Nick Tandy, Marcelo Hahn and Dean Martin have taken class victories in the Pirelli World Challenge at the Honda Indy Toronto on Saturday in Exhibition Place Round 9 of the 2014 season, a 50-minute timed event, was one of the wilder, more eventful races in recent memory.
The race went to a full-course caution after contact exiting Turn 1 between GMG Racing teammates Bret Curtis, of Austin, Texas, in the No. 32 Spectra Resources/United Steel Supply/Valspar Paint Audi R8 Ultra and Brent Holden, of Newport Coast, Calif. in the No. 44 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra blocked the track.
At least 10 cars sustained minor damage or other issues from the incident, and the race remained under yellow for six laps and nearly 15 minutes. Several retired due to crash damage or other ailments, including GTS class polesitter Nic Jonsson, of Buford, Ga., in the No. 36 DonorsChoose.org Kia Optima among them.
Once the race restarted on Lap 7, Tandy in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R led away cleanly in both GT and overall while the battle was for second behind him. Kuno Wittmer in the No. 92 Dodge/SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R held off a fierce attack from Johnny O’Connell in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, who’d made a great start to advance from fifth up to third.
Contact on Lap 8 between Andrew Palmer, of Chicago, in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra and Mike Skeen in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Audi R8 Ultra at Turn 8 spun Palmer around but the race continued under green.
In the incident aftermath, GT-A driver Walt Bowlin in the No. 23 Tampa Bay Jaw Surgery Centers Audi R8 Ultra was able to pass GTS leaders Martin in the No. 50 Picture Cars East/Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S and Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro to ensure the GTS class race could continue without a GT car in the middle of them. That left the GTS battle to rage for the remaining distance.
From there the race was able to settle into a bit of a rhythm in both classes. Tandy led from Wittmer and O’Connell, with O’Connell consistently hounding Wittmer. The GTS top three were then covered by a blanket with Martin ahead of Aschenbach and Jack Roush Jr. in the No. 60 ROUSH Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R.
The story of the race behind the podium contenders was Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, who put in a dynamic comeback in the No. 38 PutOnTheBrakes.org Kia Optima from 19th on the grid and 42nd overall. Wilkins, who had qualified on pole, was sent to the rear of the field after his car was found out of compliance in post-qualifying technical inspection.
Wilkins avoided the Turn 1 accident and stealthily scythed his way up to 12th by the first caution, then eventually into the top 10 and top five.
A second caution on Lap 20 flew following contact between Butch Leitzinger in the No. 08 Bentley/Breitling/Mobil 1 Bentley Continental GT3 and Albert von Thurn und Taxis in the No. 24 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2, on the run down to Turn 3. Leitzinger attempted to pass then-GT-A leader von Thurn und Taxis on the straight, but contact sent the No. 24 car into the outside retaining wall with heavy damage. Leitzinger’s car continued into the runoff area with minimal damage.
The Pirelli World Challenge safety crew got the track cleaned up with just more than five minutes remaining to allow for a green flag finish attempt. Tandy’s otherwise huge lead was erased and suddenly Wittmer had a chance, but despite several looks the Canadian was unable to pass the Englishman. Tandy held on to win his first Pirelli World Challenge series start by 0.508 of a second, at an average speed of 66.409 mph.
“It’s one of the worst starts I can remember making, actually,” Tandy said. “Fortunately for us Kuno’s was even worse, and we managed to keep the Cadillac behind into Turn 1. On the last restart, by the time we got to Turn 3, it would be quite plain sailing as we had pace in the car. The traffic and restarts is where we had to think about it today.”
Added Wittmer, who finished second: “We wouldn’t be on this podium if it wasn’t for the awesome prep by the team. During the race it was tough to catch the Porsche or at least stick to him. He was easily half a second quicker and on a blistering pace. At least I could gap, a little bit, the Cadillac, but barely. So, it was tough to hang on to [P2] today. I think that tomorrow we have a pretty good chance for a race. I think a podium will be good, but a win will be better.”
O’Connell made it to third, holding off Skeen in fourth and Anthony Lazzaro, of Atlanta, Ga., in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 in fifth. Lazzaro made a great save at the exit of Turn 2 on the Lap 20 restart, following contact with Robert Thorne, of Littleton, Col., in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3. The contact, plus running over debris from the incident, took Thorne out of the race.
GTS saw Martin and Aschenbach then contend for the lead. Aschenbach had one shot at taking the lead but was unable to complete the pass. Martin, who started only seventh in class, was through to the lead at the end of the first lap and was understandably surprised.
“I came around the corner and it was like a billboard of cars,” Martin said. “We literally stopped and had to wait for guys to move out of the way. It was just a crazy, crazy start. We didn’t think we had a chance today, but we played it safe to not tear the car up. Lawson pushed hard today behind me.”
An intense battle for third saw Roush Jr. hold off Wilkins for the final podium position. After starting from pit lane, Alec Udell scored another top-five finish in fifth in the No. 17 Watson Racing/MDG Ford Mustang Boss 302S. It’s Udell’s fifth fifth-place finish this season.
In GT-A, Hahn took the advantage after teammate von Thurn und Taxis’ incident; he finished in 10th place overall. Michael Mills was second in the No. 41 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R and Henrik Hedman was third in the No. 10 DragonSpeed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
“It was a very tough race as I started near the back,” Hahn said. “The first couple laps we already had the yellow, and we had a huge job to pass everybody up to second place. We took the lead later on as the other Lamborghini suffered an accident.”
Results are provisional until posted as final.
RESULTS: Race 1