Round Four of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships featured a crash on the standing start, two new winners, a new championship leader, and plenty of passes. When the dust settled at Miller Motorsports Park and the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Utah presented by Bondurant, Jason Daskalos, of Albuquerque, N.M., earned his second career GT win, with first-time winners Jordon Musser, of Coppell, Texas, and Aaron Povoledo, of Toronto, joining him as the GTS and Touring Car class winners, respectively.
Daskalos, driving the No. 7 Dalsin Developments Dodge Viper, became the fourth consecutive Viper driver to win a World Challenge GT race at Miller Motorsports Park, following back-to-back wins by Tommy Archer in 2007 and 2008 and a win by Kuno Wittmer a season ago. Daskalos earned a 0.349-second victory over James Sofronas, averaging 82.007 mph over the 23-lap, 70.104-mile race.
Starting fourth based on Drivers' Points after qualifying was snowed out Friday afternoon, Daskalos was ahead of the carnage on the standing start when seventh-starting Randy Pobst's No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 and Andy Pilgrim's No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe both stalled practically side-by-side when the lights went out.
Pobst's car was nailed hard from behind by the No. 37 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S, heavily damaging the Volvo and leaving the defending GT Champion stranded on the front straight. The incident brought out the yellow flag on the first trip around the 15-turn, 3.048-mile configuration.
When the field restarted on lap six, the race leader Sofronas, Tony Gaples in the No. 11 Kleinschmidt/Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Corvette, and Daskalos raced away from the field, tailed by the No. 6 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe of Johnny O'Connell and the No. 4 Centric Parts/StopTech Porsche 911 GT3 of Dino Crescentini.
The three ran nose-to-tail behind Sofronas for 12 laps, with Daskalos moving ahead of Gaples on lap eight. Daskalos powered by Sofronas on lap 13, then spent the remaining 10 laps holding off the Porsche.
With Sofronas closing in at the finish, Daskalos turned his fastest lap of the race on lap 21, running a 1:53.684 (96.520mph) to put a small gap between him and Sofronas. Sofronas made one last charge on the final lap at Daskalos, but the Viper power pulled ahead down the front straight for his second career win and first since a win at Mosport in 2009.
“I didn't get the greatest launch,” Daskalos said. “I was able to sneak into third. I was able to get by [Mike] Skeen on the start. I tucked in behind [Tony] Gaples. I just ran a smart race. I was able to Gaples off in traffic. Then I just followed James [Sofronas] for a while – saving my tires. He also got caught in traffic and it was to my benefit to take the lead, and I was able to hold it the rest of the way.
“Coming into Three, there was traffic up ahead and he had to get out of the throttle. I was able to get a run on him coming out of Four into Five. I just late braked him in down into five and we went side by side through five and was able to hold it through Six. James ran a good, smart race like he always does. I saw him coming [Sofronas]. I pushed kind of hard through witchcraft and a couple of sections where I felt I was better than James and was able to gap him through there. He was better than me through the slow stuff. But, I was able to hold him off for the finish.”
Sofronas settled for second, his fourth podium finish in as many races this season and his third consecutive runner-up finish.
“I was just biding my time,” Sofronas said. “I knew my car would be great at the end. So I ran a pace that would allow me to charge hard at the end and hold them off. But, traffic is against the Porsches. If you get out of the throttle, you're dead. We really have a problem dealing with traffic. I had to check up with a slower car and he [Daskalos] just drove right by me. It was a pass that I couldn't even fight him. But, Jason drove a great race. We're getting really heavy now so it's getting tough. At the end, I was all over him, but we had traffic. If I don't have clean running air to run him down, I am not going to win a drag race out of a corner. But, second is not bad. We'll take it. It's all about the championship.”
Gaples earned his first podium finish this season, finishing third, 3.444 seconds behind Daskalos after running in the lead group for most of the race. Gaples earned his second career podium finish and first since a runner-up finish at Infineon Raceway in 2005.
A pair of Cadillacs completed the top five in the GT class and overall. O'Connell held his fourth position for 22 laps after moving there on lap two. Pilgrim, who fell as low as 17th overall after his stall on the standing start, worked back through the field to finish fifth. O'Connell matched his season high with the finish, while Pilgrim set his season best in the manufacturers' return to the series in 2011.
