Robert Thorne, Conner Ford and Russell Smith all took their first career Pirelli World Challenge Championships race victories, while Todd Lamb gained considerable ground in the Touring Car title chase in the first two races of the Cadillac Sonoma Grand Prix Touring Car/Touring Car B tripleheader.
Michael Cooper (No. 03) and Todd Lamb (No. 71) battled side-by-side in the penultimate Touring Car race of the 2012 Pirelli World Challenge Championships season. Credit: Mark Weber/SCCA
The Touring Car and Touring Car-B classes use a unique format in the Pirelli World Challenge, running a pair of 25-minute races separated by just a 15-minute break for car adjustments. Each race is run on the same set of tires and pays full points in the season championship. Only Saturday's doubleheader and Sunday's 50-minute race remains in the season.
Thorne took advantage of a gaffe by polesitter Michael Cooper, of Syosset, N.Y., to take the lead on the opening lap of the 14-lap race one. He withstood a heavy challenge from Lamb, of Atlanta, Ga., on lap 3, but once he finally got clear of Lamb, he set sail in the No. 08 K-Pax Racing Volvo C30. He went on to win by 6.511 seconds ahead of Lamb.
“The first race was great,” Thorne said. “The tires were good, the car was good, it was really fun to be battling out there with the Compass360 guys. We had a good run at the beginning and kind of ran away from them in the first race. We were probably a little rough on the tires, the second race was just a downhill battle with tire wear. It was still a great day, we put another K-Pax Volvo on the top step of the podium for one of the races, so that's always a good feeling.”
Lamb came into race one trailing Cooper by 112 points, but the runner-up performance enabled him to close the gap considerably in the No. 71 National Karting News/HPD Honda Civic Si. It was Lamb's 10th podium result in 12 Touring Car races.
Driving the No. 03 MAZDASPEED Motorsports MAZDASPEED3, Cooper fell all the way back to sixth place on the opening lap after the off-course excursion in Turn 2, earning the Kia Turning Point of the Race in the process. He quickly fought his way back inside the top five but engaged in a prolonged battle for third place with Shea Holbrook, of Orlando, Fla. Cooper eventually secured the final spot on the podium on Lap 10 to earn the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.
“We got a bolt in the tire in qualifying and had to replace the tire,” Cooper explained. “I couldn't wear the mold release off the tire on the out lap and I came into Turn Two and knew I had to slow down extra. I just didn't know how much extra and I got sideways, went off, kept it straight and came back on the track probably in eighth or ninth spot. Two guys split me when I came back on and I got them back in the next turn, and I just started picking guys off one by one until I got up to third. Todd was already pretty far away, and I knew I would have to go pretty hard, so I just figured I'd save some for the second race.”
Holbrook came home fourth from race one in the No. 67 TrueCar.com/Virgin Honda Civic Si. She earned the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race by going from sixth to third in Turn 7 on Lap 5. Ryan Winchester, of Mason City, Iowa, was fifth in the first race driving the No. 72 Ligon Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si.
Ford, of Carson City, Nev., took the Touring Car B lead from Smith, of Hamilton, Bermuda, on Lap 1 and would never be challenged. Driving the No. 45 Honda Performance Development Honda Fit, Ford went on to win by 7.475 seconds over Smith. Ford also won the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for race one.
“It was a pretty good race,” Ford said. “I got a good start and was able to pull of a pretty good lead in the first couple of laps which really set the rest of the race up for me. It ended up being pretty good, I just worked on it and kept my head straight. I didn't really focus on the bad stuff, and it ended up being a good race in the end. Hopefully we can do it again tomorrow.”
Smith was second in the No. 90 Kinetic Performance Parts Kia Rio, followed by Steve Gatrell, of Aurora, Ore., in the No. 78 Honda Performance Development Honda Fit. Brad Adams, of New Orleans, La., got the Optima Batteries Best Start Award from race one.
After the intermission, the cars gridded up based on the first race finishing positions for a second 25-minute race. Starting from the pole, Thorne faltered at the drop of the green flag, enabling Lamb to sweep into the lead and Holbrook into second place. The start earned the Kia Turning Point of the Race for the nightcap.
By the end of the first lap, however, Cooper had found his way back around Holbrook and began filling Lamb's mirrors. The middle stages of the 14-lap race saw a spirited battle for the Touring Car lead between Cooper and Lamb, and Cooper briefly nosed ahead and into the lead momentarily on Lap 5.
However, Lamb quickly retook the position, drawing the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race. Travis Wolcott, of Boulder, Colo., made it a three-car battle for the Touring Car lead late in the running, but Lamb eventually pulled away to win by 4.034 seconds. It was Lamb's fourth victory of the season and moved him to within 62 points (1,602-1,540) of Cooper heading into the 40-minute season finale on Sunday morning.
“We're here to try to win a Championship and we made it close for tomorrow,” Lamb said. “We'll see how tomorrow shakes out, but ultimately I knew I had to drive the wheels off the thing. It was one of those ‘how bad do you want it' and I just decided we were going to do everything we can to stay up front. I'm real happy with the Civic, real happy with the way things went. We kind of knew what was going to happen at the end of the race so we just had to wait for everything to fall into place, but it was definitely nerve-wracking out there running door handle to door handle at times. It was a great, clean race. I wish every race could be that way, just side-by-side, very clean and very fun. There was passing, passing back, that's the way I like to do it. It's just fun to race that way.
“We knew we had to run the tires for two races. The Volvo was here for a one-off, so we figured he probably didn't have as much experience on the tires as we did. It was kind of biding our time, I did make a couple of efforts under braking to get by him but I just didn't want to take any chances. It was too risky to make any dive bomb attempts. To average out two good finishes is better than one good finish and a DNF.”
Cooper wound up second in the penultimate round of the championship. Wolcott came home third in the No. 30 Emich VW/StopTech/3Zero3 Motorsports Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Holbrook finished fourth for the second consecutive race ahead of Winchester, who again finished fifth.
Karl Thomson, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, rebounded from a trip to the paddock midway through race one to finish sixth in race two. He earned both the Optima Batteries Best Start and the Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
Race two in Touring Car B saw the first two positions flip-flopped in the final race rundown. Ford started the race from the class pole position and led the first seven laps before Smith finally ran him down on Lap 8 to take the lead. That move earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award for Smith.
That wouldn't be Smith's only post-race award, however, as he managed to keep Ford in his mirrors for the remainder of the race to win by 1.375 seconds.
“It was very, very tight, and a very clean race as well,” Smith said. “It was just incredibly tough. I really didn't think we were going to be able to do it, but a couple of mistakes toward the end and we were able to capitalize on that. Everyone conducted themselves in a gentlemanly way, and it's really nice to be a part of the series. What a way to end the season!”
Ford came home second, followed by Gatrell who again finished third. With a fourth-place run in race one and a fifth in race two driving the No. 00 Kawartha Chrysler/FIAT/SpeedlogiX Fiat 500, Jonathan Start, of Caledonia, Mich., secured the inaugural Touring Car B championship.