LEXINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 9, 2009) – After five trips to the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT podium this season, Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, Calif., finally made the climb to the top step, winning the Toyo Tires Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network. Tony Rivera, of Missouri City, Texas, and James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., completed the top three for Round Seven at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Starting from pole in the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra, Davis powered away from the grid on the standing start, maintaining his lead into Turn One over second-starting Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., in the No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Pilgrim stuck with Davis for the opening laps, but, determined to get his first win of 2009, the current point leader put the pedal to the medal around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course, opening up a lead of more than a second by lap 10.
“From the start, I knew the conditions would be a challenge with the heat,” Davis said. “On the start, I cranked the launch control up as much as I could so I wouldn’t spin the tires too much. I focused on not slipping much coming out of the corners and being real smooth an real consistent.”
On lap 17, Davis’ gap to second tripled, as Pilgrim pulled into pitlane with a broken transmission output shaft. Rivera inherited third with a dozen laps remaining and was able to close the gap to Davis, who had gone into conservation mode after Pilgrim’s exit. Without a single yellow flag in the 29-lap, 65.481 mile-race, Rivera was unable to make a proper bid for the lead, and Davis cruised to his fourth-career win by 1.396 seconds, averaging 91.677 mph.
“I think Andy [Pilgrim] would have been tough, had he stayed around. Getting out front, I was able to breathe a little bit and just run laps. When I saw that Andy dropped out, I was able to conserve tires a little bit and judge the gap back to Tony [Rivera]. I lost communication to the crew actually, so I didn’t know where anybody was.
“The car was pretty good at the end. Obviously, it went away, but not as bad as it has in the past, which is good. It’s unfortunate that sometimes we have to drive like that. It would be nice to go 10-tenths every lap, but sometimes that’s the way you have to go to have a good race pace.”
Davis did have one hair-raising moment toward the end of the race, when the No. 53 Dezigns Construction Dodge Viper of Michael Hartley, from Williamstown, N.J., re-entered the course after a quick off. Evasive action on Davis’ part prevented Rivera from gaining too much ground.
“When [Hartley] went off, I backed off a little to see where he was going to go. Sure enough, he popped back onto the track and I was able to get around him at the bottom of ‘Madness’ on the outside. It was a little bit of a moment and one of those situations that we were glad we had a lead. Otherwise, it would have been pretty hairy.
“After being so close for so long, it feels great to finally win this year. We’ve been on the pole but in the races, we just didn’t have the pace to win. So it feels pretty good.”
Starting fourth, Rivera got a run on third-staring Sofronas on the opening lap as the pair exited the Keyhole. Rivera took a look going into the Esses and Sofronas took a defensive line, resulting in the two going side-by-side through the Esses. After some side-by-side contact, Rivera was by in his No. 97 Tax Masters/Brass Monkey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 at the top of the hill.
“I had the run down the back straight,” Rivera said. “I went to the inside. Like anybody would, he defended and I decided to try the outside and we got along side-by-side. The more I think about it, I didn’t expect us to hit. I had left tires almost in the grass. I had just enough room and at the last second I kind of got a lurch forward and we touched. I hate to get by people that way. It was unfortunate.”
After inheriting second from Pilgrim, Rivera went on a charge, closing the gap to Davis to as little as 0.997-second in the closing laps. Wary of Rivera’s orange Porsche in his mirrors, Davis cranked it up at the end, pulling away and erasing Rivera’s chances for a second race win in 2009. The Sebring race winner did not come away empty handed, however, earning a Débaufré Swiss watch for setting the Débaufré Fastest Lap of the Race.
“I tried to focus on what was in front of me and not behind me,” Rivera said of his late-race charge. “I started to see Brandon get a little loose and while he was getting loose, I was starting to lose the front tires a little bit and began to push. There was really nothing I could do. If we had another 10 laps, James [Sofronas] would have probably caught and passed us both!”
Eric Curran was able to follow Rivera around Sofronas in the Esses, but on the following lap, the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette suffered a suspension failure. Running inches off of Curran’s bumper at the time, Sofronas made contact with the Corvette and fell all the way to ninth.
“Coming out of the hairpin, I didn’t get the best launch and I saw Tony right up my rear and figured I’d better be somewhat defensive,” Sofronas said. “He made a move on the outside. It was a good pass. I wanted to run him through and make enough room for us to race. Apparently, it wasn’t enough and we had a little contact. The worst thing about it was that Eric Curran got by me as well. That’s what eventually cost me a chance to run up front. The next lap around he had a problem as I was about an inch off his bumper coming out of the Keyhole and I just plowed into the back of his car and smashed up the front of mine.
“So, I fell back to ninth and I was frustrated. I need to have a clean, 100 percent error-free race and these weren’t really my fault. But, that’s racing. I just sucked it up and put my head down, started cranking off some great laps. I was holding out for a yellow to get it all back, but it never came.
Sofronas was able to climb back to fourth in his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, and was promoted to third with Pilgrim’s retirement.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Sofronas concluded. “They did an unbelievable job on the car. We ran a little bit heavier this weekend than normal and the car was still pretty good. At the end, it got a little squirrelly and [Crew Chief] Todd [Ketcham] said ‘don’t throw it off the track if you can’t catch these guys,’ but I didn’t give up until the last lap. The last lap was pretty hairy and I almost threw it off. These guys ran a great race. I wish I could have joined them.”
Defending Champion Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., made a stunning drive through the field. Transmission trouble on the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 prevented Pobst from turning a single lap in qualifying, regulating him to the final spot on the grid. By lap 10, Pobst was up to seventh and continued to slice his way through the field, finishing fourth. The drive earned Pobst the Sunoco Hard Charger of the Race Award, as well as the AutoWeek Move of the Race Award for his pass on Jeff Courtney’s No. 99 Kenda/JTM/Coins of America Dodge Viper in Turn 11 for sixth.
Dino Crescentini, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., may have started and finished fifth in his No. 4 StopTech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3, but his race was anything but uneventful. The Watkins Glen race winner dropped to sixth on the opening lap, but bounced back up to fourth following Sofronas’ run-in with Curran. Sofronas would eventually re-pass his teammate before Pobst sent Crescentini back to his starting spot on lap 21.
Though Pobst’s AutoWeek Move of the Race demoted Courtney to seventh, Pilgrim’s retirement moved him back up to sixth, a season-high finish for the Milwaukee, Wis.-driver. His teammate for the weekend, former World Challenge Touring Car pilot Charlie Putman (Dodge Viper) followed Courtney across the line, finishing seventh in his first World Challenge GT race.
Tony Gaples (Dodge Viper), Gunter Schaldach (Dodge Viper) and Sonny Whelen (Chevrolet Corvette) completed the top 10.
With the win, Davis strengthened his lead over Sofronas in the Drivers’ Championship with 733 points to Sofronas’ 656. Rivera is third with 643, followed by Pilgrim (596) and teammate Pobst (568).
Porsche continues to lead the SPEED World Challenge GT Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine with 45 points. Ford is second with 41, followed by Volvo (30), Chevrolet (26) and Viper (16).
The Toyo Tires World Challenge GT Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network will air on SPEED, Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 2 p.m. (EDT).
Round Eight of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship next heads to Elkhart Lake, Wis., for the World Challenge Road America Grand Prix Presented by StopTech, Aug. 14 – 16.