Sofronas does take over the drivers' championship lead after prior leader Patrick Long missed Round Four with a testing commitment in Europe. Sofronas' 466 points leads Long (417) by 49 points, with Daskalos (381) moving to third with the win. Gaples (332) and O'Connell (332) complete the top five. Porsche holds a commanding early lead in the manufacturers' championship, followed by Cadillac, Volvo and Nissan.
“That was the goal this weekend,” Sofronas said of the point lead. “I wish Pat [Long] was here. I don't want to take the point lead because he was not here. But, it is what it is. I was not going to take too big of a risk. If we found ourselves in a position for a win, I would take it. But, it's all about the championship. We're happy. That's our goal this year. I don't have any conflicts. I won't miss any races like last year. So, I'm excited.”
Musser was not only making his first Pirelli World Challenge start, but one of the first professional starts in his career. Musser's No. 05 Momentum/Race Fuel Energy Drink Chevrolet Camaro started 13th in the GTS class after qualifying was canceled, but was quickest in each of the two Friday practice sessions.
Starting further back than he would have liked, Musser made a steady climb through the GTS field. The Camaro picked off three positions on the opening lap prior to the yellow flag coming out, and then jumped four more positions to sixth on the lap six restart.
Still moving forward, Musser passed Nick Esayian's No. 34 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX for fifth on lap seven, and into fourth with a pass on Ben Crosland's No. 25 Interbank FX/RacewithRP.com Ford Mustang FR500S on lap nine. He picked off Peter Cunningham's No. 1 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX and the No. 19 Varsity Ford Ann Arbor/Steeda Ford Mustang Boss 302S of Jason von Kluge on lap 10.
Musser then chased second-starting Eric Foss in the No. 73 Traxxas/St. Jude Hospital/SPX Ford Mustang FR500S for eight laps, moving into the lead after 18 GTS laps and holding off Foss for a 0.413-second win. Musser also turned the fastest GTS lap of the race with a time of 2:01.779 (90.104mph) and earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Racing award for his pass for the lead.
“It may have looked easy, but believe me it wasn't,” Musser said. “I've probably only turned a couple hundred laps in a racecar in my life – probably five laps this year. I've really been working hard with our team drivers Alec Udell and Ardee Toppe. I own the business now and I run the race shop. I build the racecars. I am an engineer by trade. So, I'm the catch all guy for everything technical with the team. I knew I wanted an opportunity to drive and I built the business around trying to get that opportunity.
“As far as the race goes, I was pretty nervous. We started 31st. That's 13th in GTS. But, it doesn't matter if you are first in GTS because you still have a bunch of cars in front of you. Sure enough Randy [Pobst] stalled and we almost got collected in that mess. I literally stood on the brakes, veered left and almost had to stop in the middle of the track to get around him. Actually, that was not my normal mode. Normally I'm aggressive and I'll just stay on the gas and go into the dirt. But, I knew that this might be my only chance to race this year and I knew I had a [good] car under me to win if I didn't bend it. I chose the more [cautious] approach. I got around the car. I put my head down. I drove that thing so hard. I was using dirt, curbs, everything I could to make it work. But, it all worked out. I could not be happier for my team.”
Musser also won the Sunoco Hard Charger award for improving the most positions from his start.
Foss held onto second, which moves him just four Championship points behind Paul Brown, who finished seventh in the No. 50 Lucas Oil/K&N Filters Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
Cunningham moved past von Kluge with less than two laps remaining in the race. It was the 101st podium finish for the six-time champion, who will make his 200th career start in Round Five this season. Von Kluge finished fourth. Ben Crosland, from nearby Salt Lake City, finished fifth in the No. 25 Interbank FX/RacewithRP.com Ford Mustang FR500S.
Brown's 445 drivers' championship points still leads the 441 points Foss has earned, followed by defending GTS Champion Cunningham (407), von Kluge (340), and Crosland (311). Ford's manufacturers' championship lead grows to 16 over Acura, 38-22.