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Challenge Cars Set New Records at East
Coast Season Opener
Road Atlanta, March 18 & 19, 2006



Buffomante and Cates Dominate in close racing action at the 2006 ECS Season Opener!

We also had new comers Tony Johnston and Al Kaiser joining us on the track.

After a long winter off, east coast racers got their chance to dust off their race cars and hit the track with an ever-growing number of FFR Challenge cars.

Saturday March 18 was the kick-off race for the 2006 Factory Five Challenge Series, ECS.  The ECS is the east coast part of the series.  This weekend was just one week after the West Coast got underway (click here to read the WCS report).

The east coast drivers were joined by Factory Five engineers Dave Riha and Eric Jacobs.  Both Riha and Jacobs have built their own cars and join Jim Schenck and Mark Dougherty as regulars in the series from FFR.

Following last year’s National Championship win by Tony Buffamonte, a lot of drivers were wondering how he would start this year.  Tony had set the bar high last year with a string of victories culminating in the win at VIR where he started on the pole, grabbed the lead and never looked back.

As race day dawned, the FFR guys were joined by 13 other FFR Challenge cars to make the FFR cars one of the largest fields at the very large NASA event (heats saw 60-70 car fields!).  The large car fields were not as bad as they would have been at a smaller track (Road Atlanta is one of the longer tracks we run at), but the traffic and speed differentials of the many different cars definitely had an effect on qualifying times and race strategy.

Skies were clear and temperatures mild as the racers headed out for practice.  The forecast for Sunday was ominous, but things held together for the weekend and the racing was on dry surfaces. 

By the end of the day Saturday, Buffamonte was running ahead of all the other challenge cars. Brian Cates turned in solid times and the field of FFR cars was, once again, close and competitive.


Bryan Dobyns and Brian Cates swap tall tales as they prepare for the next heat. Dobyns was running a Bondurant School car.


2003 National Champion and the all-time winningest FFR Challenge Series driver, Bryan Dobyns drove an ex-Bondurant Driving School car (FFR) that had been sent out by Factory Five President Dave Smith, to be set-up and brought up to competitive level for the season. Dobyns did an admirable job of getting the car up to speed, but after two full years at the hands of school drivers out in Arizona, the engine was down on power and Bryan struggled to get his car into the top five. Bryan's skill kept the car going, but he courteously waved other faster drivers by on the long straights, as his motor was down on power.

FFR’s Dave Riha experienced trouble with his brake master cylinder after the first go-out and spent the day working on the car and trying to get some practice laps in.  The other FFR car at the event, piloted by Eric Jacobs, took a more conservative path, running in the back third of the group.  Eric competed last year at the Nationals and Lime Rock making this his third race after getting his NASA license.


FFR cars shared track space with over 60 cars like American Iron series cars, during practice and qualifying.


Brothers Al and Paul Keiser, and standout Kevin Eves joined Riha, Cates and Tony Buffamonte in the fastest company.

Pete LaRose showed strong gains in speed over last season and newcomer Tony Johnston jumped in with both feet, mixing it up early with midpack drivers.  Lars Lattstrom and Harry Elam drove well, but Harry lost his ride when his son Dan Elam’s newly built car (completed the week before) lost an engine and Dan asked dad if he could take his ride for the Saturday race.

The engine failure with Elam was just the latest in a bizarre string of engine failures that has plagued Dan without exception in the series.  No one really knows why Elam and Elam alone, seems to eat engines… New car suspension changes and teething pains left Dan struggling to learn the car in the practice session, but it was the engine failure that put the car back on the trailer for good. 

At one point it was just amazing to watch as the fast group of Challenge cars (keep in mind 225 hp!) were slugging it out with stock cars over the long circuit.  The speed of the challenge cars is really amazing given their cost and reliability.

Brian Sanders (Ohio-Indiana Regional Director) set personal records at Road Atlanta and Ed Boothman picked up the pace early and showed he had improved over the lay-off.

The race on Saturday was challenging as the field was strung out at the start and no-one really got a chance to catch Buffamonte on his way to setting new track records.

The East Coast drivers got a chance to try out the brand new for this year V710 Kumho tires and everyone felt the new rubber was seconds faster than the old Victoracers used last season. 

Tony might not have been caught until his third gear failed and he was forced to run in 2nd and 4th for the last part of the race.  This allowed Brian Cates and Kevin Eves to close quickly.  Cates would pass Tony with a few laps remaining.  Without 3rd gear, Tony was still able to adjust his driving and finish just behind Cates for second place, Eves rounded out the top three. 

Saturday ended without too much drama.  Second year driver Philicia Gray (That’s her in the number 69 car) spun and hit the wall on Saturday.  Inspection of damage at the track suggested that the damage was mostly fiberglass repairs with only some minor support pieces. The damaged parts are covered under Factory Five's $25,000 replacement parts contingency program for drivers at series points races.



Bill Pierce, owner of the FFR customer discussion forum, joined the racers for dinner and laughs on Saturday night at a Mexican restaurant. 

Sunday looked like it might rain, but the weather held off for the most part. After the Sunday practice there was a tech inspection to keep drivers and cars close to the rules. The issue of Brake Ducting was discussed, but no ruling was made and the racers headed back to the track. Three Challenge Series drivers were admonished for not wearing Nomex socks. FFR engineer Eric Jacobs was found to be one pound underweight (a two-burrito minimum penalty) and several other cars were near the minimum weight, but not under.

Once again Buffamonte qualified on the pole.  Amazingly, almost the entire field of FFR Challenge cars were within a few seconds, but Tony was a solid 2 seconds ahead of the next fastest guy!

By race day Sunday, FFR’s Dave Riha had gotten his car dialed in and would end the day third.  Cates would shadow Buffamonte the whole time, but never get close enough to attempt a pass.  No one was to deny Tony his first win of the season.  The next six drivers all crossed the line within sight of each other!  Close racing has become the hallmark of the series and this year's inaugural ECS race was true to form!


After some fantastic and close racing with solid lead changes, the final podium finishers would be Buffomante to win, Cates in second, and FFR‘s Dave Riha in third.

The first ECS race weekend now means that Buffomante and Cates are tied for the ECS lead.  As the ECS heads to Carolina Motorsports Park, there is little doubt the rest of the FFR drivers will have Tony Buffamonte and Brian Cates in their gun sights.  If the fireworks at Road Atlanta are any indication, the 2006 season promises to be the best FFR Challenge Series season yet.  See you at Carolina!

Story by Eric Jacobs and Dave Riha.

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