Mike Skeen and Tim Pappas were first-time winners this season in Pirelli World Challenge GT and GT-A competition, while Nic Jonsson took his second GTS win of the year in Round 7 of the season, the Cadillac Grand Prix at Road America.
Skeen’s win is his eighth, Jonsson’s his third and Pappas’ his first in Pirelli World Challenge. For Skeen it is his first win since last July’s Round 8 at Lime Rock Park; Jonsson won earlier this year at Round 2 in Long Beach.
For Skeen, driving the No. 2 Hawk Performance Audi R8 Ultra, he started fifth but had already made it up to third place by Lap 3. Once he was second behind Andy Pilgrim in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, he hounded the leading Cadillac for a solid eight laps.
The deciding moment of the race came on Lap 15. In an over-under move Skeen got a run on Pilgrim exiting the right-handed Turn 12, Canada Corner, and then moved to Pilgrim’s right to have the outside line at the following left-handed Turn 13.
Skeen powered past in the Audi through the corner, and began to streak away from there. The move was awarded, ironically, the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race as the Cadillac was on the receiving end of Skeen’s pass. Skeen led the final nine laps of the 23-lap race and won by 1.838 seconds.
“Our strong spot was getting a run out of the Kink into Canada,” Skeen said. “That lap he pinched too much; I got a nice over-under, then side-by-side through 13. Andy’s awesome to race against and a very gentlemanly racer. Both him and Johnny are so professional, and easy to race.”
The battle for second and third place was intense, and ultimately ended with a pair of first-time Pirelli World Challenge GT podium finishers.
Robert Thorne in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3 made the key pass for second on Lap 22, as he dove to the inside of both Pilgrim and Tim Bergmeister in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R at Turn 5. Bergmeister made the move on Pilgrim to the inside, but as both exited wide of the corner, Thorne snuck through past both of them for the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award.
The result for Thorne is his first GT podium, although he has a Touring Car class win already to his credit in the series. It betters his previous best result of sixth, achieved at Round 5 in Detroit.
“I was waiting for the right time to show up. I didn’t have to be impatient,” Thorne said. Once I saw them go in and deep, I knew what could happen and I went to their inside. I’m not sure if they thought I was coming. Tim was a little surprised. But I was waiting for the race to come to me. I’m overly excited; it speaks volumes about the K-PAX McLaren team.”
Although he missed out on the runner-up finish, Bergmeister still had by far his best race of the season and ended in P3. A seventh place scored at another permanent road course, Barber Motorsports Park for Round 3 in April, was his previous best result.
“It worked out to get by him, but then the McLaren just got by,” Bergmeister said. “The normal type courses are better for our car than the street courses. There’s a little bit to go but we will take it.”
Pilgrim ended fourth after leading 12 laps and Andrew Palmer, of Chicago, finished fifth in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra.
Big mover of the day in GT was Butch Leitzinger, who drove a dynamic race from 19th in the combined GT/GT-A grid up to sixth in the debuting No. 08 Bentley/Breitling/Mobil 1 Bentley Continental GT3 for Dyson Racing Team Bentley. Leitzinger set the second fastest race lap of 2:09.013, behind only Skeen’s 2:08.216; those two have the front row for Saturday’s Round 8.
In GT-A, Pappas, who had three previous podium finishes this season in the No. 54 Black River Caviar Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 broke through for his first class victory. Pappas is no stranger to victory lane at Road America, having also won the GTC class of the American Le Mans Series at the 4.048-mile circuit in both 2010 and 2011.
“The start was a bit crazy but it kind of settled down,” Pappas said. “It was great to go green flag the whole way. We didn’t quite have the pace but we made a big step this race.”
Second was Bill Ziegler in the No. 95 Swisher Racing/GMG Audi R8 LMS ultra for his best result of the season and first GT-A podium. In third and scoring a home race podium was Jeff Courtney in the No. 99 Kenda/RecStuff.com Audi R8 LMS ultra.
In GTS, the pair of Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports Optimas had the measure of the field all race. Despite starting fourth, Jonsson, in the No. 36 DonorsChoose.org Kia Optima made a fantastic start to move into the lead by the end of the first flying lap. He was able to control the race from there to win by 9.093 seconds.
“Coming to 2, Mark (Wilkins) got hung up and I got a really good run down to 3, to get inside from there,” Jonsson said. “I just had to keep it clean and made sure the GT cars got through safely.”
Teammate Mark Wilkins finished second in the No. 38 PutOnTheBrakes.org Kia Optima to complete the Kia 1-2, the manufacturer’s first such achievement this season. Kia had a 1-3 finish when Jonsson won at Long Beach. Wilkins started second and survived a possible late moment to end in the same position. Unofficially, he’ll move into the GTS points lead.
“We had something going on, marble pickup or something unusual,” Wilkins said. “When you want the 1-2, I had to make sure we got around. I backed off to save the tire to get to the end. We’ll get it sorted.”
Third and taking his first podium finish since Round 1 at St. Petersburg was Andy Lee in the No. 20 Crown Seven/Best IT Chevrolet Camaro. Lee only started seventh but drove a methodical race up to the podium.
Jack Baldwin brought his No. 73 RESET-MD/StopTech/Motul Porsche Cayman S home in fourth place after starting on pole due to points, while Lawson Aschenbach scored an overdue top-five finish in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, only his second top-five in the last six races.
Unofficially, O’Connell retains the GT points lead while Wilkins should move into the GTS lead heading into Saturday’s Round 8, which is scheduled for a green flag at 9:10 a.m. CT