Cunningham All the Way for Mid-Ohio GTS win
Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., captured his record 37th series win Saturday, taking the GTS class win in the first half of the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif., and Devin Cates, of Broad Run, Va., completed the top three.
After earning his record 38th pole position, Cunningham scored a record-extending 37th series victory leading all the way in his No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. It was, however, Cunningham’s first win at Mid-Ohio since 1997.
“It’s surprising that it’s been so long since we’ve won here,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been on the podium lots of times, so we always do pretty well here. It’s good to be on the top step, though. The Acuras like Mid-Ohio. They handle very well, and the balance is really good around the tight and twisty elevation changes here. And it’s good to do well in front of the Honda associates that work in different plants in nearby cities here, many of them are here today and tomorrow. It’s great to get a win with all of them cheering us on.”
Cunningham set the race’s fastest GTS lap, at 1:34.600 (85.928 mph).
Teammate Esayian finished second in his No. 34 Acura/RealTime Acura TSX. Esayian’s attempt to challenge Cunningham for the lead was derailed when Ernie Jakubowski’s No. 91 Fuchs/CDOC/Forgeline Porsche Cayman S got the jump on him at the start. By the time Esayian was able to clear Jakubowski for good, Cunningham had opened up too much of a gap and he had to settle for second place.
Cates finished third in his series debut, driving the No. 68 Cates Engineering Ford Mustang FR500S. Cates topped a fleet of cars from the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge. Kevin Helms, of Charlotte, N.C., advanced from 10th on the GTS grid to finish fourth in his No. 04 DBA/Carbotech/AST/Exedy Acura RSX. Ben Crosland finished fifth in his No. 25 RPMotorsports Ford Mustang FR500S.
Cunningham’s win increased his point lead over Esayian to 144 (971 to 827). Acura holds a commanding lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Eversley Wins in Touring Car Debut at Mid-Ohio
Ryan Eversley, of Atlanta, Ga., recorded a World Challenge Touring Car Championship debut victory Saturday, winning the first half of the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Eric Meyer, of Indianapolis, Ind., completed the top three.
Ryan Eversley wins Touring Car at Mid-Ohio (Weber Image)
After starting third on the grid in his No. 20 Maxwell Paper Products Mazda RX-8, Eversley waged a race-long battle with polesitter and defending race Champion Saini’s No. 03 Team MER/Sparco/SafeRacer MAZDASPEED3. The two ran side-by-side many times, swapping the lead until Eversley took the point for good with two laps remaining.
Eversley’s effort of holding off Saini earned him the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race.
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“That was my first standing start, and it was pretty crazy,” Eversley said. “Cars were parked on the front straight and I think I was in the grass more than I was on the pavement. Jason [Saini] and I got through it and took off and it was a really fun first lap. We were able to get a gap on the guys that were third and fourth. The Maxwell Paper guys gave me an awesome car today, and it was really fun.
“We swapped the lead a few times today because of traffic. In fact, I didn’t want to let one of the GT cars through because I knew I’d lose a lot of time to Jason, and the same guy that got by me made a really aggressive move on Jason. He went really wide, and I just followed the traffic and we were side-by-side through Madness. It was awesome.”
Saini finished second, but will start Sunday’s race from the pole. Meyer started last after missing qualifying while changing his transmission, but worked his way to the podium in his No. 32 XOWii/Samaratin’s Feet/Delvira Mazda RX-8. Meyer earned both the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start for advancing eight positions on the opening lap and the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for picking up 16 positions overall over the entire race. Meyer also turned the race’s fastest Touring Car lap, a 1:38.079 (82.880 mph).
Point leader Robert Stout finished fourth in his No. 18 DG-Spec/Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil Scion tC. Montreal’s Nick Wittmer finished fifth after recovering from a stop-and-go penalty for moving prior to the standing start in his No. 93 HPD/Honda Racing/RealTime Honda Civic Si.
Stout maintains the most commanding Championship lead in Touring Car at 147, 899 to 752 over Meyer. Brett Sandberg is third, with 521, followed by Dan Gardner (500) and Sheal Holbrook (368).
Scion also continues to hold the manufacturers’ Championship lead in Touring Car, with 57, to Volkswagen’s 38, Mazda’s 36 and Honda’s 30.
Skeen Scores Debut World Challenge Wins at Mid-Ohio
Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., scored a World Challenge GT Championship debut victory Saturday, winning the first half of the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., and Patrick Lindsey, of Santa Barbara, Calif., completed the top three.
