LEXINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 7, 2010) – Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., scored a World Challenge GT Championship debut victory Saturday, winning the first half of the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Ryan Eversley, of Atlanta, Ga., accomplished a similar feat in Touring Car, while Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., took his record-extending 37th series win, in GTS.
Skeen started second in his No. 2 Carlisle Companies/Cragar Chevrolet Corvette but fell back to third quickly behind polesitter James Sofronas’ No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 and Andy Pilgrim’s No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60.
A caution to remove Jeff Mosing’s No. 08 Frank’s International Mazda RX-8 regrouped the field and Skeen was able to move around the Volvo on the restart. Sofronas and Skeen ran nose-to-tail for the next seven laps, slicing through traffic before Skeen made his move for the lead in the Keyhole. The gap between the two remained fluid for the remainder of the 29-lap 65.481-mile contest, with Skeen taking the 1.453-second win.
Skeen became the first debut winner in the World Challenge GT class since Tony Rivera won in his debut at Sebring in 2009. He also turned the fastest race lap, a record-breaking 1:27.296 (93.117 mph).
“It’s been a great opportunity to come here,” Skeen said of running the car that scored its third win of the season (Ron Fellows won at Mosport and Watkins Glen). “I’ve got to thank Nick Short and CRP Racing for putting me in the Cragar Wheels Corvette. They told me at the start that the traction control wasn’t worth messing with, so I basically just revved it up and got too much wheel spin. I figured that was better than stalling it on the grid, but we lost a few positions on the start.
“I followed James [Sofronas] for several laps to get a feel for the race pace. When he got caught up in traffic I went by going into turn two with a pretty easy pass going into the keyhole. With traffic, the ebb-and-flow just went our way today.
Sofronas, who will start on the pole for Sunday’s second race of the doubleheader, captured his second-consecutive runner-up finish.
“We had a game plan, and it started with getting away at the start,” Sofronas said. “We messed with the launch control and it ended up backfiring, because I bogged down at the start. I looked in my mirrors and saw the back half of Pilgrim’s car going by me, and once the car got a little bit of a run I used as much room as I could to make sure I squeezed Andy all the way to the edge. Hopefully he feels like I gave him enough room, but I knew I had to get in front of him and set the pace.
“I was watching my mirrors and all of a sudden the Corvette was there. I got caught in traffic and had to get out of the throttle and Mike just blew by me. It was all horsepower and brakes – he would pull away down the straights and I would catch him in the brake zones. It was cat-and-mouse, and I thought I had something for him. But when the yellows came out, that was it. Hats off to Mike, he and the team did a great job today.”
The battle for third was fierce as well, with fourth-starting Patrick Lindsey eventually coming out on top of a battle with Pilgrim, point leader Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and Dino Crescentini’s No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3.
“It took a few laps to get around the Volvos, they were quick at the start. But I caught that barn-door draft behind them to out-brake them into Madness,” Lindsey said. “Later in the race, traffic played a big part in the strategy for everyone. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts. I was able to use it to close the gap on James and Mike, and then lose a little bit. They had a really good battle, and I think a few more laps and I would have been able to get in touch with them. The handling and tire management of that car is pretty fantastic.”
On the final lap, Kuno Wittmer, was able to work around Crescentini to finish fourth in his No. 13 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Viper. Crescentini held on to finish fifth.
Pobst, who finished seventh, maintains the Championship lead with 863 points—102 better than Wittmer’s 761. Crescentini is third, with 678, followed by Sofronas (664) and Lindsey (626).
Porsche cut into Volvo’s Manufacturers’ Championship lead, which now stands at six points (51 to 45). Dodge is third, with 37.
After earning his record 38th pole position, Cunningham scored a record-extending 37th series victory leading all the way in his No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. It was, however, Cunningham’s first win at Mid-Ohio since 1997.
“It’s surprising that it’s been so long since we’ve won here,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been on the podium lots of times, so we always do pretty well here. It’s good to be on the top step, though. The Acuras like Mid-Ohio. They handle very well, and the balance is really good around the tight and twisty elevation changes here. And it’s good to do well in front of the Honda associates that work in different plants in nearby cities here, many of them are here today and tomorrow. It’s great to get a win with all of them cheering us on.”
Cunningham set the race’s fastest GTS lap, at 1:34.600 (85.928 mph).
Teammate Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif., finished second in his No. 34 Acura/RealTime Acura TSX. Esayian’s attempt to challenge Cunningham for the lead was derailed when Ernie Jakubowski’s No. 91 Fuchs/CDOC/Forgeline Porsche Cayman S got the jump on him at the start. By the time Esayian was able to clear Jakubowski for good, Cunningham had opened up too much of a gap and he had to settle for second place.
Devin Cates, of Broad Run, Va., finished third in his series debut, driving the No. 68 Cates Engineering Ford Mustang FR500S. Cates topped a fleet of cars from the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge. Kevin Helms, of Charlotte, N.C., advanced from 10th on the GTS grid to finish fourth in his No. 04 DBA/Carbotech/AST/Exedy Acura RSX. Ben Crosland finished fifth in his No. 25 RPMotorsports Ford Mustang FR500S.
Cunningham’s win increased his point lead over Esayian to 144 (971 to 827). Acura holds a commanding lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Like Skeen, Eversley was making his World Challenge debut this weekend in his No. 20 Maxwell Paper Products Mazda RX-8. After starting third on the grid, he waged a race-long battle with polesitter and defending race Champion Jason Saini’s No. 03 Team MER/Sparco/SafeRacer MAZDASPEED3. The two ran side-by-side many times, swapping the lead until Eversley took the point for good with two laps remaining.
Eversley’s effort of holding off Saini earned him the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race.
“That was my first standing start, and it was pretty crazy,” Eversley said. “Cars were parked on the front straight and I think I was in the grass more than I was on the pavement. Jason [Saini] and I got through it and took off and it was a really fun first lap. We were able to get a gap on the guys that were third and fourth. The Maxwell Paper guys gave me an awesome car today, and it was really fun.
“We swapped the lead a few times today because of traffic. In fact, I didn’t want to let one of the GT cars through because I knew I’d lose a lot of time to Jason, and the same guy that got by me made a really aggressive move on Jason. He went really wide, and I just followed the traffic and we were side-by-side through Madness. It was awesome.”
Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, finished second, but will start Sunday’s race from the pole. Eric Meyer, of Indianapolis, started last after missing qualifying while changing his transmission, but worked his way to the podium in his No. 32 XOWii/Samaratin’s Feet
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