Ryan Winchester, of Mason City, IA (Touring Car) and Robbie Davis (Touring Car B-Spec), of Dallas, TX have captured class championships in the Pirelli World Challenge 2013 season, after the conclusion of Rounds 13 and 14, at the FOAMETIX Grand Prix of Houston.
Winchester (Round 14) and Compass360 Racing teammate Brett Sandberg (Round 13) took TC race wins, while Tyler Palmer swept the TCB races to score his first and second career series victories. The season finale is part of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend.
While Winchester was able to clinch the TC title just by starting, Davis entered the race in second place in TCB, only one point behind Ernie Francis Jr. Contact between Davis and Francis Jr. occurred in Turn 1 of Round 13, and Davis was able to continue and advance enough positions to edge ahead into Round 14. Francis Jr.’s valiant effort to rebound in Round 14 wasn’t enough to make up the points deficit.
The grid for Round 13 was set by points as track alterations and time constraints meant Friday’s qualifying sessions were canceled. The race began under sunny skies, 90 degrees and with 53 percent humidity.
Winchester, driving the No. 72 C360R/Ligion Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si, started on the TC pole and Francis Jr., of Davie, FL, started first in TCB in the No. 98 Hydraulic Jeans/Breathless Performance Mazda 2.
Winchester got away cleanly as did the rest of the Touring Car field but behind them, the incident between Davis and Francis Jr. occurred. Davis started second in the No. 37 MINI of Charleston Racing MINI Cooper, but was forced wide on entry into the Turns 1 and 2 chicane.
Davis spun across the road and collected Francis Jr., who had nowhere to go in the racing incident that just happened to involve the two TCB championship rivals. Davis explained what happened.
“Coming up on that first corner, we were three-wide and it’s basically a one-car width chicane,” Davis said. “So I just found myself boxed up outside. You either hold your line and potentially hit somebody or you go out through the cut through and that’s not correct procedure.
“I was kinda trying to get back to the apex as much as possible and you get out there and there’s lots of sand and dust. I don’t know what happened, I guess I lost it in that case and unfortunately as I am turning around going towards the wall who did I see but Ernie Francis Jr. It caught me by surprise and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to us, but fortunately, I was able to keep driving and come up back through the field.”
Francis Jr.’s car was done on the spot with too much damage, and he fell to 19th in the 20-car class. Davis fell to 18th and thus had to spend the rest of the 25-minute race in comeback mode.
The beneficiary in TCB was Joel Lipperini, of Pittston, PA, who started third in the No. 81 RaceLabz Honda Fit. Lipperini, twice a winner in 2013, led up until Lap 11 when Palmer, of Oceanside, CA, came past in the No. 24 BlackForest Porsche/Emich Volkswagen/Mobil 1/BMW MINI Cooper. Palmer’s pass earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.
Palmer described the eventual pass for the lead, which was fortuitously timed given a full course yellow was thrown almost immediately thereafter for debris in Turn 3.
“Going into that pass, up to that point I had only six laps of track time total before starting the race (due to a blown motor in Friday’s practice),” he said. “The car was already set up great from the guys back at the shop. I knew I could outbrake him and really it’s just a driving game from there. I went down on the inside and slid the rear end out a little bit and came out on top.”
The position change represented a 30-point swing in the championship, as Lipperini had the chance to gain a healthy amount of points with the Francis Jr./Davis contact.
Ernie Francis Sr., of Davie, FL, finished third in the No. 2 Hydraulic Jeans Mazda 2. P.J. Groenke, of Toronto, finished a season-best fourth in the No. 66 Mulligan Gold/Tundra/Verax.ca Honda Fit with Jonathan Baker, of Hollywood, MD, also posting a season-best result of fifth in the No. 32 32 Racing Honda Fit.
Baker improved seven spots on the start to earn the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for Round 13. Also of note, series debutante Chris Sneed, of Pfafftown, NC, advanced 10 positions from his starting position in the No. 01 Sneed’s Speed Shop MINI Cooper to secure the Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
In TC, Winchester led for the first eight laps. Michael Cooper, of Syosset, NY, had advanced from fourth to second in the opening stages in the No. 1 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda 3.
Sandberg, of Allendale, NJ in the No. 70 C360R/GearTie.com/HPD Honda Civic Si passed Cooper for second on Lap 7, and passed teammate Winchester for the lead a lap later on Lap 9. The latter move netted Sandberg the Cadillac Move of the Race Award.
The Lap 11 full course yellow eliminated any further passing opportunities in TC as well. That left Sandberg free to collect his fourth victory of the season, at an average speed of 56.315 mph, ahead of Winchester and Cooper. Interestingly for Cooper, that was his first podium this year that was not a win – his four wins earlier this year were his only other trips to the podium.
Series debutantes Michael Di Meo and Sebastian Landy rounded out the top five in Round 13. Di Meo, of Toronto, advanced from ninth to fourth in the No. 73 Grand Alarms Honda Civic Si and Landy, of Great Falls, VA, finished fifth in the No. 49 Excitations/Radium Interactive Mazda Miata.