Am drivers Nicolai Elghanayan and Drew Staveley stunned the veteran Pro/Am racers Monday in the GTS SprintX Round 5 and 6 60-minute races at Lime Rock Park in the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Lime Rock powered by M.
Two weeks ago, Elghanayan (pictured above) was accepting his college diploma at USC and learning the Lime Rock circuit on his home simulator. On Monday, he put his education to work in winning the GTS SprintX Round 5 race in the No. 71 MarcoPolo Motorsports KTM X-Bow.
Elghanayan started from the pole position and captured the Overall and Amateur classes at the tight 1.5-mile, seven-turn road course in northwest Connecticut.
A former Lotus Cup star, Elghanayan defeated the team of Patrick Gallagher and Jade Buford in the No. 55 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4, who took top honors in the Pro/Am category Monday.
Staveley in the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 followed Elghanayan for much of the Round 6 60-minute feature before driving to the lead late in the 50-lap event to score the first GTS overall victory for the British-built Ginetta G55 GT4.
In the Pro/Am class, the No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT pair of Matt Keegan and Ian James won the division in a solid performance against a star-studded driver line-up. The Panoz duo defeated Matt Travis and Jason Hart in the No. 47 NOLASport Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR, Efrin Castro and Moritz Kranz in the No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR, defending GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach and Andy Pilgrim in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R and Harry Gottsacker in the No. 69 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4.
In Round 5, third overall went to Staveley trailed by Travis and Hart in the No. 47 Porsche and Gottsacker in the No. 69 SIN R1 GT4.
“The only hiccup I had was when I caught up to the (No. 45) Flying Lizard R8,” said Elghanyan. “He kicked up debris and all of it got caught up in my tires, and I lost all of my speed which is in the uphill right and then the downhill right, where I had a lot of understeer. So, it took about six laps for that to work out. I don’t know if this is normal for the car – I haven’t driven the car enough to know exactly how it’s going to work out.
“I’ve done countless hours of simulation (of Lime Rock Park) on the setup at home. The sim did a good job helping me with all the banking but when you come here you realize it hasn’t prepared you for the g-forces going down the hill or the uphill twitch you get at the top. It’s something that takes a lot of adjustment, even having come from racing Lotuses.”
“This was a big overall win for the Ian Lacy Racing team and Ginetta,” said Staveley. “We just started the team under two years ago and we have working hard to race at the front of the race. We felt the Ginetta G55 would be a good car for the Lime Rock circuit. The high-speed corners suit this car very well. It’s tough for us to stay with the top GTS cars on the slower corners with long straightaways. It was so much fun to race with the top pro drivers, too.”
The win for the No. 55 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 was the second of the 2018 PWC season but first for Gallagher, filling in for regular driver Scott Maxwell.
“It’s good to be back in World Challenge and driving with a guy like Jade, getting more seat time in (a Ford Mustang GT4),” said Gallagher. ‘I’m happy to be here and put in a good first-time-back result. I thought I was going to be able to catch (Elghanayan) in the end but I’d rather give a good car to Jade in the end and not try to win the race in the middle. I think if we had kept it in green the whole time we would have been in better shape.”
“We can be a little bit harder on the track but it’s more about how much weight we carry,” said Buford. “We know if we slide around we’re going to degrade our tires much more rapidly than an X-Bow. That’s their strength and our weakness, so we have to minimize the amount of damage we do to our tires until the last few laps. I think we would have had something because I’m familiar with that (KTM X-Bow) and I know where that car is strong. I was hoping for the final restart, but we finished under yellow.”
The return to the winner’s circle was a big victory for the Team Panoz Racing operation, which saw James record six race wins in 2017.
“Due to an early race caution period, the officials extended the pit stop window about seven more minutes and the pro drivers were able to race hard with some great action,” said James. “I just pushed as hard as I could to get the Panoz car in position for Matt in his stint. We had some great wheel-to-wheel racing before our pit stop. I’m happy to be back in victory lane.”
“In my run, I was coming up on some lapped traffic and that can be a big problem at a smaller, tight track like Lime Rock,” said Keegan. “That is a big trick here on how to manage the traffic. There are special spots at this track which the Panoz works very well and we try to maximize those locations. We wanted to pick our spots to pass and there are places here that can be high-risk. We didn’t want to get in those positions and it paid off for a win today.”
Round 7 and 8 for the GTS SprintX class is set for Portland International Raceway on July 13-15.