Alex Figge picked up his second career Pirelli World Challenge victory and Andy Lee capped his rookie World Challenge season with a fourth GTS victory in Saturday's season-ending Cadillac Sonoma Grand Prix.
Alex Figge took his first World Challenge victory of the season at Sonoma. Credit: Mark Weber/SCCA
Figge started the No. 9 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 from the pole position and led every lap en route to the victory. However, the win didn't come without a few tense moments for Figge, as Andy Pilgrim got right to Figge's bumper while negotiating lapped traffic and appeared to be moving into position to take the position away as the laps wound down.
Once clear of traffic, however, Figge managed to stretch the lead slightly and went on to cross the stripe 1.131 seconds ahead of Pilgrim. It was the first World Challenge victory for Figge since winning the first race of the 2011 doubleheader at Mid-Ohio.
“I was quite confident in the beginning of the race,” Figge said. “When you've got a racer the caliber of [teammate] Randy [Pobst] watching your back, it's always nice. I saw his car start to go off and I saw Andy get by him, and I still thought I've got enough. Boy, that changes quickly when you get into traffic.
“I immediately realized what was going on with Randy's car, it certainly got a little greasy out there trying to keep it under me. I certainly was extremely happy to see the white flag, and even more happy to see the checkered flag. I had to hang onto it a couple of times, but mostly just ecstatic for the weekend with all the Volvo people here and, not only that, but with Alex's Lemonade Stand this weekend it's really special for all of us at K-Pax and Volvo.”
Pilgrim steadily worked his way forward from fourth on the starting grid in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. He methodically found his way around teammate Johnny O'Connell and took second a few laps later from Pobst, on lap 20 of the 26-lap timed event. The runner-up performance was Pilgrim's fifth podium of the season and enabled him to solidify second place in the final 2012 GT driver standings.
“It's a difficult place to drive, because you're sliding around everywhere, you really have to pick your moments and every corner has its issues,” Pilgrim said. “You just have to stay in control, and you have these controlled, lurid slides going on everywhere. So you have to stay within yourself and try to push yourself. It's a real driver's race track.
“Coming into the weekend, I'm just so proud of the whole team and Johnny [O'Connell]. We got Manufacturers, he got the Driver's Championship, and if I can't get the Driver's Championship, finishing second behind him to me is like winning the championship also.”
Coming of a sweep of both races at the Mid-Ohio doubleheader earlier this month, Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga. settled for third this time around in the No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60. It was his fifth podium of the season.
“Alex was just plain fast,” Pobst said. “My K-Pax Volvo was good, but it wasn't good enough to keep up with him. It was a good race with the Cadillac, and I'm just happy to be on the podium with this great team once again.”
Lawson Aschenbach came home fourth in the No. 1 TruSpeed/Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche 911 GT3.
O'Connel closed out his World Challenge GT championship-winning season with a fourth-place ride aboard the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V. It was the first Pirelli World Challenge title for the decorated sports car racer.
“It was a strong year for us,” O'Connell said. “When we entered last year, we had no dreams of winning a championship last year. We were highly restricted and needed a lot of development. As the season progressed in 2011, we got to the point where we were able to catch up and have a car that was good, fast and strong. Over the winter, our engineers improved the car so I entered the season with a lot of confidence that, provided I did some pretty simple things, I'd be in a position to win a championship.
“Those things were don't hit anybody, don't break anything, stay on the racetrack. It sounds stupid that it's that simple, but that's what we did.”
In the GTS race, Lee's pass for second place on lap eight around Peter Cunningham earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award. His next pass, however, may have been just as clean and meant a fair bit more as he took the lead from Jack Baldwin in Turn Five.
Shortly thereafter, Baldwin – who had started from the GTS pole and led the first 14 laps – fell out of the battle for the victory with a cut tire. Lee, on the other hand, steadily pulled away over the remainder of the race in the No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro and went on to earn a comfortable, 9.93-second victory over Cunningham.
“When it started, I figured it would be quite a battle to get around Wilkins in the Kia,” said Lee, who earned World Challenge Rookie of the Year honors. “He was the person I was most worried about. On the start, we got right around him, but so did Cunningham. He actually went by me. Peter Cunningham has been around for so long, and to pass that guy is so difficult, I knew I had my work cut out. I knew his main concern was the championship, so after I made a move, he made it somewhat easy on me. Jack had a flat tire, and after that we just decided we were going to lay down a qualifying lap until the race was over.”
Cunningham picked up his eighth podium result in 12 starts this season in the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. The runner-up performance was easily more than enough to earn Cunningham his 10th championship in SCCA Pro Racing competition.
“It was like a three way tie for the whole middle part of the year between Jack Baldwin in the Porsche, Andy Lee in the Camaro and me in the Acura,” Cunningham said. “The way the points worked, we were never actually tied but it was a virtual tie and it could have gone either way. At Mid-Ohio, we had a chance to do well there and got some big points all of a sudden. Andy didn't have a representative finish through no fault of his own, and today Jack had a problem with the flat tire, which changed the outcome. The RealTime Acura team from the start at St. Petersburg was ready to go, and we got two wins but eight podiums in 12 races, and that's what it takes to get the points.”
