Seth Thomas, of Cumming, Ga., took his second SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car win of the season in the Toyo Tires Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Lala Motorsports. Charles Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., and Andrew Aquilante, of Phoenixville, Pa., completed the Round Five podium during the Camping World Grand Prix Weekend at Watkins Glen International.
Starting from his first-ever World Challenge pole position, Thomas successfully defended his lead on the standing start as the field charged into Turn One. Thomas’ teammate, third-starting Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif., was able to slot into second. Seeing a friendly car in his rear-view mirror was a relief for Thomas, but the feeling was short-lived, as the No. 73 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6 of Espenlaub was around Esayian in Turn Eight.
“The BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW always gets the holeshot,” Thomas said. “It’s a great rear-wheel drive platform to get going at the start. When I saw Charles coming, I knew how fast Nick’s been all weekend and I knew how fast Charles’ been this weekend, so for him to get by Nick as early as he did, I was concerned. I’ve raced with him year after year and every time we do, it’s clean, fun racing, but I was definitely worried to see him coming up behind me.”
The gap between Thomas’ No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i and Espenlaub ebbed and flowed throughout the 20-lap, 68-mile race as the pair pulled away from the rest of the field.
“We got a little bit of a gap on the rest of the field, so I was thinking I could save my tires,” Espenlaub recalled. “Then Seth would start creeping away, so I’d try a little harder, and then he’d gap me again. It was like we were qualifying the whole time. It was crazy.”
Thomas finally got some breathing room on the last two laps, as Aquilante, in the No. 35 Phoenix Performance Subaru Impreza WRX caught Espenlaub. While the pair exchanged positions in the closing corners, Thomas sailed away to the checkered flag, getting his second-career victory by 1.118 seconds and averaging 95.847 mph.
“This win’s probably just as important to me as the last one with all the stuff that’s been going on, as busy as I’ve been and with the lack of sleep I’ve been getting from my newborn baby,” Thomas concluded. “It’s great though. The second is just as sweet as the first and I hope there’s a lot more than this.”
Behind Thomas, Aquilante powered past Espenlaub heading into the Inner Loop, but was quickly re-passed by Espenlaub in Turn Six. The move earned Espenlaub the AutoWeek Move of the Race and his highest finish of the season.
“I was hoping Esayian was going to hold [Aquilante] off a little longer,” Espenlaub said. “Then my crew came on the radio and told me there were four laps to go. I thought, ‘this isn’t going to end pretty.’ He caught me and I made my car a little wide for him. He had a really good run and got in front of me through the Inner Loop. I was thinking ‘third’s not so bad,’ and then he bobbled just a little bit as we went into the Carousel and I saw a little bit of an opportunity. I stuck it in there, he gave me some racing room and we raced hard right around the corner. It worked out alright. It was a last-ditch effort on my part trying to get there and get the position.”
The runner-up finish also propelled Mazda to within three points of Acura, which leads the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine (36 to 33 points). A fact Espenlaub was all too aware of in the car. BMW is currently third in the points with 22.
“[The Manufacturers’ Championship] was the concern the whole time,” Espenalub added. “I kept looking back to see where the Acuras were. Obviously we’re in a battle with them for the Manufacturers’ Championship. I was trying to take some chances to get up to Seth, but I also wanted to make sure Mazda finished high.”
Aquilante collected his second third-place finish in three World Challenge Touring Car races. During his charge from fifth on the grid to third, Aquilante set the Débaufré Fastest Lap of the Race, a 2:06.565 (95.847 mph), and earned a new Débaufré watch. Aquilante also collected the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing two positions in the race.
“The start didn’t go as well as I was hoping,” Aquilante said. “The last couple of races I think I picked up about five spots, but this time I only got one. Then I got swamped by Pierre [Kleinubing] and James Clay. They got by, then we raced for five or six laps. After I got past them, I set off on a charge to catch the leaders. I got by Nick and was closing on Charles. I had him going up to the Inner Loop, but just couldn’t keep it there. The car bobbled for some reason and he got back around me. That was it.
