On a warm and humid afternoon at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Randy Pobst and Peter Cunningham scored their first Pirelli World Challenge Championships class victories since earlier this spring, while Touring Car points leader Michael Cooper added another victory to his total in Saturday's first half of the Cadillac Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by StopTech doubleheader.
Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., took a flag-to-flag GT victory after starting from the pole position in his No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. The first two thirds of the race were fairly comfortable for Pobst, as his teammate, Alex Figge, of Denver, Colo., ran in second place. However, the final seven laps were somewhat more stressful, as Figge pulled off course with a mechanical problem and gave way to a three-car Cadillac Racing freight train.
“It changed the complexion of the race completely,” said Pobst. “To have a buffer, a friendly guy – I knew he was going to pass me if I messed up or if I got blocked in traffic real bad – but our primary job is for Volvo to get all the points we can. It was great to get out there 1-2. It just felt so good for this K-PAX team after all the work they've done. When he went out, it was a whole new race. The Cadillacs were strong at the end of the race. They run significantly lighter than we do, because they don't have the all-wheel drive, and they're good at the end of a race. I could pull off the corner better with the all-wheel drive traction, but they're a little better on the way in and under braking and it just made for great competition.”
Pobst managed to keep the Cadillacs in his rearview mirror and went on to win by 2.912 seconds ahead of Jordan Taylor in the No. 5 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. It was Pobst's first GT victory since taking the win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May and was the 28th of his World Challenge career. He is now one behind Pierre Kleinubing for second place in World Challenge career victories.
Making his first World Challenge start, Taylor, of Apopka, Fla., moved to the front of the Cadillac queue from his fourth-place starting position at the drop of the green flag, just behind Figge and right ahead of teammates Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim. He spent the duration of the race looking for an opportunity to pounce, and Figge's mechanical problem earned the Kia Turning Point of the Race Award, but it would not be enough to allow Taylor a shot at Pobst.
“We got a good start, got up to third, and basically held that spot for a while,” Taylor said. “Once we got in traffic, I couldn't believe how hectic it was with the TC and the GTS cars. I guess the name of the game was keeping it clean and keeping it up front in good track position. I think Figge had a problem and dropped out, and we just had a solid car and ran to the end.”
Following Taylor across the line was GT points leader Johnny O'Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., who had another solid points day with a third-place run in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. Unofficially, O'Connell now leads Pilgrim by 181 points, 1,181-1,000, with two races remaining on the 2012 schedule. However, O'Connell admitted after the race that he wasn't necessarily ‘points racing' on Saturday.
“The car was very, very good,” said O'Connell. “I wish positions had been swapped between Jordan and I, because there were some times where I would have liked to have had a go at things, but your most important thing is your manufacturers' championship and protecting that, so we're pretty excited about things.”
Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., wound up fourth in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, while James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., finished fifth in the No. 14 GMG/Swisher Racing Audi R8. Sofronas earned the Cadillac CTS-V Move of The Race Award for a pass on the Patrick Lindsey in the No. 02 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette.
Like Pobst, Cunningham also picked up his first World Challenge victory since the race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with the GTS win on Saturday. Unlike Pobst, Cunningham's victory came with his teammate on his tail all the way to the checkered flag.
Cunningham started the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX from the GTS pole position and led every lap, while Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif., came home second in the No. 34 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. It was the 43rd victory of Cunningham's career, extending his lead on the all-time World Challenge victories list.
“It was a tough day for sure,” Cunningham said. “I got a good start and a good restart. Nick did a great job. He was under pressure and he was pressuring me. I was hoping to get a little bit of a gap to save our tires but it just never happened. We were just pushing hard the whole time. It just worked out that the traffic played in. As much trouble as I had with traffic, I think that the third-place Porsche had even more, so Nick got a little breathing room right in the last couple laps. It was a great day for Acura and HPD with a 1-2 finish and we maxed out on points. It's very important for the championship.”
After entering the race weekend second in the GTS point standings to Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Colo., Cunningham has now moved into the unofficial championship lead with the victory. Cunningham leads Lee – who finished 11th on Saturday in the No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro – by 97 points, 1,135-1,038.
Third place in GTS went to Kevin Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa., in the No. 60 Napleton Porsche Cayman S. It was Gleason's second World Challenge start and his first since the 2011 season finale at Road Atlanta.
Al Carter, of Greenville, Del., finished fourth in GTS driving the No. 57 BePOSITIVE.org/JetSet Magazine BMW M3, and Michael Galati, of Olmsted, Ohio, was fifth in the No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima. GTS driver Justin Bell, of Los Angeles, Calif., earned the Optima Batteries Best Start Award by improving four positions at the drop of the green flag in the No. 50 eBay Motors Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
In Touring Car, Cooper, of Syosset, N.Y., inherited the class victory when Tristan Herbert, of Reston, Va., was disqualified. Post-race tech inspection revealed that the boost on Herbert's No. 33 HPA/Renn Gruppe/Brimtek/Steve Goldin Racing Volkswagen Jetta GLI was out of compliance.
Cooper started his No. 3 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Mazdaspeed 3 from the Touring Car pole position and led the first 12 laps before Herbert found his way past on the back straight. Herbert's move earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.
Herbert went on to lead the rest of the way, but his disqualification gave Cooper his fifth victory of the season and extended his lead to 206, 1,336-1,130, in the championship over Todd Lamb, of Atlanta, Ga. with four races remaining on the Touring Car schedule.
“The car seems to be really hooked up here more so than anywhere else we've been so far, so that's a really positive thing,” said Cooper following the race. “That really helped us in the manufacturers' and the championship points today.
“It's definitely very important to keep ahead of our championship rivals. Points are starting to ease into the back of your mind. You try to keep them out of the front of your mind, but you've got to have it back there and remember that there's a bigger deal going on than just this one race.”
Another boost-related disqualification on the No. 49 APR Tuned/Motul/Rays Volkswagen GTI removed Ian Baas, of Noblesville, Ind., from a podium result and promoted Travis Wolcott, of Boulder, Colo., to second in the final Touring Car race standings in his No. 30 Emich VW/StopTech/3Zero3 Motorsports Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Lamb wound up third in the No. 71 National Karting News/HPD Honda Civic Si, followed by Alex Popow, of Caracas, Venezuela, in fourth driving the No. 94 APR Tuned/Motul/Rays Volkswagen GTI. Ryan Winchester, of Mason City, Iowa, completed the Touring Car top five with a fifth-place run in the No. 72 Ligon Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si.
The race was slowed only one by full-course caution, when Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., went into the Turn 9 gravel in his No. 51 Nissan/SPL Pro/Sparco/Motul Nissan 370Z and was unable to continue on his own.
The second half of the Cadillac Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by StopTech doubleheader is scheduled for 9:55 a.m. ET on Sunday morning. That race will also be streamed live on www.world-challengetv.com. The Cadillac Mid-Ohio Grand Prix will air on NBC Sports Network at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 25.