AUSTIN (Sept. 20, 2013) - Major incidents were avoided despite the mayhem in Round 11 of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda 2013 season. While multiple spins threatened to slow the pace, including an incident in Turn 1 on Lap 1, the yellow flags waved only one time throughout the Race One at Circuit of the Americas (COTA).
Prior to the start, the race was declared a wet session due to rain earlier in the day. As the race continued, the track began to dry off and the earlier declaration was lifted. Although teams were given the option to switch out their Cooper Tires rain tires at that point, all competitors opted to stay on track and continue their run.
Several spins off course in the first 16 minutes left debris on the circuit that ultimately brought out the safety trucks under double yellow flags on lap six for potential clean up and inspection. After 10 minutes under caution, the field went green for four final laps.
Polesitter Ryan Booth of Performance Tech led the field before the yellow, but during the caution period he experienced a mechanical issue and had to wave fellow competitors by as he pulled off course. Booth was bumped back to sixth position after the restart, opening up the lead for the taking. Despite his less than optimal finish, Booth turned the fastest lap of the day with a time of 2:17.133 for a new race lap record at COTA.
Comprent Motor Sports driver Sean Rayhall was gaining momentum on Booth in second position for the first six laps and took advance of Booth's mechanical mishap to ultimately lead the field all the way to the checkers.
"It was definitely a zoo," Rayhall said. "Ryan (Booth) got a quick lead after the initial start, I was kind of behind him just riding. I felt a problem in my right rear where the ball joint had gone bad. I decided to just hang back in second and then whatever happened to his car happened, and that is unfortunate because he really had the car to beat, but sometimes it's having the most reliable that wins. So I really have to thank my Robert Talbot Comprent boys for that!"
Rayhall turned his fastest lap of the competition in Lap 10 around the circuit, two laps after the restart. With the victory, Rayhall secures his fifth win of the year.
Second place finisher Mikhail Goikhberg was not immune to catching "the spins" on the 3.4-mile, 20-turn circuit. The JDC Motorsports driver started from fifth position, but dropped back to ninth after getting mixed up in the incident in Turn 1 on Lap 1.
"We had a good start," Goikhberg said. "We were good in corner one, bypassed the accident there and then I made a crucial mistake following Sean (Rayhall) and Ryan (Booth) into the Esses. And then unfortunately I couldn't get my car started. It took me a good two minutes to get it started and the whole field was by me. Then I started inching my way at it. We had the help of a yellow so that was good. We're hoping for rain tomorrow."
Goikhberg of JDC Motorsports gained three positions from Lap 3 to Lap 4, and by his 10th trip around the circuit he was in second position. On the second-to-last lap he had a tight battle with Enzo Potolicchio, slipping back to third, but made it around the bright orange 8Star Motorsports car to take the second step of the podium.
Avoiding the incident on the first lap paid off for 8Star Motorsports' Franco De Leonardis. His veteran driving skill was on display as he maneuvered around the group of cars in disarray. De Leonardis started from 13th position to finish third overall, jumping to that position on the first lap alone.
As positions shuffled throughout the race, so did the points standings. While Rayhall remains the series points leader with the win, Goikhberg slides ahead of Performance Tech's Daniel Goldburg in the standings with 153 total points. Goikhberg trails Booth, currently in second place with 156 points.
Rayhall not only extended his lead for the championship, he also catapulted Comprent Motor Sports to first place in the team standings. Comprent now leads Performance Tech 197 to 194 with only three races remaining in the season.
With only two events left on the 2013 schedule, Alan Wilzig rejoined the series to take the famous track in the Lone Star State. Wilzig's talent was on display as he finished first in the Lites 2 category amidst the mania. The New York native posted a new race lap record with a time of 2:42.661 on his third time around the track.
One of the largest fields of the 2013 season is back on track tomorrow at 10:05 a.m. CT for Race Two of International Sports Car Weekend.
Veteran drivers were well within the mix of mayhem at COTA. Masters Championship leader Jon Brownson was in the Turn 1 "kerfuffle," but managed to land on the podium. 8Star Motorsports driver De Leonardis earned his first Masters win of the year, finish third overall and four positions ahead of the next Masters contender.
De Leonardis' excitement was evident as he leaped on the podium following Race One at Circuit of the Americas. Not only was his first win remarkable, his impressive run from 13th starting position to finish third overall is more than noteworthy. The Caracas, Venezuela-native gained 10 positions on the first lap alone, managing to avoid the initial Turn 1 jumble.
After the restart on Lap 8, the battle between Eurosport Racing's Brownson and Performance Tech's Jim Booth intensified. The two veteran drivers were back-and-forth for the second place Masters spot. Brownson, typically in the front of the pack and well ahead of other Masters contenders, found himself with a mechanical issue which caused him to drop back as far as 11th overall. Thankfully, the yellow flag came out bringing the field back together.
"That was about as exciting as it gets," Brownson said. "It was definitely a wild ride. Going into Turn 1 I got caught up in that 'schmozzle' and actually stalled my engine and had to restart so I was at the end of the field and had lots of great passing opportunities from that juncture, so it was a gas."
With his eighth podium of the season, Brownson extends his lead in the Masters Championship. The Breckenridge, Colo.-native now has a 49-point lead over Daniel Mancini in second place.
Jim Booth, racing alongside his son Ryan Booth, was pleased to land on the podium for the first time this season. Booth made an impressive charge forward after starting from 19th on the grid to finish ninth overall.
"I think I qualified last," Jim Booth said. "I was praying for rain because it's a great equalizer and I think I finished eighth or ninth overall and third on the podium so my prayer's were answered except for my son's mechanical. That's sickening. From first place to sixth."