'There is just no holding off Mikhail'
Mikhail Goikhberg continued his march from the front of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda series, completing a weekend sweep of Rounds 5 and 6 with a victory Saturday at Watkins Glen International.
Goikhberg, from North Vancouver, British Columbia, has won five of six rounds this season in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and on Cooper Tires. He finished second in Round 3 on June 7 at Kansas Speedway and has 118 points this season, just two shy of perfection.
"I want to thank JDC and everyone who is involved in that program," Goikhberg said. "We are getting better every weekend, and I really like where this program is going. And thanks to Cooper Tires and Mazda for making this series possible. The tires were very consistent and manageable in this race."
Andrew Novich and Hayden Duerson finished second and third, respectively, today on the 11-turn, 3.4-mile circuit at scenic, historic Watkins Glen to each record their first career podium finishes in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Development Series.
Goikhberg won Round 5 under caution Friday. But he had to work harder for the victory Saturday morning under a second consecutive day of brilliant sunshine.
After starting from the pole, Goikhberg rocketed to a lead of 13.009 seconds over Craig Duerson just 15 minutes into the 45-minute race. But Goikhberg's cruise control ended shortly thereafter when the No. 31 Eurosport Racing entry of Michal Chlumecky spun into the gravel in the famous "Boot" section of the circuit, triggering a full-course yellow.
"We worked to a nice, comfortable lead there and just tried to conserve the tires," Goikhberg said. "When you are chasing someone, that (full-course yellow) is the greatest thing in the world. But when you are leading, you are not looking forward to being chased."
Craig Duerson's No. 27 Performance Tech Motorsports entry suffered a mechanical problem in Turn 3 during the caution period, forcing him out of the race. The withdrawal of Duerson - Hayden Duerson's father - lifted 16-year-old Matt McMurry to second and Novich to third.
But Novich judged the restart perfectly, zooming from third to first on the front straightaway and into Turn 1. Novich, from Novato, California, built his lead to .469 of a second over Goikhberg two laps after the restart in the No. 61 Comprent Motor Sports entry.
Round 6 Masters podium finishers (from left): John Falb, Lamont Harris, Gerry Kraut
Goikhberg struck back one lap later, passing Novich for the lead with eight minutes remaining in the race. Goikhberg then pulled away over the closing laps, taking the checkered flag 4.336 seconds ahead of Novich.
"There is just no holding off Mikhail," Novich said. "He's so much quicker through the corners. He didn't even out-motor us; it was pure driver skill. He's got a lot of experience, and that's what it takes to win here."
Hayden Duerson, from Gulfport, Mississippi, was 8.349 seconds behind the winner in the No. 39 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. He took third late in the race when McMurry spun.
Lamont Harris, from Palm Beach, Florida, finished fourth overall and was the leading Masters (age 40 and older) finisher in the No. 65 8Star Motorsports entry. John Falb, from Las Vegas, finished fifth overall and was the second Masters finisher in the No. 77 ONE Motorsports entry.
Gerry Kraut, from North Oaks, Minnesota, was sixth overall and the third Masters finisher in the No. 55 JDC Motorsports car.
Round 6 Lites 2 podium finishers (from left): Brian Alder, Jerome Mee, Ludovico Manfredi
Jerome Mee, from Bellaire, Texas, rebounded from a crash in Round 5 Friday to earn his first Lites 2 victory of the season in the No. 95 Alta Velocita Racing entry. Lites 2 championship leader Brian Alder, from Marysville, Ohio, finished second in the No. 22 BAR1 Motorsports car. Round 5 Lites 2 winner Ludovico Manfredi, from Key Biscayne, Florida, placed third today in L2 in the No. 30 ANSA Motorsports entry.
Rounds 7 and 8 of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda will take place July 10-13 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, the only rounds of the series in Canada.