Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., opened up the 2010 World Challenge GT season with a flag-to-flag win at the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., and Todd Buras, of Daytona Beach, Fla., won in the GTS and Touring Car classes, respectively.
Starting from the overall pole in the first combined-class World Challenge race since 1999, Pobst received a pre-race gift when second-qualifying Dino Crescentini's No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 headed to the pits on the formation lap with an electrical issue. With his No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo alone on the front row, Pobst rocketed away from the standing start and never looked back, taking a 1.189-second win over teammate Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla. James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., finished third.
Pobst averaged 72.367 mph over the 33-lap, 59.4-mile race that was slowed by one caution to retrieve a disabled car. It was Pobst's 23rd-career World Challenge win, tying him for third all-time with Michael Galati.
"It was all about the K-Pax racing team and the work they did all winter on our Volvo S60s," Pobst said of the run. "We had very little test time, because they worked their butts off all winter. We just got the cars together a week or two ago. We're just thrilled, this was really just our test session today. The St. Petersburg Grand Prix circuit suits our car really well, because the Volvo is all-wheel drive. The straights are short, the corners are tight, and we're just monsters through the back sections. The Porsches gave us a real battle, and St. Petersburg is my kind of place. I've won the last three races I've run here in hot World Challenge action."
Unlike previous years where traffic was not a major factor in the racing, the multi-class format never quite allowed anyone to break away from the pack, and Pobst had his mirror filled for most of the race by the similar No. 8 K-Pax Volvo S60 of Pilgrim. In the closing laps, the duo circulated nose-to-tail.
"There's no team orders, but I told Randy before the race that if he was out front, don't worry about me," Pilgrim said. "We're going to have to run hard enough to worry about everyone else. He didn't make any mistakes. Randy almost got nailed in traffic, but other than that it was 'don't hit your teammate, and try to stay ahead of Jason [Daskalos], first, and then James [Sofronas].'"
Sofronas started third, but ran fourth for much of the race in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 behind the Volvos and Jason Daskalos' Dodge Viper. On the lap-16 restart, Sofronas made his bid for third, pulling off the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
Daskalos was later forced to pit due to a fluid leak. That promoted 10th-starting Brian Kubinski to fourth in his No. 2 Carlisle Companies Chevrolet Corvette, a position he held for four laps before the No. 57 Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3 of Patrick Lindsey worked his way by to finish fourth.
Kuno Wittmer (Dodge Viper) recovered from a flat tire to finish sixth, followed by Tony Rivera (Nissan GT-R), who ran in the top five for most of the day, Rob Morgan (Porsche 911 GT3), Tony Gaples (Chevrolet Corvette) and Jeff Courtney (Dodge Viper).
In GTS, Cunningham also went flag-to-flag for his record 33rd World Challenge victory in the No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, topping Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, Calif., by 2.695 seconds.
Cunningham led Nick Esayian's No. 34 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX from the standing start but it was Davis who charged from last overall on the grid after missing qualifying. The 2009 GT Champion was nominated this morning to drive the No. 1 Acura/RealTime Acura TSX. The caution period allowed Davis to close some real estate on Cunningham, but he couldn't ever get close enough to mount a serious challenge.
"We weren't sure how the competition was going to be," Cunningham said of the newly-created GTS class. "The Honda Civic of Kevin Helms was very quick. It started with Helms getting in front of my teammate, and I watched to see how that would unfold. The whole first half, I was pacing the car and trying to save because I was waiting to see what it was going to be like if it was all green. After the yellow, my new and old teammate Brandon [Davis] - who came in at the last minute and started from the back, rocketed through the field and was not going to hand it to me on a platter and keep me honest. Fortunately, he got caught up in some other traffic and I had just a little bit of breathing room to the end."
It was a RealTime Racing top-three sweep after Helms' No. 04 DBA/Carbotech/AST/Exedy Honda Civic Si retired from competition with a steering issue on lap six. Michael Pettiford and Tom Lepper finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in their Pontiac Solstice GXPs.
The first race under new Touring Car regulations delivered a first-time race winning driver and manufacturer. Buras started his No. 49 Irish Mike's Racing Volkswagen Jetta GLI second on the grid and, unlike Pobst and Cunningham's runs, had to fight his way to the front.
Overshooting his pit box approaching the standing start, Buras, making his series debut, backed his car up slightly to get into position. To his dismay, and that of everyone behind him, when the lights went out, the car went backwards.
"The car in front of me decided he wanted to start from pit lane and I pulled up to his spot," Buras recalled. "I've never done a standing start, and the guy was telling me to 'back up, back up.' I was looking at the starting board, and finally realized I had to back up. So I backed up, and I'm looking at the board because the five second mark was out. I thought here we go, and I revved it up and let go of the clutch and I shot backward. I hit the brakes, tried to get it in first, and shot backwards again.
"At that point, I just threw my hands up and waited for the big crash. Eric Meyer did a great job to avoid me and I threw it in first and went."
Once moving forward, Buras was seven cars behind polesitter Mark Hein's No. 38 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Honda Civic Si, but charged through the field to put himself into position to take the lead on the lap-16 restart. From there, he was able to slowly pull out a gap as Hein and Robert Stout's No. 18 DG-Spec/Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil Scion tC battled behind him.