“It was a great race. I was trying as hard as I could and it was a lot of fun. I’ve got to thank Phoenix Performance, Subaru and all the guys at the shop. They did an awesome job. This series is quite a bit of fun. It’s an all-out sprint to the end I had a blast.”
After running third for most of the race, Esayian crossed the finish line a career-high fourth in the No. 34 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i.
Peter Cunningham, of the Milwaukee, Wis., was the highest finishing Acura in the field, bringing his No. 1 RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX home in fifth.
Cunningham’s RealTime teammates Pierre Kleinubing (Acura TSX) and Kuno Wittmer (Acura TSX) followed him across the line in sixth and seventh, respectively.
Current point leader Jason Saini (MAZDA6) finished eighth.
James Clay (BMW 328i) and Toby Grahovec (Acura TSX) completed the top 10.
Saini’s Championship lead is now cut to three points over Kleinubing (478 to 475). Seth Thomas is now third with 472 points, followed by Cunningham (455) and Wittmer (440).
Round Five of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships will air on SPEED, Tuesday, July 22, at 2 p.m. (EDT). Round Six heads to Autobahn Country Club, in Joliet, Ill., July 24 – 26.
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Results from Saturday's 20-lap 68-mile SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Round Five Race, The Toyo Tires Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Lala Motorsports at Watkins Glen International, with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps and reason out (if any).
1. (1), Seth Thomas, Cumming, Ga., BMW 328i, 20.
2. (2), Charles Espenlaub, Lutz, Fla., MAZDA6, 20, -1.118.
3. (5), Andrew Aquilante, Phoenixville, Pa., Subaru WRX, 20, -1.401.
4. (3), Nick Esayian, San Diego, Calif., BMW 328i, 20, -2.195.
5. (7), Peter Cunningham, Milwaukee, Wis., Acura TSX, 20, -8.766.
6. (4), Pierre Kleinubing, Coconut Creek, Fla., Acura TSX, 20, -9.172.
7. (9), Kuno Wittmer, Montreal, Quebec, Acura TSX, 20, -13.181.
8. (8), Jason Saini, Ft. Worth, Texas, MAZDA6, 20, -13.926.
9. (6), James Clay, Blacksburg, Va., BMW 328i, 20, -14.846.
10. (10), Toby Grahovec, Chicago, Ill., Acura TSX, 20, -21.496.
11. (12), Eric Foss(R), Fort Worth, Texas, MAZDA6, 20, -21.803.
12. (11), VJ Mirzayan(R), Fresno, Calif., BMW 325, 20, -1:29.919.
13. (13), John Heinricy(TC2), Royal Oak, Mich., Subaru Legacy, 0, DNS.
Time of race: 42 minutes, 34.056 seconds.
Average speed: 95.847 mph
Margin of victory: 1.118 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-20, #38 Seth Thomas
Débaufré race lap: #35 Andrew Aquilante, 2:06.565 (96.709 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #38 Seth Thomas, 2:06.803 (96.527 mph)
AutoWeek Move of the Year: #73 Espenlaub’s re-pass for second on the final lap
Sunoco Hard Charger: #35 Aquilante advanced two positions
SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Drivers’ Championship
After Five of 10 Rounds
Ps., Driver, Car, Pts. (Wins)
1, Jason Saini, MAZDA6, 478 (1)
2, Pierre Kleinubing, Acura TSX, 475
3, Seth Thomas, BMW 328i, 472 (2)
4, Peter Cunningham, Acura TSX, 455 (1)
5, Kuno Wittmer, Acura TSX, 440 (1)
6, Charles Espenlaub, MAZDA6, 416
7, Eric Foss(R), MAZDA6, 388
8, Nick Esayian, BMW 328i, 363
9, James Clay, BMW 328i, 342
10, Toby Grahovec, Acura TSX, 313
SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Manufacturers Championship Presented by RACER Magazine
After Five of 10 Rounds
Ps., Manufacturer, Pts. (Wins)
1, Acura, 36 (2)
2, Mazda, 33 (1)
3, BMW, 22 (2)