LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 15, 2007) – Eric Curran, of East Hampton, Mass., earned his second-straight SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT win of 2007 on the streets of Long Beach, throttling past polesitter Ron Fellows out of the final corner with eight laps to go, to take the lead and the win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., and Lou Gigliotti, of Dallas, Texas, completed the podium.
The 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course provided plenty of action from start lights to checkered flag and through two full-course cautions. The fireworks began on the start when the No. 82 McCann Plastics/K&N Filters Dodge Viper of Michael McCann had a gem of a start that rocketed him from fifth on the grid to the lead by Turn One. Shortly thereafter, defending SPEED GT Champion Lawson Aschenbach, of West Palm Beach, Fla., got his No. 1 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V backwards in Turn One, causing a major traffic jam. While the entire field would continue, Tomy Drissi pulled his No. 15 Next-The Movie Chevrolet Corvette to a stop just off the race line a handful of corners later, bringing out the first caution.
McCann, of North Canton, Ohio, maintained the lead on the lap six restart, but only for a lap, as polesitter and defending race winner Fellows slid his No. 16 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V past McCann in Turn Six to take the lead. As Fellows pulled away, McCann fell into the clutches of Curran who had made his way around Pilgrim shortly after the restart. Curran’s No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette filled McCann’s mirrors for more than five laps before Curran put the hammer down on lap 13, swapping positions with McCann through Turns Five and Six then taking full control of the runner-up spot on the back straight. Watching and waiting, the No. 8 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V of Pilgrim followed Curran past McCann and into third.
From there, Curran set his sights on Fellows and the top three began to distance themselves from the rest of the field. Curran appeared to have the advantage on Fellows exiting the hairpin and twice pulled alongside the Cadillac on the front straight, but lost the drag race to Turn One. The third time was the charm however, when Curran finally muscled his way out of Turn 11 ahead of Fellows and sailed into the lead on Shoreline Drive. The pass earned Curran the B&M Oil Coolers Coolest Move of the Race award and the point leader followed it up with the fastest lap of the race, a record 1:26.348 (82.049 mph).
Moments after the lead change, the Vipers of Jeffrey Robbins and Joel Feinberg collided entering Turn One. Both cars slammed into the tire barriers at a high rate of speed and the second full course caution of the day was issued. As the lead cars entered the area of the incident, Fellows’ Cadillac came silently to a halt on the front straight, succumbing to what had been a race-long electrical problem.
When green flag racing resumed on lap 28, Curran only needed to defend his lead for one lap, which he did with ease, and cruised to his second SPEED GT victory in a row, on his first visit to Long Beach.
“It’s phenomenal,” Curran said. “I can’t believe that I won again and to do it at Long Beach is just great. Early in the weekend I was having some problems with the brakes and I thought we’d work at keeping the car in the top five to keep the championship lead alive. These Whelen Engineering guys kept working at it and gave me a great car to drive.
“Mike McCann got a great jump at the start and went straight to the lead. It was amazing actually. We went single-file for a while. This place is tough to pass on. You had to wait for an opportunity to make a pass on someone. That’s what the whole race was about, waiting for someone to make a mistake.
“Everybody was pushing really hard and I don’t know that I had any better of a car than any of the other guys. I was trying to conserve the brakes and the tires and trying not to slide the thing too much. In the end, I got some great passes on some people and got up to Ron to put some pressure on. Man, he doesn’t miss a beat. I just looked for a place where I could get by him. I made a couple of attempts in the hairpin and finally got it done.”
After starting alongside his teammate and falling back to fourth early in the race, Pilgrim slowly worked his way back to the runner-up spot and successfully defended his position from a hard charging Gigliotti to finish even on the day.
“I had the best seat in the house,” Pilgrim said. “I had to make a pretty serious pass on Mike McCann to stay with Eric and Ron. After seven or eight laps, we reached a point where everyone was really sliding around on the track. We were all just trying to do our best to hit our apexes. You couldn’t back off even slightly.
“I got on the radio three times and said ‘what’s the split [to Gigliotti]?’ and my crew said ‘it’s about three seconds.’ I said ‘no it’s not, I can see Lou coming! Tell me what the split is because we’re working as hard as we can here and he’s still coming.’
“The Cadillac worked very well here today. We’ve got the heaviest car out there and it’s tough to keep sliding it around, but that’s what they pay us to do. I knew Long Beach would be very tough and I’m very happy with second place today. There are plenty more races to go and we’ll get it.”
Gigliotti fought a hard race to claim the final podium spot. A poor start and restart after the first caution dropped Gigliotti all the way to eighth. But the Texan shook it off and began a charge on lap eight that saw him pick up five positions in his No. 28 LG Pro Long Tube Headers Chevrolet Corvette in the closing laps, very nearly stealing second from Pilgrim on the final tour.
“It was tough coming back through to the front,” Gigliotti said. “After each pass, I got onto the radio and asked my son ‘did you see that one?’”
Michael Galati, of Olmstead, Ohio, had a similar ride in his No. 23 K-PAX Racing LLC/Jim Haughey/Porsche 911 GT3, climbing from seventh to a fourth-place finish, making him the fastest of the Porsches at Long Beach. McCann, who was unable to maintain his early race pace, wound up fifth.
Rob Foster (Dodge Viper) had a strong run at Long Beach for the second year in-a-row to finish sixth. He was followed by the Porsche GT3 of Randy Pobst, the Dodge Viper of Tommy Archer and the Chevrolet Corvette of Sebring polesitter Doug Peterson. Hometown favorite James Sofronas (Porsche 911 GT3) completed the top ten.
Young Dane Moxlow (Pontiac GTO) was the highest placing rookie in the field, taking home the Piloti Rookie of the Race award, while Jeff Courtney (Dodge Viper) ended a rough weekend on a positive note by earning the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing 15 positions in the race.
Curran now leads the SCCA SPEED GT points 80 to 58 over Pilgrim. Galati sits in third, with 52 points. Despite a tough weekend at Long Beach, Aschenbach walks away fourth in the Championship, with 47 points, followed by Sofronas, with 39.
With Curran’s success, Chevrolet currently leads the SCCA SPEED GT Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by Racer, with 19 points. Cadillac is second, with 15, followed by Porsche, with six and Dodge, with two.
The SCCA SPEED GT race from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be broadcast on SPEED, Saturday, April 21, at 3 p.m. (EST).
The SCCA SPEED GT cars return to action in Tooele, Utah, and will meet up with the SPEED Touring Cars at Miller Motorsports Park, May 17-19.