Alex Figge (GT) completed a weekend sweep while Lawson Aschenbach (GTS) took a pivotal win in Round 12 of the Pirelli World Challenge 2013 season, at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by StopTech Brakes. It was a dramatic race for both classes as the championship battles intensify.
Alex Figge (GT) and Lawson Aschenbach (GTS) take Mid-Ohio Sunday wins. (Weber/PWC)
Figge, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, led flag-to-flag from the Motul pole position off of the series' traditional standing start. He had to work for the win because what was a big lead from the outset quickly shrunk as Figge lapped through GTS traffic all race.
Teammate Randy Pobst in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 pushed Figge relentlessly and got within a few tenths of a second the second half of the 30-lap race. Although he was unable to make a passing attempt, he was able to help complete K-PAX Racing's first 1-2 sweep of 2013.
For Figge, it was his third win this season and second in as many days at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile flowing road course. Asked about his success at the track, Figge responded with “It's a hard question to answer because we've led a lot this year. I feel like we deserved a few early. Mid-Ohio is good for these cars. It's a place I have driven a lot in my career in open wheel cars. My success here is a combination of experience, a good car, clicking with my new engineer and a slightly different team structure. And we got real lucky today in traffic.”
And on if the weather today and being able to run out front helped:
"Absolutely no question. When we run out front the car is night and day different as far as power goes with the temperature being down with the turbo. At tracks like Lime Rock and the temperatures we had there at 105 degrees we struggle more in conditions like that.”
As in Round 11 on Saturday, the biggest battle on track was for third place. Scoring a crucial podium finish was James Sofronas in the No. 14 GMG/Swisher Racing/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS.
Sofronas drove a hard and determined race to hold off a snarling pack behind him, which included all three Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.Rs, GMG teammate Duncan Ende in the No. 24 STANDD.org/Merchant Services Audi R8 LMS and Mike Skeen in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette.
What Sofronas' car lacked in top-end, straight line speed it more than made up for in the corners, and as the race went caution-free for the second day in a row, it allowed the Audi to get its Pirelli tires up to optimal working temperatures. None of the cars behind him was able to get past, even through traffic.
The result, coupled with Johnny O'Connell's retirement from crash damage to his radiator, promoted Sofronas to within 13 points of the GT championship lead with two races remaining in 2013. O'Connell, in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, pitted on Lap 15 and retired shortly thereafter to be classified 11th in GT.
“The GMG Audi guys prepped an awesome car and I ran it flat out today at 100 per cent,” said Sofronas. “Having Johnny behind me is a daunting situation, but I relish the opportunity to run against top shelf guys. My guys said put your head down and make it happen and then we had some contact at the back-end of the track and the next thing I knew Johnny was in the pits. I had nothing for the Volvos to catch them so I just wanted to maintain my position to get some points. It's gotta be close now going into Sonoma and now the fans have a really good GT championship to follow.”
The intense battle behind Sofronas ended with Andy Pilgrim in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R fourth just edging Skeen at the finish line. Skeen made a passing attempt on the outside of the final left-hand kink leading onto the front straight, hitting the gravel, but maintaining control. Ende finished just behind them in sixth.
In GTS, Aschenbach in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, led flag-to-flag and had a margin of victory of more than a lap, but that was due to the GT leaders getting in-between him and second place. The win is Aschenbach's fifth of 2013, and also his fifth consecutive podium finish.
The GTS class race got off to a frantic start as Aschenbach got a great launch from third on the grid past the two Kinetic Motorsports Kia Optimas in front of him. The move around the Kias at the outset netted Aschenbach the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.
“We've had good starts all year. We've been able to get off the line and I was able to get by Mark (Wilkins) getting into Turn 1 and then I followed Nic and then I was able to get by him,” said Aschenbach.
Behind him, two cars had to take evasive action when Craig Capaldi in the No. 69 Wolverine Bronze Company Ford Mustang stalled on the grid. Rookie Jim Taggar in the No. 61 Lotus USA/Taggart Autosport/LRR Lotus Exige and Lucas Ordonez, in the No. 53 Nissan GT Academy/Motul/SPL Nissan 370Z, each spun to avoid the stalled Capaldi. They resumed without any contact and without the race being stopped for a full-course caution.
Aschenbach was able to skate away while Motul polesitter Nic Jonsson, in the No. 36 DonorsChoose.org Kia Optima turbo, was an early retirement due to mechanical issues.
“We learned a little bit yesterday during the first race of the weekend,” added Aschenbach. “We lost two sessions this weekend so we were kinda going in a bit blind. So yesterday (in Round 11) the car wasn't quite the way I wanted it so after the race my engineer Mark and I sat down and hashed through a bunch of things and today the set up was just spot on. I think we honestly had a third place car today but fortunately I was able to get out front and with traffic I was able to stretch out a lead. I am a bit surprised today but very happy to take the win.”
Jonsson's teammate Mark Wilkins in the No. 38 B.R.A.K.E.S. Kia Optima turbo, like Sofronas in GT, drove as hard as humanly possible to keep a pack of faster cars behind him. But unlike Sofronas, he was unable to hold off his rivals.
First, Peter Cunningham in the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, was able to sneak past on lap 27 at Turn 2, “the Keyhole.” Cunningham had got into that position in the first place after passing Baldwin for third on lap 20, at Turn 4, to secure the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race.
Then two laps later, and crucially for the GTS championship, Baldwin made it past Wilkins for third. That dropped Wilkins to fourth with Andy Lee fifth in the No. 20 Best IT/Bondurant/Crown Seven Chevrolet Camaro after an uneventful race.
Of note, Steve Doherty, took home the Sunoco Hard Charger Award after gaining nine spots (26th to 17th) from his grid position in the No. 09 Nissan GT Academy 370Z. Robert Stout in the No. 86 Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil/E3 Spark Plug Scion FR-S gained 10 positions on the start to win the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start, but he retired after three laps.
Points are provisional as O'Connell leads Sofronas by 13 points, 1278-1265 in GT. Pilgrim has 1139 and is third, with Pobst fourth on 1125. In GTS, Baldwin leads Wilkins by 87 points (1261-1174) with Aschenbach third on 1156.
The next round for Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS will be Round 13 at Sonoma on Aug. 25.