Skeen started second in his No. 2 Carlisle Companies/Cragar Chevrolet Corvette but fell back to third quickly behind polesitter James Sofronas’ No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 and Andy Pilgrim’s No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60.
A caution to remove Jeff Mosing’s No. 08 Frank’s International Mazda RX-8 regrouped the field and Skeen was able to move around the Volvo on the restart. Sofronas and Skeen ran nose-to-tail for the next seven laps, slicing through traffic before Skeen made his move for the lead in the Keyhole. The gap between the two remained fluid for the remainder of the 29-lap 65.481-mile contest, with Skeen taking the 1.453-second win.
Skeen became the first debut winner in the World Challenge GT class since Tony Rivera won in his debut at Sebring in 2009. He also turned the fastest race lap, a record-breaking 1:27.296 (93.117 mph).
“It’s been a great opportunity to come here,” Skeen said of running the car that scored its third win of the season (Ron Fellows won at Mosport and Watkins Glen). “I’ve got to thank Nick Short and CRP Racing for putting me in the Cragar Wheels Corvette. They told me at the start that the traction control wasn’t worth messing with, so I basically just revved it up and got too much wheel spin. I figured that was better than stalling it on the grid, but we lost a few positions on the start.
“I followed James [Sofronas] for several laps to get a feel for the race pace. When he got caught up in traffic I went by going into turn two with a pretty easy pass going into the keyhole. With traffic, the ebb-and-flow just went our way today.
Sofronas, who will start on the pole for Sunday’s second race of the doubleheader, captured his second-consecutive runner-up finish.
“We had a game plan, and it started with getting away at the start,” Sofronas said. “We messed with the launch control and it ended up backfiring, because I bogged down at the start. I looked in my mirrors and saw the back half of Pilgrim’s car going by me, and once the car got a little bit of a run I used as much room as I could to make sure I squeezed Andy all the way to the edge. Hopefully he feels like I gave him enough room, but I knew I had to get in front of him and set the pace.
“I was watching my mirrors and all of a sudden the Corvette was there. I got caught in traffic and had to get out of the throttle and Mike just blew by me. It was all horsepower and brakes – he would pull away down the straights and I would catch him in the brake zones. It was cat-and-mouse, and I thought I had something for him. But when the yellows came out, that was it. Hats off to Mike, he and the team did a great job today.”
The battle for third was fierce as well, with fourth-starting Patrick Lindsey eventually coming out on top of a battle with Pilgrim, point leader Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and Dino Crescentini’s No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3.
“It took a few laps to get around the Volvos, they were quick at the start. But I caught that barn-door draft behind them to out-brake them into Madness,” Lindsey said. “Later in the race, traffic played a big part in the strategy for everyone. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts. I was able to use it to close the gap on James and Mike, and then lose a little bit. They had a really good battle, and I think a few more laps and I would have been able to get in touch with them. The handling and tire management of that car is pretty fantastic.”
On the final lap, Kuno Wittmer, was able to work around Crescentini to finish fourth in his No. 13 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Viper. Crescentini held on to finish fifth.
Pobst, who finished seventh, maintains the Championship lead with 863 points—102 better than Wittmer’s 761. Crescentini is third, with 678, followed by Sofronas (664) and Lindsey (626).
Porsche cut into Volvo’s Manufacturers’ Championship lead, which now stands at six points (51 to 45). Dodge is third, with 37.
Eversley Makes it Two-For-Two in Touring Car at Mid-Ohio
LEXINGTON, Ohio - Ryan Eversley, of Atlanta, Ga., stayed perfect, scoring his second-straight World Challenge Touring Car win at the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer Sunday.
A winner in his debut race on Saturday, Eversley’s run to his second-consecutive Touring Car win was no less eventful on Sunday. Starting third in the No. 20 Maxwell Paper Products Mazda RX-8, Eversley fell back to sixth at the start.
Polesitter Jason Saini (No. 03 Team MER/Sparco/SafeRacer MAZDASPEED3), Nick Wittmer’s No. 93 HPD/Honda Racing/RealTime Honda Civic Si and second-starting Robb Holland’s No. 22 303 Motorsports/Track Pro/Emich VW Volkswagen GTI occupied the top three spots the opening several laps until Wittmer faded with his transmission issues. Eversley had to work past both Scion tCs of Dan Gardner and Robert Stout to join the lead fight, which then waged until lap 12.
On the seventh lap, Holland and Eversley made contact at the exit of the Esses, but both cars were able to continue. Eversley made his move past Saini for the lead on lap 12 and held it for the remainder of the race.
