SEBRING, Fla. (Mar. 17, 2006) - Michael McCann, of North Canton, Ohio, earned the first win of his SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge career, taking the SCCA SPEED GT portion of the 54th Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by 11.571 seconds in his No. 82 McCann Plastics/K&N Filters Dodge Viper. Reigning SPEED GT Drivers' Champion Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., was second for the third year in a row at Sebring, and Bob Woodhouse, of Blair, Neb., finished third – the highest finish of his SCCA SPEED World Challenge career.-30-
Admitting on St. Patrick"s Day in the post-race press conference that he was, in fact, Irish, McCann caught a lucky break before the 20-lap, 74-mile race even began as polesitter Leighton Reese, of Minnetonka, Minn., sustained a mechanical failure with his No. 6 Banner Engineering Chevrolet Corvette as the field began its formation lap.
Unable to continue, Reese vacated the top spot on the grid, leaving McCann as the only car on the front row when the race started.
McCann took advantage of that opportunity, and then battled Lou Gigliotti’s No. 28 LG Pro Long Tube Headers Chevrolet Corvette C6. Gigliotti took the point on lap two and looked to be on his way to victory until lap 15, when a plume of smoke trailed the right exhaust bank of the Corvette, and Gigliotti’s day was done. From there, McCann never looked back, driving away for his first win, averaging a record 100.406 mph.
"I think I’m more Irish today than I’ve ever been,” McCann said. “You work so hard to put yourself in this position, to get to the podium. Sometimes, you need a lot. You need some luck. Sometimes you need the big guy upstairs to shine on you, and he shined on me today.
“The car was good right out of the box, and at the start of the race when Leighton disappeared on the out lap, I just assumed he’d be catching up anytime, and then he didn’t come.
“It didn’t take Lou long to get on my butt, and he was fast. It was a shame, I’m assuming he had a motor problem or something, but he ended up getting by me, and I followed him. I had some advice from a friend [Pilgrim] to just be cool because it’s a long race, and I did. I stayed on him, he started making a few mistakes, getting a little loose. I said 'just stay here, you’ve got a long ways to go. Keep the tires under you.’ I did that and the car was fantastic at the end of the race.
“It was just fortunate that I ended up pulling my weight today.”
Pilgrim began his 2006 season in the same manner that his SPEED GT Drivers’ Championship-winning 2005 played out – running a consistent race and finishing high. Being close to another win but not getting it, Pilgrim said, might be more of an issue if he didn’t have some already impressive credentials.
“If I hadn’t already won a Championship where you win seven out of ten races, which I have, and eight poles out of ten races, which I did…luckily last year was my fifth professional championship, so if I hadn’t won other championships, I might think about it. But having won when you’ve got either a superior car or just had a great year, and then doing it the way I did last year, it’s very cool to have that way on the resume.”
Pilgrim also said that his consistency was due, in part, to Team Cadillac’s race strategy.
“We have to be really smooth in the first five laps,” Pilgrim said. “And at the middle, if you don’t get a lot of pressure [from other competitors], you can save your tires in the middle of the race. I really wasn’t pressured through the middle of the race, and although I had nothing for Mike, I knew Bob was sort of catching me a little bit, but I was trying to save the tires until the last five laps.
“Then the crew just told me to push, push, push, push because Bob was less than four seconds behind me. So, I was able to run a little bit quicker to the end.”
Woodhouse, in the No. 13 Woodhouse Auto Family Dodge Viper, earned the B&M Oil Coolers “Cool Move of the Race” when he overtook James Sofronas on Lap 14 for third and was all smiles after the race. He said that his Friday performance made the struggles that he and his team had endured the past few seasons worth it.
“It feels great, really great,” Woodhouse said. “In my mind right now, reflecting back over when we started World Challenge about three years ago, the first race, the gentleman who won today and myself were both totaled in a race. Since then, there have been a few more times where you wondered if you’re doing the right thing. Now it’s easy to say yes. This is awesome.
“I think we ran together the whole race,” Woodhouse said in reference to his battle with Sofronas. “He was doing a great job, wasn’t making any mistakes. I kept coming up on him, and we came into Corner One and I thought ‘Yeah, it’s time.’ So, I came in on the inside of him on Corner One, and…he’s a very respectful driver, very respectful. I’d love to go again with him.”
Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., was fourth in his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 after starting ninth, and rookie Lawson Aschenbach, of Gaithersburg, Md., finished fifth in the No. 66 AXA Financial Porsche 911 GT3. His performance earned the 22-year old driver the Piloti Rookie of the Race Award.
Another rookie, Brett Pearson, of Orlando, Fla., won the Sunoco Hard Charger Award, finishing 13th in the No. 77 Ventex Corp./Pearson Motorsport Dodge Viper after starting 31st.
The SCCA SPEED GT race, part of the 54th Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, will be broadcast on SPEED Channel at 4 p.m. (EST) Sunday, March 19.
Round Two of the 2006 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships is set for March 31-April 2 at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
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