Weather was a factor on Sunday for the final Gold races at Reno. High winds were forecast and materialized just long enough mid-morning to cancel the Biplane Gold which had somewhat inexplicably scheduled for a later 11:00 a.m. start. Awards were presented on the basis of the heat racing results, meaning Andrew Buehler in Phantom took the “win”—nothing unexpected there—with Phillip Ensley (Magic), and Scott Thomson (Second Hand) in second and third.
Winds were not just not a factor earlier for the Formula One Gold shootout between Lowell Slater (Fraed Naught), Justin Meaders (Limitless) and Steve Senegal (Endeavor). They finished in that order, Slater avenging his loss to Meaders last year. This pair, backed by Senegal, put on the most wonderful week-long racing for 2019, a real highlight that unfortunately too few people get to see because of the early-in-the-day run times.
In the big-power league, the Sport Gold racers provided all the drama and anticipation desired, even if there was a paucity of wing-to-wing action. After damaged turbochargers put him out Thursday, Jeff LeVelle and crew got their Glasair III running hard again yesterday and everyone was anticipating a LaVelle – Findlay rematch on Sunday. Jim Rust had looked strong and showing signs of pulling some unexpected speed out of his Glasair III until yesterday when, with the power turned up for the start, his big Lycoming rattled cylinder number one loose from the crankcase, with associated mayhem to the cylinder base nut studs. The damage was far too deep in the engine to repair, and with no spare engine on hand, Rust and partner Robbie Grove were left disgruntledly spectating for the final.
Kevin Eldredge, knowing the part so well, expertly played the loose cannon in the Sport Gold ranks. His Nemesis NXT airframe is proven to have the stuff to win, but his new twin-turbo 580 Lycoming still needed sorting when he arrived at Reno. Wearing a path out between his pit and the run-up pad, Eldredge and crew worked through a series of small items, plus a compressor stall issue with the help of Mark Voss, the thermodynamicist on the Findlay team (mutual support and respect is a fabulous highlight of Sport Gold racing at the moment). They arrived on the Sport Gold grid as the unknown, untested but possible very capable spoiler.
At the other end of the consistency spectrum Bob Mills had Mojo, the daily-driver version of LaVelle’s Glasair speedster, running steadily in the 340 mph slot. Anyone planning an advance out of the back of the pack was going to have to get around Mills for sure.
Another threat was Lynn Farnsworth. His Andy Chiavetta-tuned Legacy was giving the team fits and plenty of late night work with a cylinder change, magneto replacement and plenty of other bother. But they showed for the final on Sunday in apparent good order meaning the 370 mph slot was another strong point on the grid.
Peter Balmer was another hard-luck entry this year. His Falconer V-12 Thunder Mustang arrived with a highly-tuned engine which promptly let loose. Luckily there are all sorts of hours on the clock available to racers not needing sleep, and with a change to the going-home motor the blue and yellow T-Mustang was back in the hunt. Until it went south and the repaired race motor was re-installed… to drop number 10 cylinder in yesterday’s heat race. Taking pity on his crew Balmer retired. Teammate Mathias Haid was trying a 5-blade prop on his Thunder Mustang, which if not an immediate improvement in speed, at least proved reliable, but at a somewhat polite 315 mph or so.
But it was Andrew Findlay in his One Moment Racing, Stihl-sponsored Lancair that simply dominated race week. Findlay set a new standard, going fast from day one, setting the pole for every heat and the final and, not to spoil and good story, winning the Gold final running away.
Of course, the win was in the future as the Sport Gold final pack made its newly flatter entry onto the course. Unfortunately, no sooner did they reach the north end of the course when LaVelle zoomed up and out to groans from the crowd. On lap three Farnsworth was also out, leaving Findlay charging off into the sunset at the front, Bob Mills playing the steady second, but with Eldredge, who seemed to find his pace on the second lap clearly on a charge. Also moving up was Karl Grove in his Lancair. Grove, who had been intelligently working up his new airframe and engine combination from the Silver ranks during the week, had made it to the gold with Balmer’s and Rust’s retirements, and was ready for action. But with just six laps to work with Grove managed to finish fourth, just after being lapped by Findlay! Vince Walker, another racer back and forth between Silver and Gold was fifth, Haid sixth and the DNFing Farnsworth and LaVelle bringing up the back.
Findlay’s run-away was sufficient to put half a lap on a happy Eldredge who, absent Findlay, would have won while starting from the last position. Mills, unable to hold off Eldredge, kept a solid hold on third and was the last person not lapped by Findlay.
Luckily, LaVelle’s trouble turned out to be no more than a blown intake hose fitting. He wasn’t the only one suffering this low-cost, but speed killing issue this year.
Interestingly no one went over 400 mph lap speed this year, although Findlay was hitting 420 mph on the one straight.
Next year ought to be another great year as all teams are intent on returning, most talking about bigger and better efforts.