The Pirelli World Challenge GTS doubleheader was tough but the team collected a top-five finish.
Friday – Qualifying 1
Having collected a pair of podiums in last year’s Detroit Grand Prix, the RealTime Acura crew was well versed in setting up the Acura TSXs for the 2.35-mile, 13-turn temporary road course in Belle Isle Park. In Friday’s qualifying session for Saturday’s race, Cunningham qualified his No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX third on the GTS grid with a 1:42.218 (82.764 mph), while Esayian qualified the No. 34 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX in 11th, turning a 1:45.586 (80.124 mph).
Saturday – Race 1
Saturday’s race started with a bang, literally, as the Kia Optima Turbo of Nic Jonsson slammed into the side of Cunningham’s car. Jonsson’s disabled car on the front straight immediately brought out a full-course yellow.
Under yellow conditions, Cunningham’s Acura appeared to have made it through the incident with minor damage, but with one quarter of the 50-minute race remaining, the left front wheel (which had taken the brunt of the damage from Jonsson’s Kia) failed, and sent Cunningham into the Turn 10 tire wall. The Acura pilot was okay, but disappointed in his early exit.
“At the start, Nic Jonsson moved across the track and into me, which sent him into a spin and into the wall,” Cunningham recalled. “I continued in third place, totally unaware of the residual damage to the wheel. Shortly after a yellow flag came out for Alex Figge’s Volvo, the wheel suddenly gave up the ghost and that was the end of our day.”
Starting from 11th, Esayian gradually worked his way up through the field while battling not only the GTS competition, but the bumpy, concrete barrier-lined circuit.
“We didn’t do a great job in qualifying, but that was on me,” Esayian said. “I was a little tired and got a little sloppy. We had a good start, but the car was very challenging to drive; it was quite loose. I think I maximized what my car had available and the RealTime crew is going to go to work to get it in shape for tomorrow.”
At the checkered flag, Esayian brought the Acura TSX home in a hard-fought ninth-place. The Kia Optima Turbo of Mark Wilkins won the race, followed by Jack Baldwin in a Porsche Cayman S and Lawson Aschenbach in a Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Sunday – Qualifying 2
The RealTime crew quickly had Cunningham’s Acura repaired and ready to go for Sunday morning’s qualifying session. So diligent were the repairs to Cunningham’s car, he entered a qualifying time faster than Friday, a 1:41.656 (83.221 mph), good enough for fourth on the grid.
The crew also went to work on improving Esayian’s car, and it showed, as he entered a 1:42.935 (82.187 mph) for seventh on the grid.
Sunday – Race 2
Sunday’s race was plagued with full-course yellows, which worked to RealTime’s favor and to their disadvantage.
At the start, both Cunningham and Esayian successfully dodged a stalled GT car and held on to their positions, but Esayian soon became entangled in a battle with the eventual first and second-place finishers.
Cunningham crept up to third by lap six, but was under increasing pressure from a pair of Mustangs and the previous day’s winning Kia. Feeling like a sitting duck, the Acura driver was demoted one at a time as the passing cars used their superior straight-line speed to muscle past.
The first caution period came out on lap 10 with Cunningham in sixth and Esayian in eighth. No sooner did the race restart on lap 15 then another full-course caution was issued, the result of a multi-car GTS accident in Turn One. Unfortunately, Esayian was a victim of the melee; contact with Dane Moxlow’s Mustang resulted in a broken suspension and early race exit for Esayian.
“We were happy with qualifying, but we got out motored early by some of the more powerful cars that qualified behind us,” Esayian said. “We held our ground until that first yellow. On the restart we went into Turn One three-wide. I had the Lotus on the inside of me and Moxlow on the outside. I actually bumped into the back of Peter and then had some side-to-side contact with Moxlow. Off he went and that set off a chain reaction.
“My left front suspension broke as a result of that contact, so from there I was just a passenger. That was the end of it. Detroit is pretty brutal. I thought we were getting ready for a great finish there at the end, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
After a lengthy cleanup, the lap 21 restart was a case of déjà vu, only this time it was a trio of GT cars that got together, nearly blocking the track at Turn Three. Luckily, in the short period of green flag racing, Cunningham was able to squeeze his way through the GTS field, picking up two positions and slotting into fourth before the final yellow came out.
“We were running third in the early going, but I had no defense when a few of the higher-horsepower cars caught up to me,” Cunningham said. “I got hit on the first restart, but continued unscathed. The second restart was pandemonium. It was pretty crazy between Turn Three and Turn Six before the caution came out. Some of us made it through and some of us didn’t.
“Lawson Aschenbach and Jack Baldwin, who had been running one-two the whole time, got caught up in the GT carnage and they were slow out of Turn Three. So it became a drag race out of Turn Three. Things settled down and I was in fourth. I might have had a little something left to challenge for a podium, but the yellow came out.”
The race would end under yellow with Cunningham in fourth. Dean Martin’s Ford Mustang Boss 302S went on to take the GTS win followed by the Kia of Mark Wilkins and another Mustang driven by Alec Udell.
Following Rounds Six and Seven at the Detroit Grand Prix, Acura is third in the GTS Manufacturers’ Championship. Cunningham is third and Esayian is seventh in the GTS Drivers’ Championship.
The Detroit doubleheader will air on NBC Sports, Sunday, June 16th, at 5 p.m. ET.
The Pirelli World Challenge takes the rest of June off before heading to Lime Rock Park, July 4 – 6, for Rounds Eight and Nine of the GTS Championship.
RealTime drivers have enjoyed competing at this scenic, northwestern Connecticut track over the years and they have won there eight times in the Pirelli World Challenge, making it the team’s most successful circuit.
Watch Round Eight live on www.world-challengetv.com July 5 at 12:10 p.m. ET, then Round Nine on July 6 at 10:35 a.m.