SEBRING, Fla. (March 16, 2007) – Eric Curran of East Hampton, Mass., mastered tricky track conditions to win his first SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT race at Sebring International Raceway, part of the 55th Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring week. Reining SPEED GT Champion Lawson Aschenbach, of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Tomy Drissi, of Hollywood, Calif., completed the podium.
Shortly after the SPEED Touring Car race at Sebring International Raceway, the skies opened and pummeled the track with more than three hours of heavy rain and strong winds. When the rained ceased two other racing series took to the course before the SPEED GT race, resulting in damp to drying conditions and a tough tire decision for all the teams. With the sun beginning to peak through the clouds, nearly all of the cars opted for dry tires.
To add another variable to the equation, SPEED World Challenge officials announced a rolling start would be used in place of the traditional standing start, since the crown of the front straight had left one side of the grid significantly more wet than the other.
When the green flag was displayed, Curran wasted no time, rocketing around polesitter Peterson into Turn One despite not knowing the level of grip the pavement held. The move earned Curran the B&M Oil Coolers Coolest Move of the Race Award. In only a matter of corners, Curran pulled a considerable gap on the rest of the pack, his No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette C6 leaving Peterson’s eyesight.
Curran looked to be on track to a runaway victory until the seventh-place No. 12 Chevrolet Corvette of Brian Kubinski slowed and pulled off course in a precarious position at Turn 13, bringing out a full-course yellow and erasing Curran’s lead of 16.8 seconds.
On the lap 14 restart, Curran defended his position from a hoard of Cadillacs and Porsches to maintain the lead. Although he wasn’t able to regain the same margin he held previous to the yellow-flag, Curran put his head down, setting the race’s fastest lap, a 2:11.005 (89.456 mph), on his way to the checkered flag.
“I wasn’t real sure about the grip,” Curran said. “It was risky at the beginning. I put the power down and I actually had to steer the car down the front straightaway. I got really close to [polesitter Doug] Peterson at one point. I didn’t know what to expect, but I really paid attention on the warm-up lap of where the puddles were and where I could and couldn’t go. We slipped and slid and got by him.
“The conditions helped a lot here today. I’m from Massachusetts and grew up racing at Lime Rock Park and every time you race at Lime Rock Park, it rains. I love the slippery conditions and obviously I got up to speed really quickly.
“I wanted this win and wanted it for Whelen Engineering. Earlier this week, I was bailing out of the car on the back straightaway as flames were coming out of the hood and the Whelen Engineering team just worked so hard to get it back to where it was before. I’m very happy to be back in a Corvette and back in GT.”
Starting fifth in his No. 1 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose/Cadillac CTS-V, Aschenbach dropped a position early to the No. 22 K-PAX Racing LLC/Jim Haughy Porsche 911 GT-3 of Randy Pobst, but bounced back in a big way, resetting fast race lap on his way to past teammate Andy Pilgrim and into second before the yellow flag came out. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Aschenbach.
“It was great to see the yellow come out,” Aschenbach said. “The beginning of the race, I was just kind of biding my time, trying to stay on the track and not doing anything stupid. I didn’t realize he [Curran] was that far ahead. The caution helped us a lot. He had a great car and was definitely fast on the straights, but we did what we could. The Cadillac CTS-V was great all race and we thought we had a car to win but it was just tough to keep up. Hats off to Eric, he did a great job.”
Drissi, a former Trans-Am racewinner and latest addition to the LG Motorsports Team, returned to the podium at Sebring in his No.15 Next-The Movie Chevrolet Corvette C6. Starting 10th Drissi made steady progress throughout the race and gained two spots on the lap-14 restart, putting himself into fourth. On lap 16, Drissi pulled alongside the No. 23 K-PAX Racing LLC/Jim Haughey Porsche 911 GT-3 of Michael Galati on the front stretch, but couldn’t get the advantage before Turn One. Only a handful of corners later, Drissi made his move again, this time successfully taking the position from Galati and capturing his first SPEED World Challenge podium finish.
“I was so excited to be out here,” Drissi said. “At the start of the race, the Porsches were really, really good in the wet. I was a little more careful. Then I started passing one car after another. When I came up to another car, I got so excited that I drove off the track. Then, I caught back up to the same car and drove off again! I had to start over twice. There was so much happening out there. Third place is great. There are a lot of really good drivers out there.”
A fourth place finish for five-time series Champion Galati, of Olmstead, Ohio, earned him the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing 11 positions throughout the race. James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Fla., finished fifth in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT-3.
Andy Pilgrim (Cadillac CTS-V) started fourth, but fell back to sixth with gearbox problems. Pobst was up to fourth before the restart, but had a disappointing restart on lap 14 and finished seventh as a result. Tommy Archer was the highest finishing Dodge Viper in eighth, just ahead of Brian Smith (Dodge Viper). Piloti Rookie of the Race Tim McKenzie (Porsche 911 GT-3) completed the top ten.
Polesitter Peterson ran in the top three for the first part of the race, but pitted with a mechanical problem before returning to the track three laps down.
The SPEED GT season opener from Sebring will be broadcast on SPEED, Sunday March 25, at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
Round Two of the SPEED GT Championship heads to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 13-15.
For full results and more information visit www.world-challenge.com