After eight rounds of SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT competition, Tony Rivera, of Missouri City, Texas, became the first repeat winner of the 2009 season, taking the Road America Grand Prix Presented by StopTech. Eric Curran, of Easthampton, Mass., and Dino Crescentini, of Manhattan Beach, Fla., completed the podium at Road America, site of this weekend's Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase.
Starting third in the No. 97 Tax Masters/Brass Monkey Racing Porsche 911 GT3, Rivera was the primary beneficiary when the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 of polesitter James Sofronas remained motionless on the standing start. Skirting his way around the disabled Porsche, Rivera charged into Turn One side-by-side with the No. 13 Woodhouse Performance Dodge Viper of Canadian Kuno Wittmer, who started second.
“I didn't expect James not to move,” Rivera said. “I almost got into the back of him because I was so focused on the lights. They went out, I looked up and was like ‘oh no!' I got alongside Kuno and I don't think he knew that I was there. He was trying to protect the right side and I nearly had my right tires in the grass all the way up to Turn One. I decided to give [the position] to him.”
Wittmer exited Turn One with the lead, but a mirror-full of Rivera. After taking several looks, Rivera made the move for the lead in Turn 12. From there, Rivera sped away to his second World Challenge win of the season, winning by 7.268 seconds and averaging a record 104.824 mph in the 19-lap, 76.911-mile race, which ran caution-free.
“I realized later that lap that [Kuno] was just flat holding me up,” Rivera said. “I knew he wasn't going to interfere in our Championship, so I looked inside again down in Turn 12 and he let me have it.
“At that point, I looked in my mirror, maybe two or three times. Any good driving instructor will tell you that where you're looking is where you're going to go. It always happens to me—I look in the mirror and then I'm racing with the guys in my mirror.
“I made a conscious effort to look forward the entire race and focus on running hard the whole time while keeping the tires under me.”
En route to victory at the 14-turn, four-mile course, Rivera set the Débaufré Fastest Lap of the Race, a 2:17.565 (105.934 mph).
“I didn't think this was going to happen,” Rivera added. “This is not a Porsche track, although it looked that way this weekend! It just goes to show you what focus, a good team and getting the car set up well will do.”
The win was especially poignant for Rivera, who lost a close friend and fellow racer at Road America back in June.
“I thought about Tom every single lap,” Rivera said. “A friend of mine, Tom Thrash, died here a couple of months back. This was the race I wanted to win. I wanted to win if for Tom.”
Starting fifth, Curran briefly lost a position on the opening lap, before commencing a charge to the runner-up spot. By lap five, the driver of the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette was pressuring Brandon Davis for third.
“The start was pretty wild with Sofronas just sitting still,” Curran recalled. “I was behind Tony and he almost got James and I almost got into the back of him as well. I had to check up and Dino got around me on the start.
“We had a good car today. It was a long weekend and I'm glad to finish it up on the podium. I got up to Brandon and put the pressure on him. Brandon's a close friend of mine and it's fun to get in his mirrors and push him a little bit. He raced me clean. It would have been nice to see Kuno have a good run but he had a problem. He really slowed up and held Brandon and me up quite a bit and that allowed Tony to get away and really gap us.”
Shortly after Wittmer dropped out of the race from second with a broken knuckle bearing on the right-rear wheel, Curran was around Davis in Turn Five and into second place. With Rivera out of sight, Curran would cruise to his fourth runner-up finish of the season.
“The car was strong all race long,” Curran said. “Dino was coming toward the end but we tried to be consistent and finish up where we were. I didn't really have anything for Tony because he was so far away. Congrats to my teammate Sonny [Whelen] as well for having such a great race.”
Though he was disappointed to see his teammate Sofronas stationary on the grid, Crescentini was happy to finish third in the No. 4 StopTech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3.
“As much as I was concentrating on going forward, my heart sank because James' car just sat stationary,” Crescentini said. “Obviously, he had a huge opportunity this weekend to move up his position in the point standings. I'm so far back in the standings that I'm basically now in full support of what he does and his objectives. I felt bad, that was the first thing.
“The next thing on my mind was ‘how do I get to the front?' It was a great day. It was good, clean racing. We had some troubles with practice and qualifying. But the StopTech/GMG team did a great job preparing the car for the race. I was trying to chase down Eric [Curran] at the end but just didn't have enough for him.”
Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, Calif., held onto his point lead with a fourth-place finish in his No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra. Davis now leads Rivera by 52 points (824 to 772). Sofronas, who went on to finish 15th after his team replaced a broken axle from the start, dropped to third in the standings with 716 points.
Jason Daskalos, of Albuquerque, N.M., had a fantastic drive in the No. 5 Daskalos Developments Dodge Viper. Starting 11th, the Mosport race winner picked up four positions on the opening lap alone en route to a fifth-place finish.
Defending Champion Randy Pobst overcame the team's stubborn gearbox issues and brought his K-PAX Volvo home in sixth.
Finishing seventh in the No. 23 Lala Motorsports Dodge Viper, Mike Borkowski, of Miami Beach, Fla., was awarded the AutoWeek Move of the Race for his pass on Ritch Marziale in the Kink. Marziale finished eighth.
Sonny Whelen, who finished ninth, took home the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing eight positions in the race at the wheel of his No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette.
Tony Gaples completed the top 10 in a Chevrolet Corvette.
With Rivera's win, Porsche extended its lead in the World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER to 11 over Ford (55 to 44). Chevrolet (33) passed Volvo (31) for third. Viper is fifth with 18 points.
The Road America Grand Prix Presented by StopTech will air on SPEED, Friday, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m. (EDT).
The series next heads to Road Atlanta for the Petit Le Mans weekend, Sept. 23 – 25.