Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., captured his record-extending 32nd World Challenge win Sunday, taking the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship Round Four race, part of the Victoria Day Speedfest at Mosport International Raceway. Charles Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., and Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, completed the podium.
Driving the No. 1 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, Cunningham started first after the top five qualifiers were inverted on the grid following the Fast Five coin toss. He withstood a number of challenges from the TriPoint Mazda team throughout the race to score his first win since the 2007 season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Cunningham beat Espenlaub across the finish line by 0.564-second, averaging 95.691 mph over the 28-lap, 68.852-mile race.
Cunningham’s first challenge came from pole-winning driver Eric Foss, who rocketed from fifth starting spot in the No. 75 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6 to second by Turn Three and side-by-side with Cunningham in Turn Eight.
“At the end of that first lap, Eric Foss got a great run and kind of passed me on the outside of Turn Eight,” Cunningham said. “We were door-to-door and then he was a little bit ahead. I don’t know if I understeered into him or if he was coming down toward me, but we just went ‘tink’ and it was just enough for him to go around. It was the only bad thing that happened in the race. I feel bad for that.”
Espenlaub and Saini ran nose-to-tail in their identical Mazdas behind Cunningham, applying pressure early before Cunningham was able to pull out a two-second lead by mid-race.
In the closing stages, Espenlaub’s car came to him and he began to reel in the leader, setting the Débaufré Fastest Lap of the Race with a 1:31.686 (96.551 mph) in the process. On the final lap, Espenlaub tried to out-brake Cunningham into Turn Eight, but couldn’t get close enough.
“I started to pull away to a little gap and just when I thought ‘I might be able to hang on to this thing,’ Charles [Espenlaub] and Jason [Saini] caught me in like two laps,” Cunningham said. ���So I just put my head down and tried not to make any mistakes for the last few laps. Right there at the end, I was thinking ‘Great, I’m going to lead this whole thing and Charles is going to get me on the last lap,’ but I was able to hold on and get the very first victory for the brand-new Acura TSX. We’re very proud of that.”
Espenlaub’s run was his best of the season in the No. 73 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6 and his first podium finish in nearly two years.
“It’s really good to be back on the podium,” Espenlaub said. “It’s one of those racing things. You have problems. You have mechanical issues and you get a monkey on your back, so to speak. It makes it really sweet to get back up here after all of that.
“It seemed like I had a little stronger car the first couple of laps. Peter seemed to be chasing the back end a bit, but then his car came to him. He scooted off a little bit, but then Jason and I were able to work together and reel him back in. I was trying to pressure him a little bit, but that guy just doesn’t crack under pressure.”
Saini started second in the No. 74 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6, but watched teammates Espenlaub and Foss go by on the first lap. Once Foss was off track, Saini stayed on Espenlaub’s bumper in third for the duration of the race to collect his third podium finish in four races.
“I had a great light at the start, but I spun the tires,” said Saini. “Peter [Cunningham] just seemed to sit there for a second and I thought I could get him but I just lit the tires up. Both Eric [Foss] and Charles [Espenlaub] got around me. Unfortunately, Eric and Peter had a little contact there. Charles and I tried to draft together and work together—talking on the radio to figure out what we had to do to get around Peter.
“All credit to the team, because our cars really came in at the end of the race. We just couldn’t get by Peter.”
Seth Thomas, of Cumming, Ga., emerged atop the race-long battle for fourth in his No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i, earning the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing four positions in the race. He was followed across the stripe by Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., and his No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX.
Kuno Wittmer (Acura TSX), Nick Wittmer (Acura TSX), Nick Esayian (BMW 328i), Eric Foss (MAZDA6) and Toby Grahovec (Acura TSX) completed the top 10.
Foss was presented the AutoWeek Move of the Race award for his outstanding start.
Saini extended his Driver’s Championship lead to 17 points over Kleinubing (410-393), followed by Cunningham (375), Wittmer (368) and Thomas (337). Acura extended its point lead in the World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine to 12, with 34 points to Mazda’s 26 and BMW’s 12.
Today’s race will be broadcast July 7 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED. The series next travels to Watkins Glen for Round Five on July 4.