Mike Skeen (RIGHT), Paul Brown (LEFT) and Lawson Aschenbach all took Pirelli World Challenge class victories on Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, clinching Drivers' Championships for Brown – in GTS – and Aschenbach in Touring Car during the Cadillac Sports Car Grand Prix Presented by Grassroots Motorsports. Patrick Long clinched the GT Championship with a fifth-place finish.
Skeen, from Charlotte, N.C., took the lead in his No. 2 Cragar Wheels/CRP on lap 21 with a pass on the outside of turn 10, when he and then-leader Randy Pobst split a slower Touring Car. Skeen used traffic to his advantage to take the lead and earn the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race Award. From there, Skeen pulled away for a 4.139sec win, his third of the season.
Skeen averaged 72.459mph over the 27-lap, 60.426-mile race that was slowed twice for seven laps under caution.
“Winning the race is just awesome,” Skeen said. “We're really glad to be back in victory circle for CRP Racing. It's been a while – we had some tough luck at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. This team really deserves to have a car back up front. “
“We had a really tough race. We qualified well yesterday and Randy [Pobst] just beat us at the end of qualifying. I didn't have a great start so we dropped back. All of those yellows just made it tough to make a move. We finally had a long run at the end, and got lucky in traffic a couple of times. We split a Touring Car coming down the hill into 10 and got Randy around the outside. I appreciate him giving me room, and I'm happy to be up here.”
Pobst, the polesitter, held on for a second-place finish in the No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 after leading the opening 20 laps. It was the highest finish of the season, and only the second podium, for the defending GT Drivers' Champion who has been slowed by assorted issues this season.
“It was a really good race,” Pobst said. “We ran hard, using the all-wheel drive of the S60 Volvo to come off the corners strong. I hung on as long as I could. Mike Skeen did a great job, came up from behind and he and O'Connell were all over me. I'm just happy the K-Pax Volvo ran so well. No issues, the gremlins were gone, and we had a great car the whole time.”
Skeen's teammate, Patrick Lindsey, was third in the No. 12 Hawk Performance/CRP Chevrolet Corvette. Lindsey moved past James Sofronas' No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 on lap 12 restart, then moved into third past Johnny O'Connell's No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe on lap 20. Sofronas, trying to keep his slim championship hopes alive, moved back into third position on with two laps to go, but a flat tired slowed him to a 10th-place finish on the final lap.
O'Connell would inherit fourth after Sofronas fell out.
Despite missing round four at Miller Motorsports Park, Long – who has won a number of championships behind the wheel of a Porsche in multiple sports car series – clinched his first Pirelli World Challenge Championship with his finish in the No. 45 Privacy Star/TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3 with one race remaining.
“It's a testament to reliability, because we finished every race that we entered, and in the top six at that,” Long said. “I thought after missing Salt Lake, which was the plan all along, I thought it was going to be tough to make it back. And to wrap it up one race early, that's a testament to the whole team and to the Porsche 911. Our whole focus was knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, and when to bet big.”
Brown's GTS class flag to flag win in the No. 50 One Hour Heating and Air/Luminox/Kenny Brown Ford Mustang Boss 302S clinched his first career World Challenge title. Brown qualified on the pole, pulled away at the start, and hustled to a 2.713sec margin of victory.
“I started it just like every other and went as hard and as fast as I could at the start. I watched the guys moving around at the back. Luckily, or unluckily, there was a GT car that stalled and really screwed up the one line. I just put my head down and worked my butt off.”
The Championship is the first for Brown, who wasn't sure if the funding was available at the start of the season to run for a championship. The team placed together race-to-race deals to make it to every championship round and now sits on top with a one-race cushion to spare.
“I don't know how to explain it, it's really surreal,” Brown said. “I'm just shocked.”
Brown finished ahead of Pratt Cole's No. 96 USA Cares/Western Metal Ford Mustang FR500S after Cole ran second for the entire race.
A pair of RealTime Acura TSX machines followed, with Peter Cunningham's No. 1 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX completing the podium. Nick Esayian's No. 34 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX finished fourth.
Cunningham was slowed on the standing start behind a stalled GT car and was as low as fifth in class on lap 16. Esayian fell as far back as seventh before using attrition and a steady climb to earn his 11th career podium finish.
Ben Crosland (No. 25 RacewithRP.com Ford Mustang FR500S) and Eric Foss (No. 73 Traxxas/St. Jude Hospital/SPX Ford Mustang FR500S) each climbed as high as third position during the race, but mechanical problems left them in seventh and sixth at the finish, respectively.
Brad Adams (No. 75 RaceWithRP.com Ford Mustang FR500S) completed the top five.
Aschenbach, the 2006 World Challenge Champion in the GT class, clinched the Touring Car title with his win after beginning the day in the back of the field. Aschenbach started ninth in class in his No. 71 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si after missing qualifying.
By the end of lap one, however, Aschenbach was already in fourth position, a lap that would earn him the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award. Trailing only the Volvos of Aaron Povoledo and Robb Holland, and the No. 33 GermanAutoParts.com/Techtonics Volkswagen GTI of Tristan Herbert, Aschenbach settled in to earn as many points as he could.
“The crazy thing was, I couldn't see the lights because of the way I was staged,” Aschenbach said. “There was a car blocking my view, so my crew chief had to actually call the start for me. I was a little bit late to jump the start, but fortunately everyone else around me was as well. I was headed into Turn 1, and everyone slowed on the inside of the track and I went to the outside. That was a big part of how I was able to do what I did today.”
Aschenbach moved past the No. 66 K-Pax Racing Volvo C30 of Holland on 17th of the Touring Car class' 26 laps, then inherited second place when Povoledo's No. 88 K-Pax Racing Volvo C30 fell out with mechanical difficulties on lap 19.
After Herbert struggled while working through lapped traffic, Aschenbach moved to the bumper of and past Herbert with two laps remaining to take his fifth win of the season and lock up the Championship.
“Winning two championships in consecutive years with Compass360 Racing and Honda is a really good feeling,” Aschenbach said of this championship, and another sports car championship a season ago. “Honda Racing/HPD has been a huge supporter of this program from day one. We knew this program had to be solid from the beginning of the year, all the way back to me actually getting the ride, and I can't thank [Compass360 Racing team principal] Karl Thompson enough for the opportunity.”
Herbert earned his third-consecutive podium finish, leading on two occasions for 13 total laps. Herbert earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the race after taking the lead from Holland on the lap seven restart.
Holland finished third, followed by Patrick Seguin's No. 80 Theberge Homes/Capsparts.com Honda Civic Si. Tom Lepper finished fifth in the No. 48 Team Cobalt California/Lepper and Associates Chevrolet Cobalt.
The Pirelli World Challenge concludes at Road Atlanta, Sept. 28-30, with the Cadillac Road Atlanta Grand Prix.