Michael Cooper wrapped up the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Touring Car title in dominating fashion, while Jeff Lepper took the Touring Car B victory in Sunday's season finale at the Cadillac Sonoma Grand Prix.
Michael Cooper (03) won the Touring Car championship and the season finale at Sonoma. Credit: Mark Weber/SCCA
Owing to his fastest lap in Saturday's second race of the Touring Car/Touring Car B tripleheader, Cooper took the standing start from the pole position in his No. 03 MAZDASPEED Motorsports MAZDASPEED3. As soon as the lights went out, Cooper showed he meant business, quickly pulling out to a substantial lead.
In fact, Cooper would never be challenged throughout the 22-lap race, which was run without a full-course caution. He crossed the stripe 3.753 seconds ahead of Todd Lamb to earn his sixth victory of the 14-race Touring Car season. He margin of victory in the final championship standings was 108 points (1,767-1,659) over Lamb. It was Cooper's second SCCA Pro Racing championship in as many years, as he claimed the 2011 Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup title just one year after sitting in a race car for the first time.
“I got out a huge gap, and just knew I needed to manage it and manage my car and make 40 minutes,” Cooper said. “I knew I didn't need to win the thing.
“Johnny O'Connell is the World Challenge GT champion this year and he's the one that told my dad to put me in a racecar – that was only three years ago. To be standing here after winning two consecutive SCCA Pro Racing championships is just unbelievable. It started to hit me on the last few laps. It hit me a little, but it still hasn't sunk in yet. I didn't sleep much last night, I was going over this could happen, and that could happen. I'm just happy to be standing here.”
While Cooper set sail on his way to victory, Lamb had his hands full battling for position throughout the race. He started third, moved up to second at the start and then battled Robert Thorne – who won Saturday's first race – throughout the first half of the race. He took second place for good from Thorne on lap 12. He finished the year with 12 podium results from the season's 14 races.
“It was a good race, we gave it our all,” Lamb said. “We were used to the Mazda going out and burning the tires off later in the race and somehow they figured out how not to do that. It's certainly something we'll have to contend with next year, but we gave it everything we had. We did everything we could possibly do for this championship and it didn't work out. I'm really happy for the [Atlanta Motorsports Group] guys. I'm big friends of theirs and I'm happy to see them when the championship if I couldn't do it.”
Finishing third was Lamb's Compass360 Racing teammate Ryan Winchester, who started fifth and battled Travis Wolcott and Thorne during the race. It was Winchester's sixth top-three result of the season and he finished third in the final Touring Car standings
“The two races yesterday didn't go as to plan, I finished fifth in both,” Winchester said. “We had a few issues and today I knew I still had to fight hard to finish third [in the championship]. I put my head down, my teammate had a shot at the championship so I did the best I could to catch up to him and give him a buffer. Cooper just had more than we did today. The crew did a fantastic job all weekend, we had a few repairs to do, we had a lot of set-up changes we had to make to get the cars the way we want them. They gave me a great job, gave me a good car that was easy to drive out there and just cruised to a third place finish.”
Shea Holbrook crossed the stripe in fourth place driving the No. 67 TrueCar.com/Virgin Honda Civic Si, but was involved in a Turn 6 incident with Wolcott on lap 17 in which she spun the No. 30 Emich VW/StopTech/3Zero3 Motorsports Volkswagen Jetta GLI. SCCA Pro Racing officials penalized her 20 points and $1,000 for avoidable contact. Holbrook still finished fourth in the final Touring Car driver standings.
Peter Schwartzott finished fifth in the No. 41 Peter Schwartzott Racing Honda Civic Si. It was Schwartzott's second top-five result in five Touring Car starts this season. Thorne faded to a sixth-place finish.
While a Mazda driver took the Drivers' Championship, the Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship went to Honda, which finished the season with 99 points to Mazda's 81. Volkswagen was third with 56 points, followed by Volvo with 10 points.
Competing in his first Touring Car B race of the season, Lepper came out on top in a spirited battle throughout the 40-minute race in the No. 92 Xtreme Indoor Karting/Gunther Kia Rio. Lepper worked his way from the back of the grid into a podium position by Lap 5 and then began mixing it up with Saturday's two race winners, Russell Smith and Conner Ford.
Lepper ultimately took the class lead on lap 13 and pulled away to a comfortable margin before slowing on the front straight on the final lap to win by 0.948sec over Smith.
“The race was great,” Lepper said. “I started last, but I didn't qualify. I drove this car at Miller so I had a general idea about what the car was going to do. I first ran this track back in the early '90s, so this is my home track. I live 23 miles from here.
“I saw the advantages on the first couple of laps where I could get these guys at, I took full advantage of it. I knew I didn't have to worry about the car; the Kinetic Motorsports/Kia team gave me no worries about that. The brakes on this Kia Rio, that's what won me this race.”
Lepper led a 1-2 sweep for the Kinetic Motorsports team, with Smith coming home second in the No. 90 Kinetic Performance Parts Kia Rio. It was a successful weekend for Smith, who earned a victory and two runner-up results from the Cadillac Sonoma Grand Prix tripleheader.
“What an unbelievable weekend,” Smith exclaimed. “You couldn't have written it any better. Congrats to Jeff, he did a great job coming from last place and really showed what the car could do. I just want to thank everybody for this year. World Challenge has done such a great job. I think we found a nice home here. It's been good, and we're thoroughly looking forward to 2013.”
Ford finished third in the No. 45 Honda Performance Development Honda Fit. Ford finished on all three positions on the podium from the three races, taking victory in race 1, second in race 2 and third in race 3.
Jonathan Start finished fifth on Sunday in the No. 00 Kawartha Chrysler/FIAT/SpeedlogiX Fiat 500 and won the inaugural Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car B title. Start finished the season with 946 points, outdistancing Craig Capaldi by 295 markers in the championship.
Honda also took the Touring Car B Manufacturers' Championship with 67 points. Fiat was second with 44 markers, followed by Ford with 36, Kia with 33, Mazda with 28 and Mini with five points.