AUSTIN, Texas (May 18, 2013) – Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., led all the way to win Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge GT Cadillac Sports Car Challenge Round Four race at Circuit of the Americas. Lawson Aschenbach, of Jupiter, Fla., captured the GTS class win, holding off a charging Andy Lee at the finish.

O’Connell started from the Motul Pole Position in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R and got to Turn One first off the standing start. From there, the defending series Champion led all the way, weathering a pair of restarts and temperatures in the mid-90s to take his first win of 2013. O’Connell finished 1.107-seconds ahead of point leader James Sofronas, averaging 75.788 mph around the 2.3-mile, 20-turn road course.

“I had a really good start,” O’Connell said. “We usually lose out to the Volvos on the starts with their four-wheel drive. My objective was to just keep him behind me or to the outside going into Turn One. When I got that launch, and I saw that the Volvo was not going to be able to get me into Turn One, that was the defining moment to the race.

“After the start I had to just hit my marks. I wanted to push hard early. I brought my front tires in early and wanted to get a gap in the first couple of laps. When the Audi got by the Volvo I had to push because he was coming fast.”

The win comes one month after O’Connell and the Team Cadillac crew watched victory slip away in Long Beach. On the final lap, while leading under caution, the Cadillac’s engine expired due to a radiator punctured by debris.

“I had a good race car from the Team Cadillac guys. They’ve worked hard to get these cars to handle in this heat. It was good to get the victory after my near win at Long Beach a couple of weeks ago. It is also special to get the first World Challenge Series GT win at a new track. I am looking forward to the second race tomorrow.”

Sofronas benefitted from O’Connell’s retirement at Long Beach to score his second win of the season. Saturday, he started second in his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8, but fell to third on the start, behind Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Sofronas spent 14 of the race’s 25 laps trying to find a way around Pobst, and finally made the move stick, setting his sights on O’Connell.

Despite closing the gap considerably, Sofronas ran out of time, and had to settle for the runner-up finish, his second of 2013 to go with a pair of wins.

“The heat affected our strategy, much like everyone else,” Sofronas said. “We had to manage the tires, brakes and engine temps. We had a strong car for the first half of the race. We got held up by Randy Pobst. I was all over him. The car was fast in the high speed turns, but I just couldn’t get around him, and that was enough for Johnny [O’Connell] to get away. When I was able to get by Randy, I was able to get some clean air and run hard, but at the end, with eight laps to go, I began to lose the front tires and just drove through it.”

O’Connell’s teammate Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., started fourth in his No. 8 Team Cadillac Cadillac CTS-V.R but fell to 13th after bogging down at the start. He worked back up to eighth by the second caution to remove the stricken No. 85 Racing for Our Heroes Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Craig Stanton. Following the lap-11, restart to he gained two positions to sixth and was fourth three laps later. With three laps remaining, he was able to move around Pobst’s Volvo for the final position on the podium, earning the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race in the process.

“I didn’t get a good start,” Pilgrim said. “The clutch was dragging and stalled the engine. I had to switch the power back on, the car fired up, by then the field was gone.

“This is a tough place to pass. I had to wait for people to make a mistake. I made some good moves, while trying to be patient. Randy was really fast on the straight, but he seemed to be having trouble through the Esses. I just bided my time and was able to get him. It was good to get a double podium finish for Cadillac. We will get it right for the race tomorrow.”

Pobst held on for fourth, followed by a charging Tim Pappas, of Boston, Mass. Pappas started 11th in the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-Benz SLR but steadily moved up to score the best finish for a Mercedes-Benz in Pirelli World Challenge GT competition. It was Pappas’ second-career top-five finish and first since his return to the series following a 10-year hiatus.

O’Connell’s fastest lap of 1:34.126 (87.967 mph) will place him on the pole for Sunday’s Round Five race. Sofronas will again start second.

In GTS, Aschenbach started from the Motul Pole and gained an early advantage in his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Unlike O’Connell, the restarts did not go as smoothly for the two-time series Champion. On the lap-11 restart, Aschenbach watched the pair of Kia Motors America Kia Optimas of Nic Jonsson and Mark Wilkins drive by heading up the hill into Turn One.

It took Aschenbach four laps to move around Wilkins, and then another two to move past Jonsson and back into the lead. In the closing laps, Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Colo., began to close on the leader. On the final lap, Lee turned the fastest lap of the race in his No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro, but came up 0.348-second short at the finish.

It was Aschenbach’s second-straight win, and moved him to within one point of Championship leader Jack Baldwin. Aschenbach’s resurgent run earned him the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race.

“This win is a big deal,” Aschenbach said. “With only 14 races, you really need to be up front as often as you can. Fortunately, today, it worked for us.

“It was quite hot. Something happened about halfway through, so I had to back it off a little bit. But Andy [Lee] drove a hell of a race out there, too. He was right there. Two Camaros up front for GM is always good.

