Photos by Frank Filipponio and Andre Ravinowich/Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Qualifying was held early on race morning, on a cool track under cloudy skies. The GT cars had a 12-minute session followed by a joint 12-minute session for GTS and Touring Cars. The bigger GT cars were first out and on the very first lap there was already a bit of drama. That cool track created a bit of a scare for Patrick Lindsey going into Turn 1 when his Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3 went straight into the runoff. No contact though and he resumed after navigating the run-off chicane.
The all-wheel-drive Volvo S60s of Andy Pilgrim and Randy Pobst (K-Pax Racing) were quickly at the front of the pack, with local boy Brandon Davis (Applied Comp Solution/SunMicro) in the mix, along with defending race winner James Safronas (GMG) and Kuno Wittmer (Dodge Motorsports).
A couple of minutes in, and Davis was into second with his Mustang, just as Nick Mancuso (Lake Forest Sportscars) spun his gorgeous "Single-Oh-Seven" Aston Martin DB9 in Turn 8. He didn't make any contact either and was able to right himself and get going again. With about four minutes to go it was the Viper of Wittmer moving to the top of the charts, setting a new qualifying lap record in the process.
The session finished with No. 13 Wittmer on pole, followed by Pobst (No. 6), Davis (No. 1), Pilgrim (No. 8) and Boris Said in the No. 3 Applied Computer Solutions Mustang completing the GT top-five.
Qualifying for GTS and Touring Cars started with a bit of a letdown as actor/racer Patrick Dempsey was a no-show, replaced in the No. 03 Mazda3 by Charles Espenlaub. It wasn't clear whether or not Dempsey would make it back for the afternoon race, but in the end, the Grey's Anatomy star had other commitments.
Right off the bat, Tyler McQuarrie (LPL/DRS/Switcars/SCC/Dayco/M&T) put his No. 19 Lotus Exige S on top of GTS, followed by the powerhouse Acura/RealTime Racing TSXes of Peter Cunningham (No. 43) and teammate Nick Esayian (No. 34). Espenlaub was doing a good job with McDreamy's ride, too, working his way up to fifth fastest in GTS at one point.
One car we were keeping a close eye on was the No. 93 Touring Car Honda of Montreal's Nick Wittmer, the younger brother of GT racer, Kuno. The trunklid on his Civic Si popped open a few times, clearly giving him an active aerodynamic advantage over the field. Just kidding, a latch had gone awry and once the team found a way to secure it, he was fine for qualifying.
It didn't seem to phase Wittmer The Younger, though, as he ended up on the TC pole, followed by youngster Robert Stout in his No. 18 DG-Spec/Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil Scion tC, Eric Meyer (No. 32 XOWii/Samaritan's Feet/Delvira Mazda RX-8), Stout's teammate, Dan Gardner in the No. 36 tC, and Tommy Chen in the No. 8 Autoworld/Speed Trial USA Mazda RX-8 rounding out the top five for Touring Car.
McQuarrie's Lotus held on for pole in GTS, followed by Cunningham, Esayian, Michael Pettiford (No. 41 Go4It Racing Schools/Hawk Chevrolet Corvette GS) and the No. 86 Porsche 911 of Gary Tolar (Tolar Mfg. Co./GMG/GT Racing LLC.) finishing off the five fast qualifiers.
About seven hours later, it was race time. The track was a lot stickier, having just finished hosting the IndyCars and another drifting demo, but as the sun was about to set during the 100-minute race, the surface would change dramatically as it cooled. An interesting footnote was that Kuno and Nick had become the first brothers to qualify on pole in their respective classes in the same World Challenge race.
As mentioned earlier, Charles Espenlaub was driving the No. 03 Mazda3 in place of Patrick Dempsey, while Kevin Marshall was starting from pit lane in his No. 45 Clear Capital Lotus Exige S. Kuno got a great start in his Viper, but Pobst wasn't so lucky, falling all the way back to eleventh at the start. Last race's winner, Dino Crescentini (No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3), also had a good launch, moving up to fourth behind Wittmer, Davis and Said.
