IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama – RACE 14
It was a story of redemption for both winning drivers in Thursday's Round 14 of the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama – Carlos Kauffmann (LEFT, PHOTO: Darren Pierson/DPerceptions.com), who moved from Gold Cup to Platinum Cup in 2011, took his long-awaited first victory while Michael Mills, after trying to put together a GT3 program for the entire season, earned his first series win in his first try.
For Kauffmann, it was as much relief as happiness to put his No. 24 NGT Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in the winner's circle. Since making the move at the start of the season to the more powerful Platinum Cup car, he has only two podium finishes at Road America – so this victory was that much more special, to his family as well as to him.
“My daughter is going to be so happy!” said Kauffmann. “She said to me, ‘You got so many first places last year, what happened in this one?' Finally I got one for her! We were both fast and when I was out in front, I just kept thinking how much I wanted to close out this year with pole positions and wins. It was unbelievable fun today! I was inspired, I wanted it so much.”
Teammate and Platinum Cup champion Henrique Cisneros chased Kauffmann all afternoon, unable to get close. Magnus Racing's John Potter, competing in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama while also trying to qualify for Petit Le Mans, finished third.
“Carlos was flying,” said Cisneros. “We had such a gap to the cars behind that I kept wondering why Carlos was pushing so hard!”
The Gold Cup title is decided as well, with 15-year-old Madison Snow taking the drivers' title. So the day was about the newcomer Mills, who had hoped to field a full-season entry in the series, only to see the opportunity slip by. Having Effort Motorsports and TaxMasters team together on his No. 41 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car would make the dream of standing on the series podium a reality – but first, there was the matter of getting around pole-sitter Snow (No. 62 Snow Racing) and keeping the hard charging Eduardo Cisneros (No. 29 NGT Motorsport) behind him.
“Eduardo got out in front and Madison closed in on him – and I closed in on both of them,” related Mills. “I got by Madison using a Platinum Cup car. I chased down Eduardo and got by him and never saw him again. I just held it out there. But I really want to thank my guys – we'd planned to do a full season but had the rug pulled out from under us and were only able to do this race, because of Effort Racing. We're really happy to be here!”
Seth Davidow, driving the No. 77 Topp Racing Porsche, earned the Yokohama Hard Charger award for his move from a 17th place starting position overall to finish 11th overall.
When the dust cleared – literally – after 25 laps of hard racing, Carlos Kauffmann had completed the weekend victory double while Madison Snow put the exclamation point on an amazing championship season in Round 15 of the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, part of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Kauffmann, driving the No. 24 NGT Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, started from the pole position and kept teammate and Platinum Cup champion Henrique Cisneros behind him to take his second win of the weekend. Cisneros tried to get close to Kauffmann, only to spin in Turn 10 late in the race. Cisneros managed to collect himself quickly enough to stay ahead of Kelly Moss Motorsports' Rob Walton, who finished behind Cisneros for his first podium of the year.
Most of the action happened behind the top three, with several drivers spinning as the track got increasingly slicker. Muscle Milk's Mark Bullitt was running in fourth when he spun and finished 10th, good enough to earn him third place in the year-end driver's championship. Fernando Peña survived his own on-track incident to finish 14th in the race and second in the championship.
But the day belonged to Kauffmann, who enjoyed ending the season-long victory drought – and enjoyed duking it out with his teammate.
“Finally, again!” said Kauffmann. “The race was actually pretty quiet for me. Being alone in front is not really what I enjoy about racing, but winning makes it so gratifying! I had no expectations for these races and tried to accomplish what I didn't do all year long. I got my speed again and my confidence, so I have decided to come back and do GT3 again next year!”
“Carlos and I were having a lot of fun out there,” said Cisneros. “Whenever he was faster than me, he would slow a little bit so I would catch up – he was messing with me the whole time. At one point, he let off too much and I went in for a pass, hit the kitty litter and spun. As I was facing the wrong way on the track, I saw Rob Walton coming, so I gunned it out of there to keep second.”
15-year-old Madison Snow capped off his first year in the series by taking his sixth victory in spectacular fashion. Starting fifth in the Gold Cup class and 18th overall, Snow took advantage of an incident at the green flag that collected four cars (including Eduardo Cisneros and Mitch Landry, second and third in the Gold Cup championship) to take the Gold Cup lead – in eighth place overall.
Snow, driving the No. 62 Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, lost the lead briefly to Thursday's race winner Michael Mills (No. 41 Effort Motorsports/TaxMasters) but finished the race on top.
“I had a really good start,” understated Snow. “I was going through everybody, trying to get as many positions as I could. I worked my way up, just trying to stay in the lead so I didn't have to battle anybody. Mike got by me, then I got back by when we ran into lapped traffic. I was driving really hard the whole time – with the championship done, I came here to have fun, and I won!”
“That was a pretty crazy race,” said Mills. “There was a lot of confusion out there. I think if I'd had one more lap, I could have gotten him, but it just didn't go my way today – and once you win them, you want them all the time! But we got a first and a second, so I can't complain. We're just happy to be here!”
Snow earned the Yokohama Hard Charger award for his move from fifth to first in Gold Cup class.
