LEXINGTON, Ohio – The RealTime Acura team collected two podium finishes at the Pirelli World Challenge GTS doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last weekend, part of the Honda Indy 200. Peter Cunningham finished second in both races, while Nick Esayian collected a pair of top-10 finishes.
RealTime has a long history of success at Mid-Ohio, including seven World Challenge race wins. Its seventh win came last year with Cunningham behind the wheel. The classic road course is located near Honda of America’s home base in Marysville, Ohio, making it a “home track” for the manufacturer.
Saturday – Race 1:Cunningham wasted no time putting himself in a podium position at the start of Saturday’s Round 11 race, moving around the Chevrolet Camaro of Lawson Aschenbach on the opening lap to take over third place. Despite constant pressure from the Camaro, Cunningham was able to slowly build a gap to Aschenbach.
“Right at the start, I beat Lawson into Turn Four and I slotted into third,” Cunningham recalled. “It was hard to hold him off for a number of laps in the first half of the race, but then he got held up in traffic and I was able to build a gap.”
Holding steady in third, Cunningham was promoted to second with two laps remaining when the second-place Kia Optima of Nic Jonsson slowed with a mechanical problem. This gave Cunningham a clear path to second-place finish behind the Kia of Mark Wilkins and ahead of Aschenbach’s Camaro.
“We always enjoy racing at Mid-Ohio,” Cunningham said. “I think it’s the medium speed corners, where aerodynamic down force doesn’t play as much of a role, and allows the Acura’s mechanical grip to be more appreciated."
Esayian also had a strong start, picking up a position and moving into sixth, but was soon caught in a battle between a Chevrolet Camaro and a Ford Mustang.
“I got a little tangled up with Andy Lee and Alec Udell early and the gap between the first group and myself grew,” Esayian said. “When I got clear, I couldn’t catch the lead group.”
After falling to seventh, Esayian was briefly promoted to sixth with Jonsson’s retirement, but got caught out by a slower car on the final lap, enabling Udell’s Mustang to get by. Esayian finished seventh and was looking forward to Sunday’s race.
“I think that Mid-Ohio is less about horsepower and more about the development and preparation of the cars,” Esayian said. “It’s a drivers’ track. Power is less of a crutch, so it’s important to set the car up well for handling, which is where our Acuras shine.”
Sunday – Race 2: The grid for Sunday’s Round 12 race was set by quickest lap times in Saturday’s race, this put Cunningham fifth on the grid and Esayian seventh.
On the opening lap, Cunningham and Esayian each advanced a position when the pole sitting Kia Optima of Jonsson pitted immediately with engine troubles. From there, both RealTime drivers found themselves in a train of five cars; Cunningham in fourth chasing Jack Baldwin’s Porsche Cayman and Wilkins’ Kia Optima, Esayian in sixth chasing Lee’s Chevrolet Camaro, while the lead Camaro of Aschenbach pulled away from the field.
Cunningham had the unenviable task of trying to find a way around Baldwin, while making sure his passing attempts wouldn’t open the door for Lee. After several attempts were thwarted by Baldwin, Cunningham slid past the Porsche under braking in Turn Four to take over third place. The move earned him the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race.
He then set off in chase of Wilkins’ Kia. A race winner on Saturday, Wilkins was a sitting duck for Cunningham’s Acura in the late stages of Sunday’s race.
“Wilkins seemed to be fading,” Cunningham recalled. “His tires were giving up, which is what I was hoping for. From the mid-point of the race onward he was struggling.”
Cunningham spotted a weakness and moved to the inside of Wilkins in Turn 2, known as “the Keyhole.” He took hold of second place without issue. With only four laps remaining, Aschenbach’s lead was too great to overcome; Cunningham finished second behind Aschenbach with Wilkins in third.
Though he was part of the lead pack early, Esayian was again separated from the lead group in lapped traffic and finished sixth.
“I was probably glued to Andy Lee’s bumper for the first 60 percent of the race,” Esayian said. “He didn’t make any mistakes and when the GT cars came through, it made a big separation between us. I pedaled hard to catch up at the end, but I couldn’t get close enough to do anything.
“I’m happy for PD and I want to thank him, because my dad has Mesothelioma and is struggling right now. Peter made sure to give my dad a shout out on the podium during the interviews, which I know my dad will really appreciate.”
Points: With the two podium finishes, Cunningham moves to fifth in the GTS Drivers’ Championship with 922 points. Esayian is up to seventh with 734 points. Acura remains third in the GTS Manufacturers’ Championship.