As the field rounded the hairpin for the first time, the No. 43 TC-class car of Cunningham headed into the pits with a visibility problem – his hood had popped up and was resting against the windshield. With Nick Wittmer's Honda's trunk opening earlier and now this with the Acura's hood, we were keeping a close eye on the other Honda products in the field for more photo opps.
McQuarrie was still out front in GTS, but Espenlaub had deftly worked his way up to second, followed by Esayian and Pettiford.
By the time he passed Wittmer coming out of the hairpin, Stout wasn't looking back in TC, but Cunningham could now see forward. If Stout had looked back he would have seen Wittmer, Gardner, and the RX-8s of Meyer and Chen behind him. Stout was out front to stay.
When Tony Rivera (No. 97) spun his Brass Monkey Racing Nissan GT-R in Turn 6, we wondered if he had maybe slid in the fluid leaking from his teammate's car. There was a report that Steve Ott's No. 96 car was hemorrhaging. Rivera was quickly back on track though. A few minutes later, Chen was slow on course and then Rivera momentarily stalled at pit in, but no yellows.
By this point, the overall and GT leader, Kuno Wittmer, had built his lead to more than 6 seconds over Brandon Davis. In third was Boris Said, while Ron Fellows was now fourth, having passed Crescentini on lap 8. Dino was pushing hard though and got back past the big yellow Corvette a few minutes later. Crescentini didn't stop there either. Soon he was hounding, and then past Fellows, then Said and Davis too, with a clear track between him and Wittmer. There was now a 10-second gap to close, however, and as hard as he tried, Crescentini wasn't able to catch Kuno by the checkered flag. Fellows lost his engine going after Said for third, but again no yellow flag.
The GTS race was turning into a cakewalk for McQuarrie, his nimble little Exige S some 46 seconds
ahead as he crossed the finish line in front of second-place Esayian, who along with Pettiford had moved ahead of Espenlaub in the middle of the race. Tolar soldiered on for a solid fifth in this fast, uninterrupted-by-any-full-course-yellows, race.
In TC, Stout was out front by the end of the first lap, with Wittmer and Gardner fighting for second. Gardner took the spot at the end of the front straight on Lap 2. He held onto second around Turn 1, but it wasn't easy as Wittmer almost took him out going into the fountain complex. Those bumps were costly for Wittmer though, as he slowed with a cut tire, giving third to Meyer. The Scions built a six-second gap on the RX-8 before an unfortunate brush with the wall put Gardner out for good. Stout stayed in front across the line, while Meyer held onto second, followed by Nick Wittmer and Chen behind him in third and fourth respectively. Gardner was credited with fifth.
Stout became the youngest winner in World Challenge history at 18 years old, one month and 16 days. Although he won by a sizable margin, he said there were some tense minutes near the end. A rear tire felt like it was starting to go so he had to be a little more conservative than he would have liked, but the kid got the job done and deserves his place in the record books.
Stout's win puts him in the Touring Car Drivers' Championship lead with 350 points. Meyer (281), Todd Buras (264), and Gardner (263) trail Stout after three of 12 races.
Stout wasn't the only one setting records, though, as GT winner Kuno Wittmer set fastest lap in qualifying and also recorded the fastest average speed at a record 80.787 mph over the 29-lap, 57.072-mile race that never saw a full course-caution. That's pretty amazing with three classes of cars running on a concrete-lined street course. As if that wasn't enough, Wittmer also set the fastest race lap at 1:25.797 (82.576 mph). It's the fifth career and first-in-GT win for the 26-year-old.
Daskalos won the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start for gaining 5 places on the first lap, while Fellows earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race, Crescentini earned the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race, and William Ziegler (No. 05 Swisher Racing/GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3) picked up seven spots to earn the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
The second-place finish gives Crescentini the GT Championship lead with 292 points, one point ahead of Wittmer and two ahead of his GMG teammate James Sofronas, who happened to be running double duty in ALMS GT this weekend as well.
The race from Long Beach will be broadcast May 1 at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) on Versus.
The World Challenge Championships return to action with a doubleheader at Mosport International Raceway, May 21-23.