BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 18, 2013) - Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda drivers left it all on the track in the final race of the 2013 season today at Road Atlanta. With individual and team titles on the line, every participant pushed the Mazda-powered machines and Cooper Tires rubber to the max.
Series points leader Sean Rayhall lined up in the first spot on the starting grid next to nemesis Ryan Booth. Entering Race Two of the weekend at the 16th Annual Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda, Rayhall knew he needed an 11th-place class finish to win the 2013 Lites 1 (L1) Championship, assuming Booth walked away with the win.
On Lap 1 Booth went to work quickly, taking the lead from Rayhall as the field came around the start/finish line to complete the first trip around the 2.54-mile, 12-turn circuit. At the start of the second lap Rayhall had dropped back to third place before disaster struck. The Comprent Motor Sports driver went off track at Turn 1 and was unable to restart his No. 14 entry, bringing the yellow flags out and igniting Rayhall's nerves. As the tow truck retrieved Rayhall and his vehicle, he was able to start the Mazda machine on his own power and head straight to the pits.
Work behind the wall was crucial for Rayhall's hopes of a title. With less than one minute before the field would circle around, putting Rayhall down two laps, the Comprent Motor Sports team made a roughly 40-second pit stop. Ten seconds longer and the Winston, Ga.-native may not have had a shot at the championship. Rayhall exited pit lane moments before the field, under caution, came around to the start/finish line.
"It's been an awesome year," said Comprent Motor Sports team owner Kevin Kloepfer. "Considering where we were about 45 minutes ago I'm really happy with the finish and with all the guys today. Lamont and Gary were racing up front so this was a really good weekend, especially at our home track."
A lap down after getting restarted, Rayhall went to work to salvage the championship. With 13 minutes to go, Rayhall had advanced to 13th in the L1 class - just two positions away from the position he needed to take the title. By the checkered flag, Rayhall had sped all the way up to seventh place in the L1 class to claim the 2013 championship.
Had the Comprent Motor Sports crew members not worked so quickly, Rayhall may have ended up two laps down with his championship sights lost. For a team in a series that does not have pit stops, Comprent Motor Sports showed they were able to tackle any situation to prevail.
"The team really worked hard getting that car back out there after we had that off in Turn 1," Rayhall said. "That's a true testament to how good my guys are. They got me in a position to come back and get this points title for Robert Talbott so I'm really proud of them. It's been a strong season with ups and downs but the team gave me a really great car every race. I have to take my hat off to the them, to Robert Talbott, Racing Radios, Race Lite Protection and all my fans who have supported me this year."
As Rayhall gained point after point, Performance Tech's Booth was busy staving off Mikhail Goikhberg, swapping lead positions with the JDC Motorsports driver.
Booth led the field from the start through Lap 12 when Goikhberg took over. Booth was able to regain the lead by Lap 26, four laps before the checkers. With the win, Booth has tallied seven wins and 10 podiums on the season.
"We got a sweep for the end of the year and I'm really stoked about that," Booth said. "The Performance Tech guys and Jonatan George Racing Development did an awesome job this weekend helping me out and getting me up to speed. I'm just really happy to end the year on such a good note.
Goikhberg posted the second-fastest time of the race and felt he was finally reaching the speeds he knew he could all season long.
"We were happy with the pace," Goikhberg said. "Finally on the last weekend of the season we were where we should have been all year. Unfortunately I couldn't hold it together for the duration of the race. An old injury came back and it was safe to slow down and finish a respectable second."
Goikhberg's JDC Motorsports teammate Gerry Kraut landed on the L1 overall podium for the first time this season, capturing a third-place finish. Kraut climbed his way for a starting position of seventh to finish third overall and claim his first L1 podium.
"What a fabulous race," Kraut said. "I got a real podium and not a Masters podium so I am very happy with that."
In winning the Lites 2 (L2) class, Brian Alder of BAR1 Motosports posted his second top 10 overall finish of the weekend. Alder made an impressive run to finish seventh overall after starting 16th position.
"This was a tough race today," Alder said. "It wasn't easy. It was a lot of battles going on between our class. I think the lead changed three or four times. We have the exhaust break on our car which made it a little challenging but at the end of the day we kept it on the track didn't make any mistakes and got another victory."
Alder exchanged the lead early on and again late in the race with Alta Velocita Racing's Jerome Mee.
"I got a jump on Brian (Alder) early and then just completely missed the restart," Mee said. "Then I reeled him back in at the end and screwed up in Turn 7 with a lap to go. He drove a great race. It was a good day and I want to thank Brad my crew chief for setting up the car so well."
John Salmon of VA Institute of Performance came in third in the L2 category.
As the 2013 comes to a close, Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda participants will celebrate the season at the championship banquet this evening. Individual and team title winners will be crowned as officials, teams and drivers reflect on the year. Photos and remarks from the season-ending celebration will be posted to the series website.
JDC Motorsports' Gerry Kraut had a breakout performance in both rounds at Road Atlanta this weekend, but topped it off with a Masters win in Race Two of the 16th Annual Petit Le Mans. Kraut had been out of the cockpit since Round 8, but proved his skills did not dwindle during his time away from the IMSA Development Series.
Behind the St. Paul, Minn.-native was Comprent Motor Sports' Lamont Harris. Harris began the 45-minute sprint from the 5th start position in his class to land a second-place Masters finish. The Race Two performance earns him his sixth Masters podium of the 2013 season.
"It was really fun!" Harris exclaimed. "We had a couple offs but luckily the car kept going in the right direction. What a great year!"
Performance Tech's Daniel Mancini earns his fourth Masters podium of the year and second Masters victory with the Race Two performance.
"It feels very good," Mancini said."My paddle shifters were not shifting so I had to go into manual mode, which really threw me off but I was able to keep it on track and get a third place. It was a great race and a great season!"
Eurosport Racing driver Jon Brownson finished seventh in the Masters class, but had the 2013 L1 Masters Championship locked up entering the final round of competition.
In the L2 Masters class, Jerome Mee of Alta Velocita Racing posted his third consecutive win after joining the series in Round 11 at Circuit of the Americas. Mee cracked the top 10 overall with an eighth-place finish in his Élan DP02 2.3L Mazda machine.