Guy Smith broke through to claim victory Friday at Miller Motorsports Park, giving Dyson Racing and Bentley its first win in Pirelli World Challenge and the British manufacturer’s first in North America.
The Englishman took his No. 88 Bentley Continental GT3 to a 3.473-second win over Cadillac Racing’s Johnny O’Connell, who with his second place finish has provisionally clinched the GT class drivers’ championship with one race still to go.
Smith took over the lead of the 50-minute race on Lap 15, after the then-leading No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren MP4-12C of Robert Thorne collided with a GTS class Mustang in traffic.
It capped off a remarkable recovery run for pole-sitter Smith after dropping to sixth at the start but working his way through the field. What’s more, the win came on his 40th birthday.
The sister No. 08 Bentley of Butch Leitzinger gave Dyson a double-podium in third, thanks to a late-race move on the No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V.R of Andy Pilgrim, who settled for fourth. Leitzinger nearly got by O’Connell on the last lap but managed to hold off the V8-powered beast for the position.
O’Connell benefited from a start-line axle issue for championship rival Mike Skeen, who recorded a 23rd place finish, which has effectively handed the drivers’ title to the Cadillac driver.
The two-time and defending champion heads into tomorrow’s season finale with a 152-point lead over the CRP Racing Audi driver, with Cadillac now tied with Audi for the lead of the manufacturer’s title race.
The No. 61 R. Ferri Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Anthony Lazzaro completed the top-five in Friday’s race, while Thorne rebounded for a sixth place finish overall and in the GT class.
Clutch issues denied Ryan Dalziel of a podium finish after running second early in his No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, although teammate Michael Mills claimed top honors in GT-A with a 9th place overall finish.
Mills inched closer to the GT-A championship with his fifth consecutive class win and sixth of the season, edging out the No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 of Marcello Hahn and Alex Welch’s GMG Racing Audi, which were second and third in class, respectively.
The No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Tim Pappas led early but retired on the 8th lap with a broken engine belt.
Nick Esayian, meanwhile, claimed GTS class honors in his No. 34 TRG Aston Martin Vantage GT4, in a race that saw the title race turn upside down on the starting grid.
Championship leader Mark Wilkins broke a half-shaft and failed to get off the line, with his Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports teammate Nic Jonsson plowing into the back of the No. 38 Kia Optima.
It resulted in a DNF for Wilkins, whose 80-point lead heading into the race has now been reduced to a mere 2 point advantage over Blackdog Racing’s Lawson Aschenbach, who recorded a fourth place finish in his Camaro on Friday.
Esayian took over the class lead of the race late after an issue for the No. 73 GT Sport Porsche Cayman of Jack Baldwin, who managed to finish second, ahead of Drew Regitz, who made it a TRG double podium.
The second and final GT/GT-A/GTS race of the weekend gets underway at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday.
RESULTS: Round 15