“This is only our third race and we’re winning races. It’s quite a testament to our sponsors and the work the guys at the shop have done. We’ll take it, but I think we still do have some work to do for tomorrow, to help get this thing a little quicker.”

Lee’s runner-up finish equaled his best on the season. The fast lap of 1:41.032 (81.954 mph) means Lee will start Sunday’s Round Five race from the Motul Pole.

“This has been one of the most grueling races heat wise, in the car,” Lee said. “I opted to go without the cool suit just to stay as light as I could. I was saving everything, the motor, the brakes, the tires. I was just driving it 90 percent most of the race. I thought if I went for it on the last lap I might catch him at the right time. I closed, but I probably should have started a lap earlier. But, it was a great battle and he [Aschenbach] drove flawlessly. It’s good to be a Chevy Camaro one-two.”

Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., started sixth, but worked his way around the front-wheel drive Kias and the Acura TSX of defending series Champion Peter Cunningham to take the final spot on the podium in his No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman.

“I didn’t get a great start at all, ending up eighth,” Baldwin said. “I just ran hard all day and did the best to manage everything. I think third is pretty good. I’ve got nothing for the Camaros, so that’s what we’ve got. Third is third. I’m good.”

Jonsson, of Sweden, and Toronto’s Wilkins completed the top five.

Jim Taggart, of Raleigh, N.C., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing the most positions in the race in his No. 61 Lotus USA/Taggart Autosport/LRR Lotus Exige. Brad Adams, of New Orleans, La., earned the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start for advancing nine positions on the first lap in his No. 96 Voodoo/Dat Dog/Yo MTV Raps! Ford Mustang Boss 302.

Sofronas continues to lead the GT Championship standings, with 517 points, followed now by O’Connell (411) and Pilgrim (370). Audi leads the Manufacturers’ Championship, with 34, followed by Cadillac (27), Volvo (20), Chevrolet (10), AMG Customer Sports (3) and Porsche (1).

Baldwin leads GTS, with 484 points, followed by Aschenbach (483) and Cunningham (369). Chevrolet enjoys an 18-point lead in the Manufacturers Championship, 35 to 17 over Acura, followed by Kia (8) and Ford (1).

Saturday’s race will be part of the June 16 broadcast on NBC Sports at 5 p.m. (EDT).

Round Five of the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS Championship will make its standing start Sunday at 1:15 p.m. (CDT), with coverage beginning on www.world-challengetv.com at 12:20 p.m. (CDT).

Winchester and Francis Jr. double up in Pirelli World Challenge TC, TCB at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas (May 18, 2013) - Ryan Winchester, of Mason City, Iowa, and Ernie Francis Jr., of Davie, Fla., opened the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec season with a pair of wins in class, respectively, Saturday at the Cadillac Sports Car Challenge weekend at Circuit of The Americas.

Winchester completed Race One with an average speed of 68.341 mph around the 2.3-mile, 20-turn COTA National Course, and averaged 77.130 mph in Race Two.

Round One

In the opening 25-minute sprint, Winchester started his No. 72 Ultimate Racing/HPD/Honda Civic Si from the overall Motul Pole as the field took the green flag for the rolling start. While teammate Remo Ruscitti, of Vancouver, B.C., pressured him throughout the 13-lap contest, Winchester was able to use traffic in the end to open up a 2.909-second win at the finish. It was Winchester’s first series victory.

Rookie Ruscitti had to then fend off his third teammate, Brett Sandberg, of Allendale, N.J., and a charging Dan Martinson, of Rogers, Minn., at the checkered flag to finish second in the No. 71 Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si in his series debut. Martinson made a late run in his No. 42 Go4ItRacing Schools/Hawk/Emich Pontiac Solstice to finish third after starting fifth. Martinson earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race for his move at the finish.

Sandberg finished fourth in the No. 70 Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si, followed by the No. 68 Honda Civic Si of Orlando’s Jon Miller.

The Touring Car B-Spec action was furious throughout, with Motul Pole winner Francis Jr. taking the early lead in his No. 98 Hydraulic Jeans MAZDA2. That lead was never comfortable, with Charlie James, of Joplin, Mo., pulling his No. 0 SafeRacer MINI Cooper alongside numerous times with the pair occasionally making contact, re-arranging the mirrors on each car.

In the end, Francis became the youngest winner in Pirelli World Challenge history at 15 years, three months and 25 days, one day after setting the same record for a series pole. Francis Jr. also earned the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race for his run. James finished second in his series debut. Francis Jr. was joined, on the podium, by his father, Ernie Francis, of Davis, Fla., who moved from seventh on the grid to third in his No. 2 Hydraulic Jeans MAZDA2.

The elder Francis earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing five positions overall in the race.

