The 2018 SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks season, the series’ sixth year of operation, began at the same location as the previous year’s final round: Lake Elsinore Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore, California. The home of the Lake Elsinore Storm minor league baseball team marks the first of ten different locations that will be visited by the series in 2018.
“An absolute beautiful and challenging stadium style track was built in December for the SST World Championship Finals providing some of the most entertaining close quarters racing the series has ever seen. […] Stadium racing provides the up close entertainment and thrill the fans all want to see, it’s a no-brainer for us to start the season where we ended it,” series founder Robby Gordon stated in a press release.
Last December, Paul Morris clinched his first series title at Lake Elsinore with Jerett Brooks at the helm of his No. 67 truck. Opting for the champion’s No. 1 in 2018, Morris once again stepped out of the truck for the return to Lake Elsinore as Brooks substituted for the Australian, with points earned by Brooks going to Morris. Other familiar faces in the grid included Gordon, 2017 runner-up Matt Brabham, two-time series champion Sheldon Creed, 2014 X Games gold medalist Apdaly Lopez, The Bachelor star Arie Luyendyk Jr., and 2017 full-time drivers Jeff Hoffman, Gavin Harlien, and Bill Hynes.
Two new faces in the field were Cole Potts and Blade Hildebrand, driving the No. 60 and No. 68 trucks, respectively. The 19-year-old Potts, the son of off-road racer and former SST driver Craig Potts, signed with SPEED Energy earlier in the week, also intends to race in various off-road events in 2018 such as the Mint 400 and Baja 1000. In 2016, at the age of 17, Hildebrand won the Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts (SNORE) 5-Unlimited Class championship.
Practice took place on Friday; Harlien led the way with a lap time of 38.243 seconds, followed by Gordon (38.451), Brooks (38.812), Hoffman (38.821), Creed (38.923), Brabham (38.986), Hildebrand (39.034), Luyendyk (39.806), Lopez (40.137), Potts (41.698), and Hynes (43.253). Lalo Laguna, whose last SST race was the 2015 rounds at St. Petersburg, joined the grid on Saturday. For qualifying, drivers ran two laps with their fastest times deciding their starting spots for the heat races. Brooks was the fastest qualifier, with Creed, Hoffman, Harlien, Gordon, Hildebrand, Luyendyk, Brabham, Lopez, Hynes, Potts, and Laguna in tow.
Two eight-lap heat races followed qualifying as the odd-numbered qualifiers participated in the first and even in the second. At the halfway point of each heat was a full-course competition caution to group the field, while the mandatory Joker Lap made its return to create some separation between the trucks before the large crossover jump.
Gordon started the first heat race at the front, followed by Luyendyk, Brooks, Hoffman, Lopez, and Laguna. Brooks quickly passed Luyendyk for second, and began battling with Gordon for the lead on the second lap. At the back, Laguna was unable to clear the crossover jump, causing him to lose momentum as Brooks and Gordon approached the No. 17. The two eventually lapped Laguna when Brooks entered a turn too deep, forcing him to take the Joker. As the competition caution neared, Lopez rolled his truck into the catchfence, landing its rear wheels on the fence. After being removed from the fence, Lopez continued, albeit without his hood. At the restart, Brooks led before Luyendyk rolled his truck; like Lopez, he was able to keep racing. Brooks continued to lead Gordon when the race resumed, but on the final lap, he pulled into the pits for mechanical problems. As a result, Gordon inherited the lead and won the heat. Behind him were Hoffman, Lopez, Luyendyk, Brooks, and Laguna.
Hildebrand started Heat #2 in first, followed by Brabham, Creed, Harlien, Hynes, and Potts. Brabham took the lead from Hildebrand on the second lap, with Creed also making a move on Hildebrand for second. Creed passed his former teammate on the inside line on lap three to claim first. With Creed on the verge of lapping them, Potts was turned in front of Hildebrand, a move described by race commentator Sean Sermini as “a baptism by fire” for Potts. Creed also lapped Hynes en route to the heat win. Potts, Harlien, Hynes, Hildebrand, and Brabham rounded out the finishing order.
Although there no were DNQs for the night’s Feature, Luyendyk, Hynes, Brooks, and Hildebrand were relegated to the four-lap Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). Luyendyk led Brooks and Hildebrand early on as Hynes dropped to fourth. After Luyendyk went on two wheels, Brooks took advantage to seize the lead, which he never relinquished as he finished first in the LCQ. In the final turn, Hildebrand rolled Luyendyk, prompting the former to stop as the No. 25 flipped back onto its wheels. The two quickly pushed to the finish, with Luyendyk beating Hildebrand to the line for second. Hynes finished fourth.
After the heats, Gordon and Creed drew a pill to determine how far back they would drop for the 16-lap Feature; the two drew the #2 pill, placing them in the second row. As a result of the draw, Hoffman and Potts started on the front row, followed by Gordon, Creed, Lopez, Harlien, Brooks, Luyendyk, Hildebrand, Hynes, Laguna, and Brabham.
Hoffman led the field to the green and settled into the position for the first lap. On the second lap, Creed and Brooks made contact, spinning Creed. Gordon moved up to second behind Hoffman as Creed and Brooks fell to the back; Gordon eventually passed Hoffman for the lead on the following lap. Laguna was lapped by Gordon to provide the No. 7 with clean air, while Creed began to work back up the field. A few laps later, Hoffman passed Gordon to retake first. The competition caution eventually came out with Hoffman, Gordon, Lopez, Brooks, and Luyendyk comprising the top five.
On the restart, Hoffman quickly lost the lead to Gordon when he hit the banking in the first turn. Lopez and Brooks entered the picture as Hoffman opted to take the Joker Lap, while Gordon battled with the other two. Lopez and Creed overtook Gordon for the position, while taking the Joker paid off for Hoffman as he reclaimed the lead. However, his truck stalled in the middle of the track, ending his hopes of winning the race. With Hoffman out of the picture, Gordon led Creed until Lopez passed him for second. As Gordon approached lapped traffic with four laps to go, the yellow flag came out when Brooks flipped his truck onto its side. Gordon took the green flag as Lopez and Creed tailed him. After a lap, another caution occurred as Hildebrand rolled after the crossover jump. For the next restart, Lopez nearly flipped but remained in second behind Gordon. The two made further contact as the race continued, and when Creed attempted to pass Lopez, he bumped into the outside wall. Hoffman began an aggressive strategy to pass Gordon and Lopez, but went too deep and trapped himself in the banking. Lopez escaped the carnage to take the victory.
Next on the SST schedule is the Clipsal 500 at the Adelaide Street Circuit on March 1–4. Craig Dontas, Creed, and Morris are the defending race winners.
|4||2||25||Arie Luyendyk Jr.||7||Running|
|11||8||25||Arie Luyendyk Jr.||13||Mechanical|
Featured image from @SSuperTrucks