BALTIMORE - Intense heat was half the battle in Race One of the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT today- the other half was maneuvering the challenging twists of the 2.1-mile, 12-turn street circuit. The temperature was hot as the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series made its debut, but the racing was blazing.
Competitors found trouble early on, as three of the top four drivers on the starting grid were put on the hot seat before the 10 minute mark. A full course caution came out eight minutes into the sprint in order to recover the No. 30 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of Angel Benitez Sr. from the Turn 3 run-off, bringing the field back together before going green five minutes later.
Starting in fourth position was Thompson Racing's Colin Thompson, who had a mechanical issue at the start and was forced to retire before completing one lap.
NGT Motorsport driver Angel Benitez Jr. also faced mechanical issues and retired to the paddock on Lap 9 of competition.
That left series points leader Madison Snow to extend his points lead for the championship in the series' first competition on a true street circuit. Snow took the lead in his No. 62 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car after Urry's mishap on Lap 8, and led to the checkers. With the victory, the Lehi, Utah-native secured his fifth win of the season and a 29-point lead in the individual Platinum Cup standings.
"It was a great race," Snow said. "It was really hard, really hot in the car, and abusive on the body. I was chasing down Sloan (Urry) for awhile. On the restart going into The Hairpin, Sloan spun right in front of me and that made me kind of happy because I knew I had less competition. What happened to Sloan was unfortunate for him but it definitely made it a lot easier on me. And then I did everything I could to pull away."
Turning his fastest time on his fourth trip around the street circuit, Snow established a new race lap record of 1:36.257. The Snow Racing / Wright Motorsports car will be put to the test in Race Two - starting from 10th position after losing his fastest qualifying lap due to causing a red flag during the session.
Under new ownership since June, TruSpeed Autosport is making a run for the championship with 23-year-old Brett Sandberg coming into his own in the final stretch of the season. The team also brought on Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin points leader David Ostella for the Labor Day weekend.
Teammates Sandberg and Ostella pushed each other from Lap 3 to the final lap of the 45-minute sprint. As the two made their way around the 2.1-mile, 12-turn circuit, Ostella pressured Sandberg for second place once Snow pulled away from the field.
The clean battle between teammates intensified even after the white flag waved. Entering the braking zone for Turn 1, both drivers locked up their wheels, allowing Ostella the chance to set up a pass, which he would complete in Turn 2. Entering Turn 3, Sandberg got into the back of Ostella and spun on the exit, dropping back to fifth. Although Sandberg did not land on podium, his impressive performance included jumping from eighth position to third overall on the first lap.
"Brett (Sandberg), my teammate, got a wicked start, got up in front of me and I was just following him around," Ostella said. "I was just being patient and hoping we would catch Madison (Snow) but he just pulled away. Brett and I had a nice battle, it was clean, it was awesome. I think (Brett) ended up tapping me in Turn 3, and that is unfortunate for him. I feel bad because I'm just here to have fun and he's kind of in the points so I feel bad for him, but other than that the car was amazing.
TruSpeed did an awesome job. The car was smooth the whole way. I have to thank all my sponsors and Phil. Phil Fogg is not here and I have to thank him for letting me take his seat. I know how it is to get the sponsors out there and I'm glad to be able to drive his car and show what it can do and I'm just happy for everybody.
The Porsche GT3 car was phenomenal today. I struggled on the Yokohama tires in the past and this weekend it was phenomenal. They were consistent the whole way through and I'm just happy with the car and hopefully we can repeat or do better tomorrow."
While Urry's spin made life easier for Snow, it made EFFORT Racing's Michael Mills' job that much harder. After Mills saw his teammate spin, he knew it was up to him to land on the podium and rack up team points.
"We got that restart and it was really disappointing to see Sloan (Urry) have that spin," Mills expressed. "I felt really bad for the kid. I had to stay in it for EFFORT and try to get as many points for the team as I could. I knew Angel (Benitez Jr.) was right there, but he had a mechanical issue and then it was just me and Craig (Duerson) as (David) Ostella and (Brett) Sandberg ran off.
It ended up being a great race for us, other than Sloan. I ended up on the podium and ahead of Sandberg in points and ahead of NGT in team points, so we accomplished the goal for the first race. It was hectic but we ended up getting it done."
Entering Round 12, EFFORT Racing leads the Platinum Cup team standings with 188 total points, followed by NGT Motorsport with 182 and Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports at 181.
In the Gold Cup category, Baltimore-based TPC Racing continued its dominance today. Michael Levitas took the top step of the podium for his sixth win of the 2013 season. Another usual fast suspect, TPC teammate David Williams was right on the heels of Levitas and finished in second place. Williams was thrilled to race in front of his home town crowd after 25 years as a Maryland native.
In his bright red shoes, Danny Gianfrancesco took the third step of the podium for his fourth podium finish of the year.
Levitas and Williams were also the top two Gold Masters finishers in Race One. Another TPC Racing teammate received an award following Race One as Ben Keating was named the Yokohama Hard Charger. He jumped from the 16th starting position to finish seventh overall for an unbelievable performance on the Streets of Baltimore.
Michael Levitas: First Place Gold Cup: "My Porsche of Towson 36 car was just amazing. It was so hooked up. It was so dialed in. It was hot between the concrete. I had to short shift every gear but I can't say enough about the Porsche of Towson and TPC guys. My teammate David Williams of Merkle did an amazing job. He pushed me hard. We were lap for lap."
David Williams: Second Place Gold Cup: "It was awesome. I love the facility. I love street racing. It's the first one I've ever done and I would love to do more of it. It's great to be in my home town too. My company Merkle is located here. I've lived here for 25 years and just these kind of crowds and the energy and excitement is fantastic. Technical course, high speed, fantastic."