Round 13 race winners Sandberg and Palmer started on class poles for Round 14. Sandberg’s lead didn’t last long, though, as Cooper made two excellent passes of Winchester and Sandberg on the first lap.
Cooper advanced to the lead with a move to Sandberg’s outside through the left-handed Turn 7, and held it until Lap 7. As the two TC leaders were lapping through TCB traffic, Sandberg retook the lead from Cooper.
Cooper earned two awards as a result. Passing both cars secured him the Optima Batteries Start of the Race Award and his pass on Sandberg on the opening lap was the Cadillac Move of the Race Award.
Unfortunately there was a huge coming together between the two of them on the entry to Turn 6, at the end of the fastest straight on the 1.634-mile MD Anderson Center Speedway at Reliant Park street circuit. Cooper’s brakes failed and the defending TC class champion had nowhere to go but into Sandberg, which took them both out of the race and brought out a full course yellow.
The yellow promoted Sandberg’s three C360R teammates to the top three positions as a result. Winchester took his sixth win of the season, at an average speed of 54.033 mph, ahead of Remo Ruscitti, of Vancouver, B.C., in the No. 71 C360R/Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si in second and Di Meo in third.
“Consistency really paid off this year,” Winchester said about his championship. “I wasn’t fastest a lot of times, my teammate Brett Sandberg was, but consistency is what paid off. I drove smart all year, tried to stay out of trouble. I think I only had major contact maybe twice all year and that really makes the difference for a championship.”
Although Ruscitti failed to capture a win in his rookie season, the runner-up finish is a nice book-end after also finishing second in Round 1 at Circuit of the Americas in May. Ruscitti’s run from eighth to second in Round 14 netted him the Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
For DiMeo, it was his first career Pirelli World Challenge podium. And on the whole, the podium sweep was the sixth of the season for Karl Thomson’s Compass360 Racing organization (Rounds 2, 3, 5, 11 and 12).
Fred Emich, of Denver, CO, finished fourth in the No. 30 Emich Volkswagen/HPA Motorsports Volkswagen Jetta GLI, while Landy captured his second straight top five finish.
In TCB, the story centered on Francis Jr. being able to make a comeback from Round 13, and whether he would have the chance to hunt down Davis and retake the championship points lead.
The 15-year-old switched from his usual No. 98, which was too damaged in Round 13 to race in Round 14, to his father’s No. 2 Hydraulic Jeans/Breathless Performance Mazda 2. Francis Jr. had to start at the back of the field as a result. From 18th at the green flag, he climbed all the way to eighth place by Lap 5. The methodical progression earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award for Round 14.
But the Lap 7 caution for the Cooper/Sandberg contact thwarted his charge. In the end, Francis Jr. finished just one spot behind Davis on the race track. Davis finished seventh, which was enough to secure the championship over Lipperini and Francis Jr.
“Consistency did it, and that was one of the biggest points of the season,” Davis said. “Early, on, I think it was Lime Rock. Lipperini and Ernie Francis Jr. had DNFs and I had a couple of good wins at that time and I was able to capitalize. Continuing to finish on the podium at least once a weekend was how I did it. That was pretty much my goal. I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest but can I finish every race and can I finish it well.”
At the front of the field, the race was far less eventful. The top three finishers, Palmer, Lipperini and Groenke, ran in those positions the entirety of the 14-lap race.
Groenke’s third place eclipsed his fourth in Round 13 as his best result this season, and earned him an elusive first podium in Pirelli World Challenge.
“It’s a dream come true to be on a Pirelli World Challenge podium,” Groenke said. “I grew up watching the series. And to be able to stand up there now it’s an absolute dream come true. So glad to get it done on the last race weekend of the season. The Mulligan Gold/Tundra/Verax.ca Honda Fit was just hooked up. Unfortunately I gave up third in the first race (Round 13), I just went into I think it was Turn 6 a little too hot, had to go into the runoff area.”
Johan Schwartz, of Denmark, finished fourth in the No. 12 ADA/Pioneer Freight Honda Fit, equaling his season best result. Like Landy in Touring Car, Baker matched his fifth place in TCB from Race 1 in Race 2.
Points are final after the 14-race season. Winchester, who finished third in the 2012 standings, took the TC title with a final margin of 345 points over Sandberg (1710-1365). Ruscitti finishes third with 1242 points. In TCB, Davis has 1382 points with Lipperini advancing to second on 1352 thanks to his double runner-up finish. Francis Jr. fell to third with 1345.