Mike Skeen made it three in a row in Pirelli World Challenge GT competition at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, winning the first of two races on the weekend. Michael Galati, gave Kia its first series win in Pirelli World Challenge GTS competition.
Starting from the pole in his No. 02 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette, Skeen watched second-starting Randy Pobst rocket to the lead with his all-wheel drive in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 on the standing start. Pobst jumped to a huge lead, which was for naught as teammate Alex Figge spun into the Turn One gravel and necessitated a full course caution for extraction.
Skeen got the jump on the restart and put the Corvette back out front for good to score his fifth-career win, his third-straight after sweeping the pair of races in 2011. Behind Skeen, Pobst ran second until the car experienced a mechanical failure and caught fire on lap 10, bringing out another caution.
“This Hawk Performance Corvette is awesome,” Skeen said. “CRP Racing did a great job. We've had no hiccups this weekend. Thank goodness, because we've had a pretty tough year. It feels really good for the guys. They were up until three last night working on everything.
“After the Volvo [Pobst] got around us on the start, I tried to figure out what was going to happen and how I could get him. I got lucky on the restart. I think everybody was surprised how quickly we went back to green. I got him on the restart. Then he fell off unfortunately. He had the fire. I hope he's alright. I am really glad to be here and really happy for all of the guys.”
Pobst was treated, released and cleared to drive after the fire, although his car may not be available to race on Sunday.
Skeen's best lap of 1:20.486 (109.986 mph) established a new Pirelli World Challenge GT class race lap record.
The extended cleanup period set up an eight-lap dash to the checkered flag. Skeen got away quickly and Andy Pilgrim gave chase in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R with his teammate, point leader Johnny O'Connell in tow. Behind those three, Steve Ott, of Houston, Texas, battled Lawson Aschenbach's No. 1 Privacy Star/Entrust/TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3, making a pass with two wheels in the grass for the position on the Andretti Straightaway.
Pilgrim never got the chance to try for the lead, though, as a flat tire forced him to the pit lane on lap 25. That promoted O'Connell to second and Ott to third, where they would finish.
“We were good in the first half of the race before the Volvo fire,” O'Connell said. “I thought we were looking at a third or fourth place car. I got to where I ran off one of my tires. Actually, I thought I had a flat or something broke and let Andy go by. Then, Randy [Pobst] had his fire. That allowed me to better see what was up with my car. After the yellow, we were good. We were sitting behind Andy when he had his problem. So it worked out. Always to be better lucky than good.”
“We had a heckuva race,” Ott said. “It started kind of funky with the spin by Figge at the beginning. I just tried to hold my position. On that [second] restart, I got a run on Lawson [Aschenbach] coming out of 5B. I didn't want to lift. I knew if I lifted, he would have moved right over and kept me from passing him. So, I just kept my foot in it and hoped for the best. I tried to get him in the [speedy dry] a little bit so he couldn't see. It worked out well and luckily Lawson is such a good, clean driver that I wasn't worried about something happening. It was good.”
Aschenbach continued on to finish fourth, followed by Tony Gaples, who made his 100th series start in the No. 11 Kleinschmidt/Black Dog Chevrolet Corvette.
In Pirelli World Challenge GTS, Galati parlayed his 24th-career series pole into Kia's first win as a manufacturer. Galati started the No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima first, but saw Jack Baldwin's No. 68 Team Hot Wheels/Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman S and Aaron Povoledo's No. 26 Total Lubricants/Dell Cherries Ford Mustang Boss 302S go by on the start. Galati was quickly back out front after the restart, and was never seriously challenged en route to his 24th victory.
“This is my favorite track in the world,” Galati said. “I've won a lot of races here. I feel at home here. People say Ohio is my home track. This is my home track. I love this track because it's so fast.
“I opened up a gap. I was surprised how well the car was doing early on. But, then when the full course yellow came out, I thought, ‘Oh no not again.' But, I got a good restart. Then, the car started going away a little bit. It started to understeer and I had to be very clean driving it. But, the Optima performed fantastically. I owe this to my team Kinetic Racing and Kia. Mark [Wilkins] and I did a great job. The car was awesome.
“It was fantastic to get this win for Kia. This is history in the making. Who would have thought that Optima, after 5 or 6 races, would finish 1-2? It's a great car.”
Behind him, the racing was fierce for second and third. Povoledo and Mark Wilkins (No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima) battled side-by-side lap-after-lap up the Andretti Straightaway for second before Wilkins, of Aurora, Ontario, finally took the spot for good on lap 25.
Wilkins set a new Pirelli World Challenge GTS race lap record with a 1:27.214 (101.502 mph).
Povoledo then had to deal with the No. 50 eBay Motors Ford Mustang of Paul Brown, of Covina, Calif. Making his first start of the year due to his ongoing skin cancer treatment, the 2011 series Champion moved to third with three laps to go to secure the final podium position.
“We had a good car,” Brown said. “I love this track. Our biggest thing was consistency. I kept pushing. Luckily, the caution actually helped me physically. I am not 100 percent yet. This is my first race back for the year because I've been battling cancer. So, just being able to run was kind of a treat. And, to finish this well is like a win for us. The caution gave me a pretty good break. It allowed me to cool down.
“It was a battle all the way through. The cool thing about GTS is that there are so many makes. All of the cars have strengths in different areas. So, you'd get gapped and then you'd pick up. What really helped me was Povoledo and Wilkins battling for second place, which allowed me to stay close. Once Wilkins got around, Aaron [Povoledo] dropped the pace a little bit. It allowed me to get a run. I took an opportunity for a pass on the inside and we did have contact, which didn't realize until after the race. But, I thought it was a clean move. He gave me room. We went into the apex. It was about as hard fought as we could get. Then, to pull it off those last few laps, it took everything I had.”
Toronto's Povoledo finished fourth, and Alec Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas, finished fifth in the No. 16 MDG/Ford Racing/Kart Nation Ford Mustang Boss 302S. Championship leader Andy Lee could manage no better than ninth in his No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro.
The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS cars run the second race of the Motul CTMP Grand Prix Presented by Optima Batteries weekend Sunday at 2:45 p.m. Tune in to www.world-challengetv.com to watch the race live. Both races will air on the NBC Sports Network on July 7 at 5 p.m.