Johnny O’Connell and Lawson Aschenbach scored wins in Round 10 of the GT and GTS class Pirelli World Challenge 2013 season in the Acura Sports Car Challenge, part of the Honda Indy 200 at Toronto.
O’Connell’s fourth win of 2013 in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R moves him into the GT class points lead, unofficially, over James Sofronas. O’Connell’s teammate Andy Pilgrim in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, finished second for the third straight race. O’Connell completed 34 laps of the 1.755-mile Exhibition Place street circuit at an average speed of 86.302 mph, edging Pilgrim by just 0.479 of a second.
O’Connell and Pilgrim also finished 1-2 at the most recent GT race, Round 9 a little more than one week ago in Lime Rock Park. On this day, the pair admitted it was not nearly as straightforward a result as at Lime Rock.
“We were fortunate today,” said O’Connell. “I really think from the get-go, Alex (Figge) in the Volvo was really strong. I pushed as hard as I could in the opening laps. When you’re in that situation, you know traffic will come to you and help you out.”
Pilgrim made it to second after some poor luck affected other cars. He never was able to make a passing attempt on his teammate, but consolidated Cadillac’s lead in the Manufacturer’s Championship.
“I was trying as hard as I could, but by the time I got to him, I had nothing for him,” said Pilgrim.
Mike Skeen in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette, came home in third ahead of Sofronas in the No. 14 GMG/Swisher Racing/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS. Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, GA in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, rounded out the GT top five.
Pobst’s teammate Alex Figge in the No.9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, got the edge on Motul polesitter O’Connell off the start. Figge held off the charges of both O’Connell and Sofronas, who stayed glued to his bumper as the GT leaders cycled through GTS traffic.
O’Connell got past on Lld, but his result didn’t match his pace all weekend. O’Connell’s pass, meanwhile, secured him the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race Award.
“He caught some competitive traffic, two guys racing through 10 and 11, and finishing the final corner,” said O’Connell. “Sometimes when you’re second, you can do the math a little better. That was the race right there. Luck plays a part in that equation. I got a call on the radio, water in (Turn) 6, but seeing that I changed down to second at what’s usually a third gear corner. Then I saw him spinning and thought, that’s the break I needed.”
Sofronas, then, hounded O’Connell as the Audi’s tires came in over a longer stint. But Sofronas, too, lost control of his car when in the battle for the lead. He spun at Turn 1 on lap 22 but didn’t do a full loop, and he too returned to the action.
“In traffic, you have to be so careful and get some luck, because today Alex and James basically dropped out of the way,” explained Pilgrim, who was running right behind Sofronas at the time. “James was coming today. He was coming on Johnny and gapping me. He had some problem, I don’t know if it was ABS or gearbox-related, but he did finish so it wasn’t terminal. There was a lot of luck but still a good solid Cadillac.”
The demise of Figge and Sofronas helped promote Skeen, who had started fifth, into podium contention. Skeen came close to the pair of Cadillacs but was unable to make any passing attempts stick.
In GTS, Aschenbach, in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, also scored his fourth win of 2013. Aschenbach controlled the race from the Motul pole and his closest challenger, besides Lee, was Nic Jonsson in the No. 36 Kia America/Kia Racing/Kinetic Kia Optima. Jonsson’s charge ended with mechanical issues on Lap 19.
“We had a pretty good Camaro today,” said Aschenbach. “I had a feeling this race would go for long green flag runs, so we set up for that. Hats off to the Blackdog Speed Shop Team Chevy Camaro guys. We learned quite a bit on Friday, and it helped us win the race. It was a great weekend for us, and a great weekend for points.”
It was a Camaro 1-2 as Andy Lee, of Denver, CO, finished second in the No. 20 Best IT/Bondurant/Crown Seven Chevrolet Camaro, some 9.264 seconds behind him. The result is Lee’s fifth podium finish of the 2013 season.
“We got really fortunate that they ran into problems too, and that gave us a good enough gap (for second),” Lee said of the Kia’s demise. “I thought we had a car to win; I felt we still had some in reserve. But it’s still a good result for Chevy, with a 1-2, to extend our lead in Manufacturers’ Championship.”
Meanwhile, there was a pivotal change for third place on the last lap. GTS class points leader Jack Baldwin in the No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman S ended third ahead of Mark Wilkins in the No. 38 Kia America/Kia Racing/Kinetic Kia Optima, who had been third.
“It’s probably the toughest race I’ve done in Pirelli World Challenge so far,” said Baldwin. “I blew the start, totally. So I spent most of the race apologizing on the radio. But we made it back. It’s a good points day. The Kias were unbelievable. I wouldn’t have held third anyway.”
Baldwin reflected that he didn’t quite have the speed to match the Camaros or the Kias, and felt fortunate to secure the third place.
“It was good, clean hard racing with Mark,” said Baldwin. “He almost cleared me. We went into Turn 3 real close, and it was a case of who could do it basically. I got him on the inside. Then going up the hill, something happened to him, maybe a pop. I don’t think he would have gotten me back. I had my hands full with Wilkins; he’s a good driver.”
The podium is Baldwin’s ninth in 10 races this season, while Wilkins was cruelly denied a home race podium. The result was still Wilkins’ eighth consecutive top-five finish, though, in fourth place. Roger Rodas, of El Salvador, finished an impressive, season-best fifth in the No. 52 Always Evolving Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
Rodas took home two awards. As he started 10th, he took home the Sunoco Hard Charger Award with a gain of five spots. He also secured the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award for a move on Tony Gaples, in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, on Lap 5.
Another big mover was Brad Adams, in the No. 96 Voodoo/Dat Dog/Yo MTV Raps! Ford Mustang Boss 302S. With a launch from 11th on the grid to fifth by the end of Lap 5, Adams took home the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award, and ended the day a season-best sixth.
Points are unofficial after the tenth of 14 races in 2013, but O’Connell has taken the GT class lead from Sofronas. O’Connell leads Sofronas by 36 points (1111-1075).
Pilgrim stays third with 974, and Pobst is fourth on 930. In GTS, Baldwin still has a lead of more than 100 points, with a gap of 133 points over Wilkins (1081-948). Wilkins leads Aschenbach for second by just 31 points (948-917).
The Acura Sports Car Challenge races will be broadcast August 18 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network.
After a two-week break, the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes resume at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Aug. 2-4.