This weekend the Pirelli World Challenge makes its second trip to Canada of the 2014 season, the 25th anniversary of the championship, but first for the GT, GT-A and GTS categories. While the TC, TCA and TCB classes ran at the road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park outside Toronto in May, the GT divisions have their fourth street course race weekend of the season with a return to Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto.
While the FIA GT3-spec cars have excelled on the flowing road courses, the point-and-shoot nature of the street courses have tended to favor the Cadillac CTS-V.Rs in GT. GTS has generally been more wide open with Chevrolet, Kia and Ford all having won in class on street courses this season.
The double-header weekend, Rounds 9 and 10, should again see tight action on the 1.755-mile street course. Both Johnny O’Connell and Lawson Aschenbach, who won the GT and GTS class championships last season, won this race last year.
Pirelli World Challenge GT: Cadillac Seeks to Hold Off Surging Skeen and Others With three wins from four street course races this year, Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R enters Toronto as the driver to beat. O’Connell won this race from pole last year and also has three pole positions this season; he looks to extend his 100-plus point lead in the championship. Teammate Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., finished second a year ago in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R and looks to break through for his first win of the year. Pilgrim has four runner-up finishes thus far in 2014.
The big mover in the standings after the Road America double weekend was CRP Racing’s Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Audi R8 Ultra. Skeen dispatched of both Pilgrim (Round 7) and O’Connell (Round 8) to complete a weekend sweep in Elkhart Lake, Wis. He podiumed last year in Toronto in a Chevrolet Corvette and looks for an encore, if not a repeat of his Road America performance, this weekend. He now ranks second in points after entering in fifth.
K-PAX Racing will have Robert Thorne, of Littleton, Colo., in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3, looking for his second straight weekend with a podium after his first in Road America. Thorne’s teammate, Alex Figge, of Denver, Colo., was due to have a new No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3 at his disposal this weekend after escaping a serious accident at Road America. However, despite the K-PAX crew’s efforts, the team will focus on a return for Figge next race at Mid-Ohio with the new car.
Another driver to watch this weekend is Butch Leitzinger, of State College, Pa., in the No. 08 Bentley/Breitling/Mobil 1 Bentley Continental GT3 for Dyson Racing. Leitzinger finished sixth and fourth at Road America; like the Cadillacs, the heavier Bentley should be a good match for the Toronto street circuit and Leitzinger could well score his and the team’s first podium of the year this weekend.
After scoring two podiums in the Detroit double-header, Andrew Palmer, of Chicago, looks for more top-three finishes in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra this weekend. Teammate James Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., in the No. 14 Spyder/The Thermal Club Audi R8 Ultra scored one of his two top-five finishes this season on the streets of Long Beach, where he finished fifth.
The R. Ferri Motorsports crew look to bounce back this weekend after a challenging Road America event. Anthony Lazzaro, of Atlanta, Ga., in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 has a pair of third-place finishes on street courses (Round 2 at Long Beach; Round 6 in Detroit) while Nick Mancuso, of Chicago, looks to recapture his early season form – and luck – in the No. 16 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Mancuso scored three top-five finishes in the first four races but has yet to better a seventh-place result the last four.
One of two new additions to the GT field is Nick Tandy, of Bedfordshire, England, who will race in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R this weekend. Tandy, a Porsche factory driver, fills in for Tim Bergmeister on the streets of Toronto.
Making a welcome return to the championship for the first time since 2010 is another factory driver, this time SRT factory driver Kuno Wittmer, of Montreal, Quebec, in the No. 92 SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R. Wittmer is a six-time Pirelli World Challenge winner, who raced in the championship from 2006 through 2010.
Pirelli World Challenge GT-A: Pappas Leads 12-Car GT-A Field to Toronto Tim Pappas, of Boston, Mass., in the No. 54 Black River Caviar Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 moved into the GT-A points lead leaving Road America on the strength of his first win in Round 7. Pappas has been consistent throughout the season and looks for a bounce back weekend in Toronto after a pre-race last year took him out of the Toronto weekend before he had a chance to compete.
Second in points, 49 back of Pappas, is Henrik Hedman, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in the No. 10 DragonSpeed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Hedman is yet to win this year but has three podium finishes. Dan Knox, of Pilot Point, Texas, in the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing, Inc./Performance SpeedTech Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R now ranks third after a clean weekend in Road America.
Seeking a rebound after a tough Road America weekend is former GT-A points leader Michael Mills, of Angleton, Texas, in the No. 41 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R. A pair of failures to finish meant he didn’t score a single point there, and is now 85 points behind Pappas in fourth place. Mills won on the streets of Long Beach earlier this year.
Poor luck in race one of double-header weekends has meant despite a GT-A-leading three wins this season, Marcelo Hahn, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 ranks only seventh in the GT-A standings. He has a street course win on his scorecard this year, in Round 6 at Detroit.
GMG Racing is back to three Audi R8 Ultras entered in the GT-A category this weekend. Bill Ziegler, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in the No. 95 Swisher Racing/GMG Audi R8 Ultra had his best weekend of the year in Road America with a runner-up in Round 7 and a fifth-place in Round 8. Teammates Bret Curtis, of Austin, Texas, in the No. 32 Valspar Paint/Spectra Resources/United Steel Supply Audi R8 Ultra and Brent Holden, of Newport Coast, Calif. in the No. 44 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra both return for the first time since Detroit.
