In a spectacular wheel-to-wheel duel, Karl Wittmer finally got by veteran Johan Schwartz on the final lap to capture the Round 11 Touring Car class event Saturday at Watkins Glen International in the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Watkins Glen presented TM Performance.
Driving the No. 91 Classic BMW BMW M235iR, Wittmer started from the pole but had an off-course excursion in the Bus Stop turn on the opening lap and had to fight his way back up to the leader Schwartz in the mid-point of the 20-lap, 40-minute sprint race.
The Schwartz-Wittmer battle was a sensational duel for some 15 laps before Wittmer was able to slide by for the lead at Turn 8 in the 11-corner track and took a 1.347-second victory, his second of the 2018 PWC tour. The triumph for Wittmer also helped him in his chase for the TC point lead with leader Vesko Kozarov, who placed fourth Saturday.
“It’s always fun when you can do clean, fast touring car races without hitting each other,” said Wittmer. “On my opening lap, that was a rookie mistake. I cooked it in and helped them trim the long grass in there. But the guys at Classic BMW and BMW Motorsports gave me a great car, so I just put my head down and did what I had to do. There was no place I could have passed Johan. I was sizing him up for 40 minutes and I couldn’t find one spot. “It’s nice that he gave me room there so it’s always nice racing against Johan.”
Schwartz, a two-time TC race winner this year, drove a brilliant race with Wittmer on his car’s bumper for the last 10 laps before relinquishing the top spot on the final circuit Saturday. Driving the popular No. 80 Rooster Hall Racing/West Virginia University BMW M235iR, the North Carolina driver drove a blistering pace before Wittmer was able to close in for the lead.
“My strategy was perfect at the white flag but kudos to Karl,” said Schwartz. “I always enjoy racing with him. We have had so many battles throughout the year and our paint has yet to swap one single time. That’s what I enjoy about racing with Karl.
“I will admit, Karl drove a little bit better than I did. It proves our guys did excellent jobs setting up our cars. There are a few adjustments that we’re going to do for tomorrow. It’s always great when you can put on a show like this and it’s great for West Virginia University, a podium finish for the two interns that are helping this weekend. It’s always fun to race against people you can trust.”
Third at the checkered flag was Wittmer’s Classic BMW teammate, Matt Travis, in the No. 26 Classic BMW BMW M235iR. Travis actually closed on the final lap to pressure Schwartz for the runner-up slot before settling for the third position on the podium.
“I had a couple of battles with Vesko in the early laps,” said Travis. “These guys got a little lead on me and they put on a heck of a show all race. The guys at Classic BMW gave me a really good race car. At the end of the race, I think we had that car, but I just couldn’t quite get there and do anything with these guys. It was a great show for the crowd and I’m just glad to get on the podium. Tomorrow is a different day. We’ll race clean and see how everything will shake out.”
Point leader Kozarov took fourth in the No. 3 Rearden Racing Nissan 370ZX TC Spec car followed by Robert Nimkoff in the No. 20 AutoTechnic Racing BMW M235iR and Jeff Ricca in the No. 78 GenRacer Genesis Coupe. Jayson Clunie was eighth in the Classic BMW M235iR.
Sunday’s Round 12, the TC season finale, is set to start at 10 a.m. ET. Entering Sunday’s TC event, Kozarov holds a 12-point lead over Wittmer in the TC point standings. Wittmer recorded the fast lap in the race and will start from the pole position again on Sunday.