SPEED GT: Pilgrim Leads Volvo 1-2 at New Jersey
Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., led from pole to checker to capture his eighth-career SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship win Saturday at New Jersey Motorsport Park’s Thunderbolt Raceway. Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., completed a K-Pax Racing Volvo sweep, with Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, Calif., finishing third.
Driving the No. 8 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60, Pilgrim got the holeshot on the standing start from the pole with his all-wheel drive system and set sail. Only a mid-race caution, when a five-minute drizzle dampened the 2.25-mile circuit, could bring the field close to Pilgrim. On the race’s restart, he maintained his advantage to take the win in just his third start for K-Pax Racing.
Pobst’s run to the podium was more difficult. Starting second in the No. 1 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60, the defending series Champion crept just prior to the start, resulting in a stop-and-go penalty that sent him to the rear of the field. With the lap-23 restart on a damp circuit, Pobst’s all-wheel drive took over, launching him to second by the time the field completed its first lap back to green.
Pilgrim beat his teammate to the checkered flag by 0.433-second, averaging 83.835 mph over the course of the 30-lap, 67.5-mile race. Pilgrim also earned the Débaufré Fast Lap of the Race, turning a 1:24.944 (95.357 mph) on lap two.
“The car was absolutely hooked up,” Pilgrim said. “And, just like in qualifying, after I did the second lap, I lost a second and a half. I had a great first lap and that was it. After that, she pushed quite a bit. I tried to maintain a pace and I didn’t scrub the front tires too badly. I obviously knew where Brandon was. Sometimes he’d catch me if I was a bit too easy on it. To gap him, I had to really push it on the front tires. So, to be honest, I was actually glad when the yellow came out.
“It was a huge bonus when the rain came out. Obviously, with four-wheel drive, we have a huge advantage. I was running as hard as I could. At the end, I saw Randy come back up to fifth. I thought he was going to get by those other guys pretty quick because it is slippery. And, sure enough he was coming. As it dried out, I pushed it harder and harder and he was right there. He didn’t do any dive bomb moves on me thank goodness. It was a great day for K-Pax Racing and Volvo.”
The win was the second for Volvo in World Challenge competition, and the first since 2004.
Pobst was thankful to see the caution after having to work his way through the field. He worked his way back up to fifth before the caution came out, but the restart helped close the distance to the leaders.
“I was trying to keep the clutch real close to the engagement point,” Pobst said of the start. “I just twitched my foot when the lights came on and it was enough to move the car forward. The whole time that thing was rolling; I knew I was going to get a black flag and have a stop and go.
“After stopping, the focus became driving the best I could. I knew that without a yellow or maybe if started raining, I would never be able to catch back up. I got both of those good breaks. So, for me, it was a very lucky day. I had a chance to catch Andy at the end, but he was just too strong.”
After Pobst’s penalty, Davis ran second in his No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra for the first half of the race. Just before the rain came, he came under attack from Tony Rivera’s No. 97 Tax Masters/Mirage Group Porsche 911 GT3 for the position. On the restart, Pobst moved through and Rivera bobbled, falling back to seventh. Davis had a new nemesis to deal with though, with hard charging Eric Curran.
The two ran nose-to-tail for the final five laps, with Curran finally getting alongside on the last lap. He couldn’t make it stick though, and Davis brought the Mustang home for his third podium finish of the year.
“I was driving pretty hard – maybe a little bit harder than I should have,” Davis said. “The tires started to go away. Actually, when the rain came out, Tony [Rivera] was all over the back of me. I was actually happy to see the rain because whenever it would sprinkle a little bit, he seemed to back off a little bit.
“When Eric got by Tony, I knew he was coming. We were pretty even for the most part except for the slow speed decreasing radius and the left hander. My car was not so good there. He would gain a lot of ground through there. When it came to the last few laps, he began to catch me there. That was the only place he could do anything. It is a tight area of the track. So, I made the car really wide. I was able to stay ahead of him. He was able to get by me at Long Beach, but this time we were able to hold him off. Hopefully, we can get a little closer and pass him in the championship next race.”
Curran’s No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette wouldn’t start on the grid. After changing out the battery, the point leader started from pit lane. He sliced through the field, turning laps faster than everyone but the Volvos. Curran’s pass on James Sofronas for fourth and side-by-side run with Davis earned him the AutoWeek Move of the Race. However, post-race technical inspection revealed a non-compliant throttle body spacer, and the car was disqualified.
The disqualification advanced Gunter Schaldach, of Aspen, Colo., to a career-best fourth-place finish in the No. 9 Lala Motorsports Dodge Viper, edging a resurgent Rivera for the position at the stripe by just 0.067-second.
Sofronas pitted his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 for rain tires as the caution came out, a gamble that didn’t pay off as the line dried in the final laps. He finished sixth, followed by Tony Gaples (Chevrolet Corvette), Sonny Whelen (Chevrolet Corvette), Mike Hartley (Dodge Viper) and Joey Scarallo (Pontiac GTO).
Davis takes over the point lead going into Round Four, with 300, followed by Sofronas (294), Rivera (279), Pilgrim (274) and Curran (222). Porsche maintained its Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER lead with 21, followed by Ford (15), Volvo (12), Chevrolet (12) and Dodge (five).
The race will be broadcast June 16 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED. The series next travels to Mosport International Raceway, May 16-17.