Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., got a great launch at the start in his all-wheel drive No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and never looked back, cruising to his ninth-career SPEED World Challenge GT win at Road Atlanta, part of the Toyo Tires Road Atlanta Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network. Eric Curran, of East Hampton, Mass., and Championship point leader Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, Calif., completed the podium.
Pilgrim leads the field to the finish line (Shaun Lumley image)
At the race start, Pilgrim's Volvo looked like it was shot out of a cannon. The Volvo's launch was magnified by the fact that Curran's No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette, which was right in front of Pilgrim, did not move at the start. This allowed Pilgrim to take the early lead – a lead he would never relinquish. He won by 6.467-seconds over Curran at an average speed of 103.168 mph.
“The start was just how the Volvo should go,” Pilgrim said. “I had just enough room to get by Eric [Curran] without dropping my tires on the left side. Eric didn't move. I don't think he got a very good start. I thought, if Eric got a good start, he would cover the middle, so I was already going to go left. I went left and I was gone. I could not believe how good the start was.
“Luckily, Eric kind of used up his tires running down Brandon [Davis]. He [Curran] really wasn't in my mirrors and then started coming. He got up to Brandon. He took Brandon and I was thinking I can't go any faster. I was sliding all over the place. The car was starting to go away. I said 'I can't go any faster guys – he's coming.' Then his tires went off and I put a gap on him. It was great to get the win. The K-PAX Racing guys did a great job all weekend.”
Once underway, Curran had already fallen from second to fifth by the end of lap one. Undaunted by his poor start, Curran started to pick off cars one-by-one. First, he had to get by the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Mecedes-Benz SLR 722 GT driven by Spencer Pumpelly, of Suwanee, Ga., which took two and half laps. Two laps later, he passed James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 for third.
The next pass Curran looked to make was on Davis in the No. 10 Applied Comp Solutions/SunMirco Ford Mustang GT. It took him seven laps to get it done, but by this time, Curran had used a lot of his tires. In fact, Curran set the Débaufré fastest race lap, with a 1:27.937 (103.983 mph), in the process. Pilgrim could see Curran coming, but Curran couldn't catch him and had to settle for second. It was Curran's 19th-career World Challenge podium.
“We've been playing with traction control a lot here trying to get it right,” Curran said about his slow start. “We screwed up because we had no launch control at all. That thing just burned its wheels right at the start. I did not move at all. It was disappointing because we fell back a number of spots. I had to push back through.
“We had a good car. The number 30 Whelen Chevrolet Corvette was just awesome today. Midway through the race, I just pushed so hard that I ran the tires off of it. That all-wheel drive car does not slide around like these rear-drive cars do. If anybody watches this TV show they will see me sideways in a lot of corners. I tried everything I had. The Whelen guys did a fabulous job. They worked hard all weekend.”
Looking at the big Championship point picture, Davis did not try to force the issue today. He knew his new Ford Mustang GT did not have enough to stay with the front running Volvo and Curran's Corvette. With that in mind, he was content to run hard enough for a podium finish, but not too hard as to make a mistake that would cost him a shot at the GT Championship.
“Eric is a good friend of mine and I know he is going to race me clean, but at the time I let him by, we had 20 laps to go and I was not going to be able to hold him down that long,” Davis said of Curran's pass on him. “[If I didn't let him go] I was probably going to slow myself up. We just didn't have the pace today. When you come to that realization, it was just about saving the car and being there at the end. It feels good to come away with a podium finish and look towards Laguna with the points lead.”
Tony Rivera, of Missouri City, Texas, who finished fourth, was engaged in an epic side-by-side battle with NASCAR star Boris Said, of Carlsbad, Calif. Both drivers swapped paint several times before Rivera finally got a run on Said coming down the hill in Turn 12 and made it stick. This move earned Rivera the AutoWeek Move of the Race.
With four laps remaining, Sofronas made a late race pass on Said to finish fifth, while Said finished sixth.
Jeff Courtney, of Slinger, Wis., was the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing five positions throughout the race and finished seventh. Tony Gaples, of Libertyville, Ill., Dino Crescentini, of Manhanttan Beach, Calif., and Pumpelly completed the top-10 respectively.
Davis continues to lead the World Challenge GT Drivers' Championship, with 919 points. He is followed by Rivera (857), Sofronas (805), Pilgrim (771) and Curran (719). Porsche continues to lead in the Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine. Porsche has 58 points, Ford 49, Volvo 41, Chevrolet 40, and Viper 18.
Friday's SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Toyo Tires Road Atlanta Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network will air Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. (EST). The series next heads west to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the season finale, Oct. 9-11.