“The competition in this series is fantastic and the racing is just unbelievable,” Eversley said. “The standing start today wasn’t as good for me as yesterday, I bogged down with the rotary and Nick Wittmer’s Honda and a couple of other cars got by me. I was able to fight back to third in a couple of laps and had a great battle with Robb Holland. I gave him a little room and we got into each other a little bit, but it was just hard racing and totally fine. Jason and I had a great battle and I can’t wait to see the in-car video of that. We went back and forth down the backstraight and he just outbroke himself and I kind of got in a little too hot, too. I have to thank Maxwell Paper for letting me come drive their Mazda, I had so much fun.”
Eversley also set the Touring Car fastest race lap with a 1:38.024 (82.926 mph), breaking Eric Meyer’s day-old record by 0.055-second.
Holland was able to continue after the contact, but was eventually involved in contact with a GT car that would end his day with suspension damage.
Saini went on to finish second for the second-consecutive day.
Dan Gardner, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., survived early contact with his teammate, Touring Car point leader Robert Stout, to bring his No. 36 DG Spec/Scion/TRD/Lepper & Associates Scion tC home third. Gardner also earned the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start award for advancing six positions on the opening lap.
Series newcomer David Tuaty, of Miami, Fla., finished fourth in his No. 66 TLMUSA.com Honda Civic Si, followed by Charlie Solomon, of Waxahachie, Texas, in the No. 21 Dr. Natasha.com/DC Racing Mazda RX-8.
Solomon earned the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing a total of 12 positions in the race.
Stout continues to lead the Touring Car Championship, with 959 points, followed by Meyer, with 810, Gardner, with 595, Brett Sandberg, with 572 and Shea Holbrook, with 444. Mazda leapfrogged Volkswagen to take over second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship for Touring Car. Scion leads, with 62, followed by Mazda (46), Volkswagen (38) and Honda (33).
Cunningham Takes Sunday GTS at Mid-Ohio, Acura Clinches Title
Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., took his second World Challenge GTS win in as many days at the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer Sunday.
After taking the Saturday win flag-to-flag in his No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, Cunningham found himself in a relatively unfamiliar position after the standing start Sunday—in second. Second-starting Ernie Jakubowski, of Oakville, Ontario got the holeshot in his No. 91 Fuchs/CDOC/Forgeline Porsche Cayman S and led the opening 13 laps in the GTS class race.
On lap 14, Cunningham, who had been caught by teammate Nick Esayian’s No. 34 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX and was in danger of losing second place, made a bold move past Jakubowski entering Thunder Valley.
“Off the start, the rear drive of the Porsche Cayman got the better of me today,” Cunningham said. “Plus, on Saturday, the left lane was blocked with a stalled car but this time it was the right lane. I started to move over to go by but I didn’t want to keep moving over and get hit. That allowed the Porsche to get ahead of me. I had a couple of opportunities on the first lap to get by, but I wanted to be patient and not rush into it. But after that he started to figure it out and I couldn’t get by. I knew that my car would stay under me and I wanted to just be patient. In turn nine, he got a little bit sideways and I just shoved it in there and made a clean pass.”
The pass not only placed Cunningham into the lead for good, but earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race. He also set the race’s fastest lap for GTS cars, with a 1:34.712 (85.826 mph) en route to his sixth win of the season and record-extending 38th overall.
Jakubowski and Esayian continued the battle for second until the lap-24 restart, when Jakubowski slid wide exiting the Carousel giving the runner-up spot to Esayian.
Ben Corsland, of Salt Lake City, Utah, finished fourth in his No. 25 RPMotorsports Ford Mustang FR500S, the first of a string of four Ford Racing Mustang Challenge cars, including Devin Cates, George Winkler and Richard Colinello.
Cunningham’s win extended his point lead over Esayian to 164 (1091 to 927). Acura also clinched its ninth World Challenge Manufacturers’ Championship, currently leading Porsche 82 to 19 with three Rounds remaining.
Sofronas Hangs on to Win Sunday Mid-Ohio World Challenge
LEXINGTON, Ohio - James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., led every lap to win the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer Sunday, holding off Andy Pilgrim at the finish of the World Challenge Championship Round Nine race.
Starting first, Sofronas got away cleanly at the start in his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, fending off a great start by third-gridded Pilgrim and his No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Saturday’s winner, Mike Skeen fell back from his second starting position to fifth at the start but was able to work back up to fourth by lap four.
Sofronas led a seven-car train for the first seven laps until Charles Morgan’s trip to the gravel brought out the race’s first caution.