"I thought I was way behind, and when I started catching up, [Hein] started speeding up," Buras said. "I think he was saving his stuff from the get go. I thought he had cooled off and we were in trouble. I don't know what happened, but he slowed up a little bit through the corner which allowed me to close that gap a little. I just went deep into the corner to get by. We went through those corners nose-to-tail, real close, but he raced me clean.
"I've got to think VW for their support. The GT and GTS drivers, take your hat off to them. When you're ten seconds faster a lap, it comes up fast. It's pretty scary being passed by a car that much faster, but they did a great job, especially on these streets of St. Pete."
The Hein/Stout battle ended with a flat tire for Hein, promoting Stout's teammate, Dan Gardner, to third in the No. 36 DG-Spec/Scion/TRD/Lepper & Associates Scion tC.
Stout was awarded the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race avoiding Hein, who spun with the flat tire. Gardner captured the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing nine positions overall in the race.
Brett Sandberg finished fourth in his Acura TSX, followed by Eric Meyer, in a Mazda RX-8.
Alexander Lvov, of Russia, earned the Optima Batteries Start of the Race Award for advancing five positions on the standing start. He later retired with a mechanical issue in his Honda GMS Honda Civic Si.
The teams have the night to prepare for Sunday's Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg Round Two race, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.
Both races will be broadcast April 18 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on Versus.
Results from Saturday's 33-lap, 59.4-mile World Challenge Championship Round One race, the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg, with finishing position, class, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps, distance behind winner and reason out (if any).
1. GT, (1), Randy Pobst, Gainesville, Ga., Volvo S60, 33.
2. GT, (4), Andy Pilgrim, Boca Raton, Fla., Volvo S60, 33, -1.189.
3. GT, (3), James Sofronas, Newport Beach, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 33, -2.645.
4. GT, (8), Patrick Lindsey, Santa Barbara, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 33, -12.637.
5. GT, (10), Brian Kubinski, Shorewood, Ill., Chevrolet Corvette, 33, -13.713.
6. GT, (6), Kuno Wittmer, Montreal, QC, Dodge Viper, 33, -16.503.
7. GT, (7), Tony Rivera, Missouri City, Texas, Nissan GT-R, 33, -24.143.
8. GT, (11), Rob Morgan, Costa Mesa, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 33, -30.104.
9. GT, (13), Tony Gaples, Libertyville, Ill., Chevrolet Corvette, 33, -35.127.
10. GT, (12), Jeff Courtney, Milwaukee, Wis., Dodge Viper, 33, -39.516.
11. GT, (15), Charles Morgan, Dallas, Texas, Porsche 911 GT3, 33, -1:04.556.
12. GT, (5), Jason Daskalos, Albuquerque, N.M., Dodge Viper, 32, -1 lap.
13. GTS, (17), Peter Cunningham, Milwaukee, Wis., Acura TSX, 32, -1 lap.
14. GTS, (31), Brandon Davis, Huntington Beach, Calif., Acura TSX, 32, -1 lap.
15. GTS, (18), Nick Esayian, San Diego, Calif., Acura TSX, 32, -1 lap.
16. TC, (23), Todd Buras(R), Daytona Beach, Fla., Volkswagen Jetta GLI, 31, -2 laps.
17. GTS, (20), Michael Pettiford, Louisville, Colo., Pontiac Solstice GXP, 31, -2 laps.
18. TC, (24), Robert Stout(R), Brownsburg, Ind., Scion tC, 31, -2 laps.
19. TC, (28), Dan Gardner(R), Hermosa Beach, Calif., Scion tC, 30, -3 laps.
20. TC, (27), Brett Sandberg(R), Allendale, N.J., Acura TSX, 30, -3 laps.
21. TC, (25), Eric Meyer(R), Indianapolis, Ind., Mazda RX-8, 30, -3 laps.
22. TC, (29), Shea Holbrook(R), Groveland, Fla., Acura Integra R, 30, -3 laps.
23. TC, (22), Mark Hein, Clearwater, Fla., Honda Civic Si, 28, Tire.
24. TC, (26), Alexander Lvov, Russia, Honda Civic Si, 20, Mech.
25. GT, (16), Fred Roberts(R), Toronto, Ontario, Dodge Viper, 10, Clutch.
26. GT, (2), Dino Crescentini, Manhattan Beach, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3, 10, Elect.
27. GTS, (21), Tom Lepper(R), Benicia, Calif., Pontiac Solstice GXP, 9, Elect.
28. GTS, (19), Kevin Helms(R), Charlotte, N.C., Honda Civic Si, 6, Steering.
29. TC, (30), Tony Wedderburn(R), Miami, Fla., Chevrolet Cobalt SS, 6, Mech.
30. GT, (9), Steve Ott(R), Houston, Texas, Nissan GT-R, 1, Crash.
31. GT, (14), William Ziegler, Jacksonville, Fla., Porsche 911 GT3, 1, Crash.
Time of race: 49 minutes, 14.907 seconds.
Average speed: 72.367 mph
Margin of victory: 1.189 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-33, #6 Randy Pobst
Fastest race lap: #8 Andy Pilgrim, 1:20.370 (80.627 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #6 Randy Pobst, 1:18.962 (82.064 mph)
Cautions: One for three laps
Optima Best Standing Start: #9 Alexander Lvov
Sunoco Hard Charger: #36 Dan Gardner
Invisible Glass Clean Pass: #14 James Sofronas
MTM Special Ops Best Move: #18 Robert Stout
Attached: Todd Buras scored VW's first World Challenge win (Weber Image)