IMSA COOPER TIRES PROTOTYPE LITES – RACE 13
16-year-old Atlanta native Sean Rayhall (LEFT, PHOTO: Darren Pierson/DPerceptions.com) led the speed charts all week and backed it up in the race Thursday, taking his first victory in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship in dominating fashion, winning from the pole position by a margin of over 10 seconds.
Rayhall, driving the No. 77 Comprent Motorsports/SCCA Élan DP02, kept the field in his mirrors through the entire 21-lap event. Behind him, the battle raged for the remaining positions, with 15-year-old Tristan Nunez, returning to the series after finishing second in his first and only event at Sebring, finishing second from his fifth place starting position. And, yes, the combined ages of the top two finishers are of note – it adds up to a whopping 31.
“The key was to be good on cold tires,” said Rayhall. “The team gave me a great car to be able to do that. There was great competition behind me, with Nunez and my teammate (Jonathan Gore, No.14) coming in third, so it was a good podium for us! It's a great debut for me, with no real moments. But you give it all you've got and really push it no matter how big a lead you have – there's no relaxation out there!”
Nunez had his share of moments during the week, as a shunt in practice Tuesday resulted in an engine fire in his No. 8 Performance Tech Élan DP02. The car that remains looks like an amalgam of every car Performance tech has – but it doesn't have to be pretty to be good.
“I started fifth and got shuffled back two spots at the start,” said Nunez. “I made up a spot in Turn 6 on a restart and just worked my way up from there, pushing harder than I really ever have before. I got up to second but couldn't get to Sean, he was too fast. I had a bit of a fire on Tuesday, which spooked me a little bit, but I was back in the car the next day doing fast laps. These cars are really fast, I love these cars!”
In the Lites 1 championship battle, leader Ricardo Vera finished fourth, with second and third in the title chase, Antonio Downs and Gore, finishing sixth and third, respectively, on the track, so the championship would go down to the final race on Friday.
In Lites 2, with champion Robert Sabato on the sidelines after Tuesday's practice crash, his 6th Gear teammates Michal Chlumecky and Max De Angelis took on Level 5 Motorsports' Scott Tucker for the race win, with Tucker coming out on top, Chlumecky second and De Angelis third.
“I got a great restart,” said Chlumecky, as Tucker headed to his GT3 car (doing the IMSA development series double dip again this weekend). “I got stuck behind a bunch of L1s, which is my own fault. Scott ran a fantastic race and once he got away, I couldn't reel him in. But tomorrow's another day!”
With a championship on the line, it was expected that Friday's last round of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship would be a wild finish to the season. But as Ricardo Vera secured the Lites 1 title in his rookie year, two teenagers conducted an 18-lap shootout for the race victory that had fans on the edge of their seats, in Round 14 of the Lites championship, part of the Petit Le Mans weekend at Road Atlanta.
In the end, 16-year-old Atlanta native Sean Rayhall had the lead when the checkered came out, having exchanged that lead with 15-year-old Tristan Nunez no fewer than four times. In Lites 2, Level 5 Motorsports' Scott Tucker won from the pole for the fourth straight race, with Michal Chlumecky second to clinch the third spot in the L2 driver's championship.
Rayhall, driving the No. 77 Comprent Motorsports/SCCA Élan DP02, has driven Road Atlanta often – local knowledge that helped him win yesterday's event going away. But Nunez, behind the wheel of the No.8 Performance Tech entry, wasn't letting Rayhall get any kind of a gap today.
“Wild is an understatement,” said Rayhall. “It was controlled chaos. But it was a lot of fun – Tristan gave me a run today. Comprent gave me a great car, though I was having problems with the RPMs that affected my shifting. But it's all about how you bounce back, and we bounced back hard today! It was a great debut for me. It was great racing against Tristan – I can't wait to race with him again!”
“I started P2 and was able to get a run on him going into turn two,” said Nunez. “But then the first caution came out and I knew it would be close with him right behind me. He made a pop in Turn 1 on the restart and I was fighting hard to keep up with him. We got up to a lapped car and I was able to get around him in Turn 1, until we caught another lapped car and he got me on the outside in Turn 10 – which is pretty impressive. It was a great race.”
For the 18-year-old Vera, the championship brings many awards, not the least of which is a test session in the Dyson-Mazda LMP car. To win the title in his rookie season means a great deal to the youngster.
“The team gave me a great car all year,” said Vera. “I'm really happy to have won the championship! I knew that with the lead I had, all I had to do was finish near the top. It's been great racing against everyone this year.”
Tucker, driving the No. 5 Level 5 Motorsports West WR1000 heading out immediately to jump into his LMPC car for the ALMS morning practice, appreciated that chance to get into the Lites 2 car and experience the tight racing the series is known for.
“That was a close one,” said Tucker. “Mike was coming on strong and I knew I didn't have anything for him. I'm fortunate for the result – this is great racing. It's a good concept, a good format and we're really pleased to be a part of it.
Chlumecky (No. 30 6th Gear Racing) finished ahead of teammate Max De Angelis to take the third spot in the title chase ahead of De Angelis. Rookie Alan Wilzig (No. 15 Wilzig Racing) finished fourth on the day and second in the drivers' championship.