On the lap-11 restart, Skeen rocketed past both Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and Pilgrim into second as they entered the Keyhole. The move earned Skeen the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race and he set his sights on Sofronas. Sofronas weathered an early attack, but built a gap on Skeen’s No. 2 Carlisle Companies/Cragar Chevrolet Corvette working through traffic. But, to Sofronas’ dismay, a second full-course-caution came out on lap 21, setting up a five-lap dash to the finish.
“I was far more aggressive through traffic this time,” Sofronas said. “When the yellow came out, it was one of those ‘Are you kidding me?’ moments.”
On the restart, Pilgrim got a jump on Skeen and moved into second. At the Keyhole, Skeen fell back further as he began to experience transmission problems in the Corvette. Sofronas had his mirrors full of Pilgrim for the remaining laps, and in the final corner on the final lap caught a slower Touring Car, allowing Pilgrim to get a run at the finish. In the end, Sofronas beat Pilgrim by 0.151-second to capture his fourth-career win.
He averaged 77.791 mph over the course of the 29-lap, 65.481-mile race.
“I feel great on a lot of levels. I want to dedicate this win to my Dad,” Sofronas said of his ailing father, George. “To win today meant a lot to me. I thought about him when I was in the car and it kept me going because he never gave up in life and he’s just an amazing man. It gave me the inspiration.”
Sofronas admitted that traffic was a point of frustration during the race, with all three classes (GT, GTS and Touring Car) sharing the track together in the largest field of the season.
“The worst part was the last turn of the race, and [Robert] Stout was limping through the carousel,” Sofronas said. “He was still on the proper race line, and I thought I was going to drill him because I had nowhere to go. It was that or run off in the grass and he just started to veer to the right and I kept my foot in it. All of a sudden, I saw this big Volvo nose that literally filled my entire mirror. I couldn’t see anything except this big blue hood. That would have been a tough one to lose, but I think its poetic justice the way this weekend went. The Volvos got back up front, the GMG guys are running up front where we should be, and everything is great.”
Pilgrim’s second place finish equaled his season-best at St. Petersburg. It was a good run for both Volvos, who struggled early in the weekend.
“My car has been a bit of a nightmare this year and we’ve had four DNFs with mechanical failure,” Pilgrim said. “But nobody ever gives up on the K-PAX team. Yesterday’s race set-up wasn’t good at all and we all worked and threw a lot of things at it and yesterday was night-and-day better. The K-Pax guys did a great job.”
Following a seventh-place finish on Saturday, point leader Pobst returned to the podium with a third-place finish and extended his point lead when his closest challenger, Kuno Wittmer, tangled with a Touring Car and retired with suspension damage to his No. 13 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Viper.
“The most interesting thing that happened to me in the race was when I was racing with Kuno Wittmer,” Pobst said. “He’s challenging me for the Championship, and we were going back and forth. I think I was starting to get the better of him when we got his brother [Nick Wittmer] in the Touring Car class. I was passing him in the outside of [the esses], and he ran me right off the road into the grass. Kuno got by and I told the crew there was no way I was going to catch Kuno now without a little help from traffic. Well, sure enough, about three or four laps later I came up and Kuno was spun out and cars were in the gravel and something happened in the traffic.
“As far as I’m concerned, God got him. It was a little bad karma. His pain is our pleasure and it helps us in the Championship. We’re happy to be so close to the lead in this race because we’re going for the Manufacturers’ Championship for Volvo.”
“I was in such a cluster at the time and my car didn’t have third gear, which is what you use for most of the corners here,” Nick Wittmer said. “I moved over to let some of the guys through and kept looking in my mirror and was trying to get out of the way for Randy and Kuno. The next thing I knew, Randy was beside me in the grass. I feel really bad about it. Those guys are fighting for the Championship. I was just trying to get out of the way.”
Kuno Wittmer’s departure promoted Saturday’s third-place finisher Patrick Lindsey, of Santa Barbara, Calif., up to fourth for his sixth-straight top-five finish in the No. 57 Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3.
Jeff Courtney, of Milwaukee, Wis., completed the top five, scoring his season-best finish in the No. 99 Kenda Tire Dodge Viper after starting 10th.
Skeen managed to set the race’s fastest lap, a 1:27.422 (92.983 mph), but was unable to match his record lap Saturday of 1:27.296.
Pobst now leads Wittmer by 146 points (955 to 809) with just three Rounds remaining in the Championship. Sofronas moved to third despite missing a Round, with 784, followed by Dino Crescentini, who crashed on the opening lap, with 723, and Lindsey, with 711.
Porsche cut into Volvo’s Manufacturers’ Championship lead with the win, and now trails by just three points, 58 to 55. Dodge sits third, with 39.