Johan Schwartz, of Denmark, finished fourth in his No. 01 Endurancekarting.com MINI Cooper, followed by Robbie Davis, of Dallas, in the No. 37 MINI USA/Mini Financial Services MINI Cooper.

The opening race was slowed by a three-lap caution to attend to the No. 78 Fiat of Austin/Wild Bubbas Fiat 500, which rolled for the second time this weekend after being struck by another car. Driver Jim Cleveland, of Australia, was not injured in the incident. Cleveland did earn the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award.

Round Two

Starting from the Motul pole, as a result of winning Round One, Winchester completed the Saturday sweep in Touring Car, winning the second sprint race of the day. Winchester was able to take the win in much more comfortable fashion, keeping at least a two-car length lead over his teammate Sandberg throughout the race.

“It’s pretty special to win my first races in World Challenge here at Circuit of the Americas,” Winchester said. “It’s such a great facility. It means a lot. The guys worked really hard all day in testing. In qualifying we were able to put it on the pole, which was huge. I think being on the pole was very important, especially with our cars, because when you catch the B-Spec pack, if you get them in the Esses you’re stuck for a while.

“It’s great to be back with Compass360. I think they are the best team in the paddock. They put great Hondas on the track every time. This is a strong start compared to last year. Last year, I got taken out in the first race at St. Pete and didn’t even get to compete in Round Two. I started 2012 in a huge hole, and was able to make it back to third in the points but that was the best I could get. This year, starting off with two wins and a pole position means a lot. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”

Sandberg was able to make the most of his fourth place starting position, getting around Martinson and his teammate Ruscitti in the first couple laps of the race. From there, he went on to score his best-career finish in second place.

Martinson again looked to spoil the Honda sweep, but Ruscitti was able to pass the Solstice on the final tour of the 10-lap race for third, a move that garnered him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race. The Compass360 podium sweep was the first for the team in Pirelli World Challenge competition.

“The first race was cool,” Ruscitti said. “I almost got Ryan at the beginning and the TCB cars just got in the way of us a little at the end. In the second race, I had to make a pass on the last lap to get back to third. It was cool to get the podium sweep for Compass360. I raced with Ryan once before with the team and I just met Brett this weekend. They’re great guys and it’s a lot of fun racing with them.”

Martinson finished just off the podium, in fourth, followed by Sarah Cattaneo, of Scottsdale, Ariz., in the No. 43 IDoBorrow.com Honda Civic.

In Touring Car B-Spec, the race was just as close as it was in Round One. Francis Jr. added to his racing resume, doubling up on Saturday, taking Race Two.

James led the majority of the race, but the high school student set up the winning pass coming out of Turn 20, leading onto the front straight. He pulled up on the rear bumper of then-leader James, and won the drag race to the line, taking the victory by inches.

“It feels great so far,” Francis Jr. said. “I’ve only won some amateur races up until now. The first pro win, it’s really exciting.

“[James] was in front for most of the second race. I couldn’t make the pass on the inside of the final corner, so I had to duck on the outside of him in the last turn and go through the grass. It was a drag race to the finish and I got him by about a foot.”

James enjoyed the close battles with Francis Jr. in both races and was complimentary of the young winner.

“Junior drove a great race,” James said. “It was fun racing with him; I had a good time the whole time. His car just had a monster third gear, and he had a really good pull and he got me at the line. Most other laps, I was able to get him back into Turn One, but the finish line is where it is and it worked for him.

“We definitely bumped a few times. He hit my back, I hit his back. We touched mirrors a time or two. We had some real hard racing, no hard feelings.”

Davis took the third step on the podium, and was a factor until the last lap, as part of a four-car group that was able to break away from the rest of the field. Joel Lipperini, of Pittston, Pa., was the final car in the lead pack, and finished fourth in No. 81 Race Labz/Honda/HPD/Raceshopper Honda Fit.

Mike Asselta, of Overland Park, Kan., finished fifth in his second Pirelli World Challenge start, in the No. 7 SafeRacer Mini Cooper.

Sixth place Touring Car B-Spec finisher David Alejandro, of Pembrook Pines, Fla., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing the most positions from start to finish in the No. 99 Claims Support Inc.com MAZDA2. Ernie Francis Sr. was presented the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start award. Martinson earned the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race award.

With two of 14 races in the books, Winchester leads the Touring Car points with 295. Ruscitti, 90 markers behind, and Brett Sandberg, with 195 points, complete the top three. Francis Jr. leads the Touring Car B-Spec class into Sunday’s Round Three, collecting 292 points Saturday, leading James by 67. Robbie Davis sits in third, with 175 points.

Round Three of the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec Championships is scheduled to take the lights for an 8:20 a.m. (CDT) standing start on Sunday. That race can be seen live at world-challengetv.com.

SCCA - World Challenge