With dusk beginning to descend upon the pastoral 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Rolex Sports Car Series field circulating slowly behind the pace car for the fifth and final time, second-place runner Butch Leitzinger knew...
With dusk beginning to descend upon the pastoral 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Rolex Sports Car Series field circulating slowly behind the pace car for the fifth and final time, second-place runner Butch Leitzinger knew that he had to jump race leader Scott Pruett on the restart if he was going to win his second race of the season.
So when the race went green again with less than 10 minutes to go, Leitzinger mashed the gas pedal and hurtled down the front straight, inches away from Pruett's Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley. The two entered Turn 1 side-by-side, on the very edge of control; Leitzinger on the inside and Pruett on the outside. Both refused to yield, but Leitzinger managed to squeak past Pruett on the exit of Turn 1.
"I think I passed two or three people going into Turn 1 and that seemed to be where we were the strongest, coming off of the last turn," explained Leitzinger, who shared his sleek Howard Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with Elliott Forbes-Robinson. "And I figured that this would be the best time to do it. On the restart, it just happened that I got a good jump and we got into Turn 1 and Scott gave me just enough room. We both went in there extremely deep and it was a big possibility of it getting very smelly. But, fortunately, there wasn't too much garbage on the inside of the track and it all worked out."
"We both went in very deep and we traded just a little bit of paint," added Pruett. "I knew he was strong there and I did everything I could to get going off of the restart and it looked like he had a little bit more acceleration and he got by. But it was clean and good hard racing. It was real wild."
And the wildness did not end in Turn 1. Leitzinger and Pruett, and the rest of the top-five, remained locked in a nip and tuck bid for overall supremacy, separated by mere inches. Pruett would close in the braking zones and Leitzinger would open up gaps on the exits of the turns. However, because Mid-Ohio's tight layout tends to favor torque over handling, Pruett, who was being hounded from behind by the irrepressible Max Angelelli, just did not have enough juice to power his way past Leitzinger. In the end, he and co-driver Luis Diaz had to settle for second, 0.465 seconds adrift of Leitzinger.
"In the race, our car and Scott's car were faster in different places," said Leitzinger. "This weekend, we seemed to be fast at the right places where we could make a pass. And fortunately, we were fast on the straight and Scott never really quite got close enough to get under me. He was very, very close I noticed at a few of the turn-ins, but it just happened to work out for us this time."
Pruett echoed those sentiments. "My car was quicker in some areas, and his car was quicker in other areas. But where my car was quicker, I just couldn't get the job done. Butch had a little bit more on the straight and got up close enough where I just couldn't defend into Turn 1."
Angelelli crossed the finish line third, finishing 0.273 seconds behind Pruett. Quite an accomplishment seeing as how Angelelli's SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley nearly burned to the ground the day before during qualifying. More importantly, by finishing third, Angelelli and co-driver Wayne Taylor retained their lead in the drivers' championship. "It was crucial for the championship," Taylor acknowledged. "With that fire yesterday, I'm sure that everybody thought that we were done for the championship. But as I said to Max, if anyone can react to this, it's this team. The only way you could tell today that that car was in a fire was if you got in the cockpit and smelled the fire. There was no doubt in mind that the car and every part in the car was 100 percent."
The Finlay Motorsports BMW Riley of Memo Gidley and Michael McDowell and the No. 66 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley shared by Max Papis and Jorg Bergmeister rounded out the top-five.
In the GT class, the thundering Pontiac GTO.R of Paul Edwards and GM ace Ron Fellows, standing in for Jan Magnussen, held a one-lap lead over rest of the class and seemed destined to win its second consecutive race of the season. But a broken upright less than 15 minutes from the finish handed the class win to the No. 21 PTG BMW M3 of Kelly Collins and Tom Milner, who started shotgun on the 44-car field.
"I could see the GTO on track, but I knew he was way ahead of me," said Milner after his second win of the season. "The GTO was running the same lap times as I was, so I couldn't quite catch him. Then when I got the call that he broke, I thought here we are going from last to first and it felt great. The car was a little bit off this weekend, but it ran pretty well in the race."
Another GTO, this one shared by Andy Lally and Marc Bunting, wound up second, followed by Greg Wilkins and Dave Lacey in a Porsche, one lap behind the leaders.
"We had an awesome car, probably the fastest out there," said Lally. "TRG, Pratt and Miller, and Pontiac have been working head down 24/7 to get this thing where it is and it's showing now. We came here and we thought we would have a good shot and we did. We had it right in the ballpark. We made some sway bar adjustments and it was a little pushy on the full fuel load, so we just loosened it up a tick and as it burned off the fuel we just tightened back up and we were good to go. Unfortunately, we just couldn't catch the leader at the end."
The GT class points leaders fared poorly in the race: championship leader Craig Stanton finished sixth in class and second-place Joey Hand came home 18th.
The race featured five cautions for 26 laps, and six lead changes among six different drivers.