Bolstering the field are four additional GT-A entries to make for the class’ largest field this year of 12 cars. A pair of local drivers race in Dodge Viper Coupes. Series returnee Fred Roberts, of Toronto, will be in the No. 89 Direct Energy Home Services Dodge Viper, with series debutante Louis-Phillippe Montour, of Saint-Dorat, Quebec set to drive the No. 27 LeBon Dodge Viper.
Back for the first time since St. Petersburg is Albert von Thurn und Taxis, of Regensburg, Germany, in the No. 24 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2. Von Taxis finished third in GT-A at his only series start this season. Rounding out the class is series debutante Walt Bowlin, of Tarpon Springs, Fla. in the No. 23 Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery Centers Audi R8 Ultra for M1 Racing. Bowlin is a veteran of the Pro Mazda ranks, and with the open-wheel championship not in action in Toronto this weekend, Bowlin now shifts to a GT car.
Pirelli World Challenge GTS: Another Race, Another One-Point GTS Gap Leaving Detroit, Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., led Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, by one point in GTS. And now, leaving Road America, Wilkins’ teammate Nic Jonsson, of Buford, Ga., leads the Canadian by just one point (747-746).
The Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports pair has momentum on their side as they head north of the border this weekend. Jonsson, in the No. 36 DonorsChoose.org Kia Optima, won both Road America races to surge back to the championship lead. But it’s Wilkins, of Toronto, who’s been the measure of consistency this year in the No. 38 PutOnTheBrakes.org Kia Optima with one win and eight top-10 finishes in as many races this year. Wilkins is the only driver in the field with that statistic in GTS; he no doubt wants to capture a win on home soil this weekend.
Third but still within striking distance is Baldwin, in the No. 73 RESET-MD Porsche Cayman S at 105 points in arrears of Jonsson. Baldwin has a pair of street course podiums this season (third at Round 1 in St. Petersburg, second at Round 5 in Detroit) and looks for his second win of the year.
Two Ford drivers are next up in fourth and fifth in points. Dean Martin, of Westland, Mich., in the No. 50 Picture Cars East/Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S swept the Detroit double-header weekend last month and looks for more street course success this weekend. Meanwhile Jack Roush Jr., of Livonia, Mich., in the No. 60 ROUSH Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R has a pair of runner-up finishes this season and looks to break through for his first Pirelli World Challenge win in Toronto.
Poor luck has resigned another Ford driver Alec Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas, in the No. 17 Watson Racing/MDG Ford Mustang Boss 302S, to just 12th in points. Udell has four top-five finishes this season and seeks his first podium finish of the season on a track where the Mustangs should excel.
Chevrolet drivers Lawson Aschenbach, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Col., finished first and second in Toronto a year ago and look for an encore in 2014. Aschenbach, in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, has had a topsy-turvy season but still ranks eighth in points; Lee, in the No. 20 Crown Seven/BestIT Chevrolet Camaro sits sixth in points and returned to the podium at Road America for the first time since Round 1. On the streets of St. Petersburg, Aschenbach and Lee finished 1-2, and they could well be back in podium contention once again.
A tight battle for ninth in points sees Tony Gaples, of Libertyville, Ill., in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif. in the No. 34 Natural Cures Aston Martin Vantage for TRG-AMR and Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va. in the No. 51 Nissan/Motul/SPL/OSGiken/Sparco/Sunoco Nissan 370Z separated by only 60 points. Bushey’s fifth place in Round 6 at Detroit is the best result for that trio this season.
Esayian’s teammates at TRG-AMR, Drew Regitz, of Denver, Col. and Jorge de la Torre, of McAllen, Texas, in the Nos. 02 and 04 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantages, each posted their best result of the year on the streets of Long Beach in Round 2. Regitz finished sixth there, with de la Torre 12th. They both seek solid top-10s in Toronto.
Other full-season drivers in action this weekend include rookie Geoff Reeves, of Cleveland, Ohio in the No. 40 Shadow Works/Best IT Chevrolet Camaro, Buz McCall, of Boca Raton, Fla., in the No. 72 RESET-MD Porsche Cayman S, rookie Chris Outzen, of Sudbury, Mass., in the No. 87 iTrackZone Ford Mustang Boss 302S, Brad Adams, of New Orleans, La., in the No. 96 Voodoo Music Experinece/Dat Dog/Yo MTV Raps Ford Mustang Boss 302S and Mitch Landry, of Lake Charles, La., is in the No. 97 VersaCrane/Deep South Ford Mustang Boss 302S. Reeves returns after missing the Road America weekend due to accident damage from Detroit.
Ray Mason, of Columbus, Ohio, returns to the series and is listed to drive the No. 70 Children’s Tumor Foundation/Touge Tuning/Racing4Research Subaru WRX-STi. Mason has TC class experience and the Compass360 Racing-entered Subaru makes its first appearance since Barber in April.
Event/Circuit: Exhibition Place
11-turn, 1.755-mile temporary street circuit
Qualifying: Friday, July 18, 4:35 P.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS)
Green Flag: Saturday, July 19, 11:25 A.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 1) Sunday, July 20, 12:15 P.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 2)
Race Lengths: 50 minutes (GT/GT-A/GTS)
Television (on NBCSN): Sunday, August 10 – 1:30 PM (EDT)
Live Internet Telecast (on http://www.world-challengeTV.com): Saturday, July 19, 10:55 A.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 1) Saturday, July 20, 11:45 A.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 2)