Justin Bell worked his way up from 12th on the GTS starting grid to third at the finish in the No. 50 eBay Motors Ford Mustang Boss 302S, taking the final podium spot on the final lap of the race. It was Bell's fourth podium result of the season, as he improved eight overall positions from start to finish.
“It's a great way to end the year,” Bell said. “We had a rough last couple of races, and that was as hard as I can drive that car. I used every bit of 25 years experience to get up there. Everyone raced fair, and that's where we ended up. It was fun.”
A pair of Kias rounded out the GTS top five with Mark Wilkins finishing fourth in the No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima and Michael Galati fifth in the No. 36 Kia Motors America Optima.
O'Connell finished the season with 1,348 points to take the GT Drivers' Championship, ahead of teammate Pilgrim with 1,199. Pobst (1,137), Aschenbach (1,112) and Figge (1,095) completed the top five. Cadillac, with the help of those top two drivers, earned their third Pirelli World Challenge Manufacturers' Championship – and first since 2007 – with 82 points. Volvo (69), Porsche (68) and Corvette (28) trailed the CTS-V in the final standings.
Cunningham's seventh title came on the strength of 1,366 points, followed by Lee with 1,264. Baldwin (1,185), Galati (1,055), and Nick Esayian (859) completed the top five. Acura's 10th Manufacturers' Championship came with 68 points, followed by Ford (54), Chevrolet (52), and Kia (41).
1. GT, (1), Alex Figge, Denver, Colo., Volvo S60, 26.
2. GT, (4), Andy Pilgrim, Boca Raton, Fla., Cadillac CTS-V.R, 26, -1.131.
3. GT, (2), Randy Pobst, Gainesville, Ga., Volvo S60, 26, -2.177.
4. GT, (5), Lawson Aschenbach, Darnestown, Md., Porsche 911 GT3, 26, -3.868.
5. GT, (3), Johnny O'Connell, Flowery Branch, Ga., Cadillac CTS-V.R, 26, -5.256.
6. GT, (7), Brett Sandberg, Allendale, N.J., Porsche 911 GT3, 26, -7.574.
7. GT, (8), Brandon Davis, Huntington Beach, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 26, -9.946.
8. GT, (12), Michael Hedlund(R), Woodside, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 26, -22.378.
9. GT, (14), Jeff Courtney, Milwaukee, Wis., Porsche GT3 Cup, 26, -28.686.
10. GT, (9), Anders Hainer, Hidden Hills, Calif., Audi R8, 26, -34.503.
11. GT, (10), David Welch, Bothell, Wash., Ferrari F430GT, 26, -35.208.
12. GT, (13), Tony Gaples, Lincolnshire, Ill., Chevrolet Corvette, 26, -43.022.
13. GT, (11), Mike Skeen, Charlotte, N.C., Nissan GTR, 26, -49.016.
14. GT, (15), Fred Roberts, Toronto, Ontario, Dodge Viper, 26, -53.096.
15. GT, (16), Craig Stanton, Long Beach, Calif., Mercedes Benz AMG Black, 26, -1:28.490.
16. GT, (6), Patrick Lindsey, Santa Barbara, Calif., Chevrolet Corvette, 17, Mech.
17. GT, (35), Brent Holden, Newport Beach, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 0, DNS.
18. GTS, (19), Andy Lee(R), Colorado Springs, Colo., Chevrolet Camaro, 25.
19. GTS, (20), Peter Cunningham, Milwaukee, Wis., Acura TSX, 25, -9.930.
20. GTS, (28), Justin Bell, Los Angeles, Calif., Ford Mustang Boss 302S, 25, -12.664.
21. GTS, (18), Mark Wilkins, Aurora, Ontario, Kia Optima, 25, -13.223.
22. GTS, (21), Michael Galati, Olmsted, Ohio, Kia Optima, 25, -21.176.
23. GTS, (24), Lou Gigliotti, Dallas, Texas, Chevrolet Camaro, 25, -27.572.
24. GTS, (30), Ric Bushey(R), Virginia Beach, Va., Nissan 370 Z, 25, -44.460.
25. GTS, (27), Harry Curtin(R), Buffalo, N.Y., Chevrolet Camaro, 25, -44.815.
26. GTS, (23), Alec Udell, The Woodlands, Texas, Ford Mustang Boss 302R, 25, -45.174.
27. GTS, (29), Bryan Heitkotter(R), Fresno, Calif., Nissan 370Z, 25, -50.124.
28. GTS, (31), Don Istook, River Oaks, Texas, Audi TT RS, 25, -1:20.579.
29. GTS, (17), Jack Baldwin, Marietta, Ga., Porsche Cayman S, 25, -1:30.503.
30. GTS, (33), Vafa Kordestani(R), Redwood City, Calif., Maserati Trofeo GranSport, 24, -1 lap.
31. GTS, (25), Roger Miller(R), Salt Lake City, Utah, Ford Mustang Boss 302S, 6, Crash.
32. GTS, (26), Brad Adams, New Orleans, La., Ford Mustang FR500 C, 6, Crash.
33. GTS, (22), Nick Esayian, San Diego, Calif., Acura TSX, 0, Crash.
34. GTS, (32), Brian Kleeman(R), Towson, Md., Nissan 370 Z, 0, DNS.
35. GTS, (34), Bill Ziegler, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Pontiac Solstice, 0, DNS.