Pobst, Cunningham and Wittmer take World Challenge wins at Toronto
For Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., and Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., the streets of Toronto only feel like home. For Montreal's Nick Wittmer, it almost is. Each won on Saturday at the Acura Sports Car Challenge, capturing the World Challenge Championships GT, GTS and Touring Car classes, respectively, Round Seven of 12 on the season.
Pobst set a new qualifying record and led every lap of the 33-lap, 57.915-mile race, averaging 69.574 mph in a race slowed by one caution for five laps. It wasn't without drama for Pobst, who appeared to be sailing away from the field after the standing start.
The No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 raced out to more than a three second lead after four laps, but had started to slightly fall back to the field. When the yellow flags flew to collect Greg Shaffer's No. 40 Go 4 It Racing/Hawk Volkswagen Jetta GLI Touring Car after contact with the wall on the front straight leaving the final corner, his mirrors were full of James Sofronas' No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3.
Sofronas hounded Pobst from the time the race went green again to start lap 14 until the checkered flag. Though the gap fluctuated as the two weaved through traffic, Pobst held off Sofronas for a 0.821-second margin of victory.
The win was the third of the season for Pobst and second win in two tries on the streets of Toronto in World Challenge, who also set a new race-lap record with a time of 1:15.513 (83.667 mph).
"It starts with a car that was extremely well set up by the K-Pax Racing team," Pobst said. "Will Moody, the engineer, is pretty brilliant. The car handled and drove extremely well. The interesting situation in World Challenge right now is that our Volvo, because of the advantage of the all-wheel drive, we weigh a lot more. The way it seems to be working out is that we can turn a really good qualifying lap and we seem to go strongly the first two or three laps and then the weight takes its toll. The tires get hot, the brakes get hot and it starts turning into a race. But, it is a great advantage to be first, because it's a lot easier to lead than to get around somebody.
"I owe Andy Pilgrim, my teammate, a great vote of thanks. He got a much better start than I did and was actually ahead of me going into (Turn) 1, and he let me through. After that, we seemed to have them covered so easily for about two laps. Then everything got hot and James started looking stronger and stronger and stronger and it turned into a race."
Sofronas' day started when the lights went out, moving from his fourth starting spot past Patrick Lindsey in the No. 57 Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3 before the field reached Turn 1. By the end of the first lap, he had also slipped past Andy Pilgrim in the No. 8 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 for second place and had his sights set on reeling in Pobst. Sofronas' two-position improvement on the first lap earned him the Optima Batteries' Best Standing Start award.
The restart helped close the gap, but the Newport Beach, Calif.-racer couldn't advance any further.
"The start went really well," Sofronas said. "We played with the launch control before the race and we nailed it and got ahead of Patrick [Lindsey]. We knew that, in order to beat the Volvos, you've got to get ahead of them early because they're so tough to pass when they launch out of the corners. But our GMG Porsche and the StopTech brakes really kept us in the hunt. I got a nice run on the back straight on the first lap and got around Andy. We both broke deep into Turn 1, and Andy being the professional that he is, I knew he'd give me room. I kind of squeezed on the outside and we just got through.
"I knew we had a good car to pace Randy, but here, as it was getting greasy and the cars were sliding around, you've really got to get off these corners to have any kind of chance to make a pass at the end of a straight. Where Randy would pull away out of the corners, our Porsche would actually brake really deep and catch up in the braking zone, and that's where I knew we had a chance. It was an accordion effect and with the traffic, it was a give and take. At the end, I could see Randy's car was pushing a little bit in some of the tight stuff. Our car was still running really strong. Without making a real dive-bomb move, it was going to be tough to get by Randy. He didn't make any mistakes and I didn't make any. It feels good to be in second. We've had an up-and-down year for my car, but the GMG guys do an amazing job. They're overworked and they do a fantastic job every race. I've been trying to get a good podium for them."
Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., started second and got a launch at the start that moved him alongside his teammate entering the first corner. After falling behind Sofronas later that lap, Pilgrim ran third until dropping behind Dino Crescentini in the No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 on lap 13 after the restart. Two laps later, he also fell behind Lindsey and looked to be headed in the wrong direction.
Lindsey got past Crescentini for third on lap 18, and Pilgrim did the same on lap 24 to move into fourth. Pilgrim made a pass on Lindsey for third in Turn Five on lap 29 and hung on for the final spot on the podium. That pass earned Pilgrim the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award.
The result snapped a three-race streak of finishes outside the top-10 for Pilgrim, who had been plagued with a variety of mechanical issues.
"It's really a team thing, now, because the guys are so great," Pilgrim said. "The K-Pax guys work their butts off and to get, basically, three DNFs in a row, it was just breaking their hearts. I mean they were just absolutely on their knees. The Volvo ran well today. I had to work to get back from fifth, back to fourth, back to third. I had a fun race. I really wanted to finish. I didn't care if I finished dead last, as long as I finished on the same laps as the leader, so I'm really happy with this."
Lindsey finished fourth and earned the MTM/Special Ops Watch Move of the Race for overtaking Crescentini, who went on to finish fifth.
