Round 10 is Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Michael DiMeo (in photo above), of Toronto, Jason Wolfe, of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, and Tyler Palmer, of San Diego, Calif., took wins in Round 9 of the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car, Touring Car A and Touring Car B-Spec seasons, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge Presented by StopTech.
What started off as a challenging race, weather-wise, the 26-car starting field survived a light to moderate drizzle when the 40-minute timed race began but then all drove cleanly through the remainder of the race as the track dried out and the sun rose once more.
With wet conditions, Race Control made the decision to switch the start from a standing to a double-file rolling start, with several laps run under yellow flag conditions before the field got the green flag. Once the green flew, the action was able to begin as the majority of the field ran on the Pirelli P-Zero slicks on a wet track. With track conditions the way they were, green flag racing was preserved with some clean, safe driving throughout the field.
DiMeo, in the No. 71 Grand Alarms Honda Civic Si held the overall lead but the man on the charge was Wolfe, in the No. 36 Wolfe Trucking Kia Forte Koup, from 14th overall on the starting grid (fourth in TCA).
Wolfe, a TCA driver, weaved through the entirety of the TC field except for race leader DiMeo all the way up to second place overall. The Ohio native serves as a track instructor at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and additionally had three races under his belt in a USF2000 open-wheel car at this race last year, so his experience paid major dividends.
The other star of the early stages was Steven Doherty, of Plainfield, Ill., in the No. 94 Nissan/GT Academy/Skullcandy Nissan Altima Coupe. Doherty slipped, slid and nearly lost the rear of his car at least three different times in the opening laps but on each occasion managed to save the car from a full spin.
Wet track finally dries
As the race track dried out, DiMeo maintained control and improved his times, while Doherty made it up to second overall. DiMeo won the race by 14.102 seconds at an average speed of 68.574 mph; he also captured the StopTech Brake Late, Finish First Award for his efforts.
Wolfe finished third overall to win TCA; meanwhile Doherty's teammate, Bryan Heitkotter, of Fresno, Calif., finished third in TC and fourth overall in the No. 93 Nissan/GT Academy/Skullcandy Nissan Altima Coupe.
DiMeo recapped his drive from the overall pole to his seventh win of the Touring Car season. "We started on dries as just before the race it was only light spitting rain, but then as soon as we took to the track it started to come down heavier, and the spray from the safety car was even bad," DiMeo said. "That was a wild first couple laps. Then a dry line started to form. Through mid-race, we ran the dry line again. I think that was the best call," he added, referring to the call to switch to a rolling start. "With a standing start it would have been a lot of wheel spin and no one going anywhere. But everyone made it through Turn 1 safe behind me in my mirrors. It was a smart call."
Doherty expanded on his early race slip-and-slide and how he was able to hang on. "That all goes back to my circle track experience getting punted every week," Doherty said. "I have plenty of experience in a front-wheel drive car going sideways, so that definitely saved me on that one. It was super impressive driving by everyone. Three classes, 30-odd cars and no full-course yellows is a testament to the drivers in this series."
Wolfe took home three awards following his fourth win of the season. His rocket start of 11 positions gained netted him the Optima Batteries Best Start of the race. Wolfe's sequence of moves – all on dries – took home the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race. And, unsurprisingly, with a gain of 11 positions from 14th overall to third overall by the checkered flag, Wolfe was the Sunoco Hard Charger as well.
"I don't really remember a whole lot to be honest ... it was just adrenaline going through me," Wolfe said. "We got up to P2 overall and then I wondered if we could get the win overall. As an instructor I have a lot of track experience here, so I know the line pretty well. It's hard to say what a standing start would have produced."
Tight battle for second
Meanwhile behind him, there was an intense three-way battle for second in class. Ultimately, Ernie Francis Jr., of Dania, Fla., prevailed with second in the No. 98 Breathless Performance Mazda MX-5.
The Shea Racing teammates, Jason Cherry, of Gambrills, Md., in the No. 13 Autism Society of America/Avpro/Purposeful Architecture Mazda MX-5 and Shea Holbrook, of Groveland, Fla., in the No. 67 TRUECar/Lucas Oil/Radium Honda Civic Si, each ran second at times but suffered occasional traffic mishaps, then had slight contact on the final lap.
Francis Jr. described his view of the proceedings. "We were fighting for second and no one wanted to give it up," Francis Jr. said. "On a drying track, any mistake would send you off from the wet line. The two in front of us took themselves out, which brought us into a second place finish. It had been really clean racing between the three of us until the last lap."
Cherry offered a take on his battle with Francis Jr. and Holbrook. "It was sketchy trying to drive on dries with a rear-wheel drive car," Cherry said. "Then a spin on the first lap made it difficult. Once I worked back through the B-spec (cars), we had a great battle. On the last lap I went for a pass on Shea Holbrook and we made some contact. That sent her back and Ernie Francis Jr. drove around us."
In TCB, another big mover on the day was Palmer, in the No. 37 MINI USA/Mobil 1/Flying L Racing/ThePainter'sFriend.com/Discount Tire Mini Cooper, who started only eighth in class but carved his way through to the win. Palmer's pass of Glenn Nixon, of Mission, B.C., for the TCB lead on Lap 7 netted him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award. The win is Palmer's second this season and continues his run of podium finishes in all but two of his career starts.
"So I started eighth; the car was fine but the time wasn't there," Palmer said. "It started sprinkling but I felt comfortable in the rain. As the race went on, everyone was on slicks, so I did what I could. Once I got out front halfway, I just did the best I could to keep it up front. It wasn't wet enough for rains."
Veteran Heinricy charges back
Second, after inheriting the pole position due to a technical infraction found post-qualifying for another car, was John Heinricy, of Clarkston, Mich., in the No. 35 Matick Chevrolet Chevrolet Sonic. Heinricy suffered contact on the first lap to drop to the rear of the TCB class field, but recovered with a methodical drive back through.
"Once I got out of the Keyhole on the first lap, I got hit on every side of the car I think, and ended up last," Heinricy said. "I have a lot of experience in the wet. So I put my head down for 40 minutes, said be smooth even though it was still really treacherous. We got the car here, and showed what it could do. Successful day." The race marked the first of the year for both Heinricy and the Chevrolet Sonic in Pirelli World Challenge.
Third, after starting fifth, was Nixon, in the No. 58 Racing.ca/LaptopScreen.com/Nixon Prosports Mini Cooper. Nixon has his third podium finish in as many Pirelli World Challenge starts this season. Palmer should close substantially in the points standings as each of the top three drivers struggled in Round 9.
Brian Price, of Middletown, Va., in the No. 51 Unlimited Racing/RP Performance Honda Fit, Nathan Stacy, of Owasso, Okla. in the No. 14 MDG/Ford Racing Ford Fiesta, and Paul Holton, of Tallahassee, Fla., in the No. 65 Radium/TRUECar/Lucas Oil Honda Fit finished ninth, 10th and 12th. That trio occupied the top three in points entering the weekend.
Also of note, Leo Parente, of New York, NY, made up six positions overall early in the No. 00 FIAT USA/Pirelli Tire/SRT Motorsports FIAT 500 but had a slight off early at Turn 6. Parente is one of two drivers racing for charity this weekend in the No. 00 car, which is raising money for the Maxton's Fight Foundation. Parente ended 11th in TCB after starting 12th in class.
Round 10 of the season will be Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET; live streaming on world-challengetv.com will begin at 4:15 p.m. ET.