Autism car #1123 was third fastest despite being briefly stuck in the sand. Bryan Folks in #1178 was the second fastest 1100 car. Their quick times would insure a good start in Saturday morning’s race. Lee Banning Sr. qualified 10th out of 20 in class in his Banning Motorsports / FORD / General Tire / NEO Synthetics class 1000, normally a good result but after mixing class 1000 with the 7200 trucks, Lee and co-driver Chris Godfrey would be in row ten instead of place ten at the start. They would have to contend with much more dust in heat three.
Saturday’s heat two race looked like a class 1100 train with the cars running nose to tail. The quick pace and relatively good condition of the course resulted in fast times for both cars. Bryan and co-driver Ryan Marley chased Mike Malloy in Rick Poole’s car for three laps but could not get past him. They finished where they started in second place. Ali was in the same train for most of the race but lost one position to a hard charging Brad Wilson when all was done. In heat three, Lee passed six other drivers in only three laps moving him up to seventh in class. All three cars came out of day one unscathed and ready to go for Sunday’s racing.
On Sunday, the racers would see a much different course. With five heats run on Saturday including the unlimited cars and trucks, the course was much rougher. Every corner was littered with huge holes that threw the cars off line and into the air. Sections of the course that were simple straight-a-ways on Saturday were now deep sand pits that could swallow a car whole. To add to the mix there was virtually no wind to blow the dust away. It was a hot, sandy, dusty nightmare. Drivers had to be at the top of their game if they were to survive this one.
Ali would not be able to drive the car on Sunday, she was busy racing her shortcourse car in the Lucas Oil Regional Series in Phoenix. Fernie Padilla would instead be behind the wheel. It was up to him to get back at Brad Wilson for taking a position away from Ali on Saturday; he delivered! Fernie had a flawless run despite the conditions. Not only did he out drive Wilson, he overtook Bryan in the other Banning Motorsports car resulting in a second place overall for the weekend. With all fairness to Bryan, he has all but wrapped up the championship in class 1100 so he had much more to lose. His solid driving landed him close behind Fernie in third place overall. Bryan needs to do little more than start the season finale in Henderson to accrue enough points to take the 2012 championship crown.
After the great drive Lee put in on Saturday, the 1000 car would have a much better starting position in heat three on Sunday. Originally, Cory Boyer was supposed to drive the car. He will be sharing driving duties at the upcoming Baja 1000 so it was decided he should get some seat time in race conditions. Cork won class 2000 in heat two, which made him late to the starting line. Fernie was pressed into duty again to take the wheel of the 1000 car. Fernie and Chris set a blistering pace on lap one running the second fastest time. They continued a great run on lap two.
On lap three they had moved up; positioning themselves for a second place finish. Coming into the finishing straight disaster struck, they ran out of gas a mere 50 yards short of the checkered flag. All the sections on the course filled with deep sand on Sunday caused the racers to spend more time at full throttle which burned much more fuel. It was no consolation but several others had run out also. Despite the setback, the team was able to get going again and finished the two day race in sixth place in class, eighth overall in heat three.
Banning Motorsports will be contesting the 45th annual SCORE Tecate Baja 1000 November 14-17. The class 1000 car will be carrying # 1048 and will be driven by Lee Sr., Cory Boyer, Rick Graf and Lee Jr. Co-driving will be Chris Godfrey, Allan Dillmuth and Nicholas Ambris. The course starts in Ensenada and ends 1121.55 miles later in La Paz, Baja California. The race will require a huge team effort but that’s nothing new for the Banning Motorsports team.
Photography By Brian Binkert
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