Rob Morgan's No. 46 TruSpeed Motorsports/Querencia Porsche 911 GT3 was sandwiched between a pair of Woodhouse Performance Dodge Vipers in seventh, with Kuno Wittmer (No. 13 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Viper) in sixth and Jeff Courtney (No. 99 Kenda Tire Dodge Viper) in eighth.
Jason Daskalos (No. 5 Daskalos Developments Dodge Viper) finished ninth to become the third Dodge in the top 10, followed by the No. 29 Kleinschmidt/Blackdog Racing Chevrolet Corvette of Tony Gaples to complete the top 10.
Pobst extended both his Drivers' Championship lead and the Manufacturers' Championship lead for Volvo with the win. Pobst (788 points) now leads Wittmer (676), Crescentini (598), Sofronas (544) and Pilgrim (535) for individual title, with Volvo (51 points) leading Porsche (37) and Dodge (34) for the Manufacturers' crown.
Cunningham began Saturday with a World Challenge record 37th career pole position, and ended the day extending his own all-time wins mark to 36 with his GTS victory.
The No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX pulled away from the GTS field and the start, but was even again with Ernie Jakubowski's No. 91 Fuchs/CDOC/Forgeline Porsche Cayman S and teammate Nick Esayian's No. 34 Acura/RealTime Racing's Acura TSX on the restart. Jakubowski's restart put him just ahead of Cunningham at the line, but the veteran racer quickly pulled back to the point and began to get away.
Cunningham's lead was safe when Esayian tried to get to the inside of Jakubowski on lap 16 and the two made contact, with Jakubowski facing the wrong way on the track and Esayian sitting nose-to-nose with the Canadian driver. Jakubowski, of nearby Oakville, Ontario, would go on to finish second in the GTS class, while Esayian finished third.
"Our Acura was running very well to get the pole this morning," Cunningham said. "I've been kind of concerned about how my starts have been lately, but today I got a really good start, which was the only reason I was able to stay ahead of Ernie going into (Turn) 1. From there, I had things pretty well figured out, but then with the full-course yellow, you never know what's going to happen on those restarts. Again, I was able to get just a little bit of breathing room after a lap or so. From there, it was just a matter of dealing with the GT cars coming to put us a lap down and dealing with some of the Touring Car traffic and trying to put a lap on them and from there, just make it to the end. It was a good day for Acura."
Five-time World Challenge Champion Cunningham stretched his Drivers' Championship margin over Esayian to 121 points with the win. Acura also holds a commanding lead in the GTS Manufacturers' Championship.
RealTime Racing earned its second class win of the race with Nick Wittmer's No. 93 HPD/HondaRacing/RealTime Honda Civic Si. Wittmer, the younger brother of GT driver Kuno, raced away to a 6.053-second win in an action-packed Touring Car race.
Wittmer pulled away at the start in just his second World Challenge race this season after campaigning the same car on the streets of Long Beach. At the previous race, Wittmer sat on pole but finished third to Robert Stout and Eric Meyer. In Toronto, he reversed the roles, avoided trouble and kept the checkered flag in his native country.
"It was a good day for the HPD Honda Civic in Touring Car," said Cunningham, who in addition to his driving duties in GTS owns RealTime Racing. "For Nick to be able to get this win is exciting for him here in Toronto, especially when he also won the Canadian Touring Car race just after. We're very happy for him and his performance this weekend. All in all, it was a good weekend for RealTime and a great weekend for Honda and Acura at the Acura Sports Car Challenge."
The Touring Car action came deeper in the field, beginning on lap six when the Brett Sandberg's No. 28 Whitehall Stable Acura TSX tried to move to the inside of Stout's No. 18 DG-Spec/Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil Scion tC in Turn Three. Sandberg hit square into the Scion's passenger side door and raised onto his two right-side tires, landing back on the pavement with a thud. While Sandberg made it back to pitlane, it ended his day and dropped Stout back to seventh in Touring Car with bodywork damage to the right side of his car.
Using the help of the full course caution two laps later, Stout closed to the rear of the Touring Car field and picked his way back through until he was again third, behind Meyer's No. 32 XOWii Racing/Samaritan's Feet/Delvira Mazda RX-8.
Pushing Meyer on lap 23 and looking for a way by, Stout ran off the track into the runoff area at Turn eight and back onto the track. Still in third but with a gap too large to catch Meyer, the two held their positions until the checkered flag.
Michael Pettiford earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing six positions in the race in his No. 41 Go 4 It Racing Schools/Hawk Volkswagen Jetta GLI to finish fourth in Touring Car.
Shea Holbrook completed the top five to earn her best career finish in the No. 67 Autohaus/MD&F Honda Civic Si.
Stout continues to hold the Touring Car Drivers' Championship lead, 814-660 over Meyer. In the Manufacturers' Championship, Scion (54 points) leads Volkswagen (38), with Honda (28) closing the gap with a win and Mazda (26) contending largely on the strength of Meyer's finishes.
The World Challenge Championships return to action at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a doubleheader at the permanent road course, August 6-8.
For more information, please visit www.world-challenge.com
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