Jade Buford made a tremendous outside move on the opening lap Saturday and went on to a close victory – 0.208 seconds — in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS Round 7 event as part of the PWC Grand Prix of Watkins Glen presented by TM Performance at the legendary Watkins Glen International.
Driving the bright pink No. 55 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4, Buford started second but pulled off an exciting outside move entering the Bus Stop the on 50-minute race’s opening circuit and then held off GTS pole winner Ian James, in the No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT4, to record his second GTS race win of the 2018 PWC road racing campaign. Third went to defending GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R
In addition, longtime PWC driver Jeff Courtney claimed his second GTSA class win of the year in the No. 99 JCR Motorsports Maserati Grand Turismo GT4 and took over the GTSA Sprint point lead with Sunday’s season finale sprint event set for 11:05 a.m. EDT.
In addition, James Sofronas unofficially clinched the GTS Overall point championship Saturday with a seventh-place finish in his No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 sports car.
“I think I was able to pass for the lead and that it’s not the worst thing to be on the outside here,” said Buford, currently fourth in the overall GTS points. “I probably got into the esses a little bit quicker and he immediately took the inside. So, I just took the outside. I know that one of the strengths of our car is that we come up to temperatures very quick with the tires. I hoped he couldn’t break deeper than me.
“We’ve all been friends (Buford, James and Aschenbach) for a long time and know not to take anybody out. I’m glad to take the win and I hope to do it again tomorrow (Sunday).”
James applied serious pressure to Buford in the final few laps Saturday, but the England native just missed in his attempt to slide by for the victory in the 26-lap race.
“We were just flat out,” said James, third in the GTS overall points. “In the middle of the race Lawson caught up to us and Jade was essentially towing me around. It was good racing. I think the times were almost identical. It’s great to have another race that goes all green (laps). I don’t think there were any incidents. We had a really great GTS SprintX season and, when you’re not crashing cars, you’re making them faster. So that’s led us into a really strong run here at the end of the year. I’m happy about that.”
Aschenbach’s third-place finish came after a tough Utah race weekend three weeks ago when his Chevrolet Camaro was crashed pretty dramatically.
“Hats off to Blackdog Speed Shop,” said Aschenbach. “That car was almost totaled, it was right on the edge. They rushed it back to the shop and took it to the body shop. Then they had to put it all back together before they could send it here. It’s an incredible feat and it’s a testament to everybody on that team. All in all, we still had a solid race and we achieved what we could get. I tried to push these guys a little bit, but it was clear that they had a little more pace. Sadly, it just didn’t quite have what we needed today to overcome Jade and Ian. Right now, the GT4 class is where it’s at in the world of sportscar racing in North America. There are a lot of talented drivers and a lot of great cars. I truly believe it’s the purest form of motorsport.”
Completing the top-five in the GTS Round 7 contest was Harry Gottsacker in the No. 69 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4 and Shane Lewis of Jupiter, Fla., in the No. 72 Robinson Racing Ranch 74 Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.
In the GTSA division, Courtney won his division by 8.5 seconds over Nicolai Elghanayan in the No. 71 MarcoPolo Motorsports KTM X-Bow GT4 and Tony Gaples of Libertyville, Ill., in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.
“The old Maserati hot rod still has a little bit of life left,” said Courtney . “It was a tough start for us again. We really got shuffled back and had to patiently wait behind some people. Unfortunately, we got shuffled back, so I couldn’t improve too much. I think we may have been able to get a few more positions in the overall, so that was disappointing. But overall the car was great. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to get a little bit better start out of it and prove that the car can still compete. This is a good track for this car.”
Sunday’s GTS Round 8 season finale can be streamed live from http://www.world-challenge.com and the World Challenge YouTube channel.