Todd Lamb and Michael Cooper each took TC wins at Miller (Weber photo)
Todd Lamb, of Atlanta, Ga., and Michael Cooper, of Syosset, N.Y., split the Touring Car doubleheader while Jonathan Start, of Caledonia, Mich., swept the Touring Car-B races on Saturday morning. The doubleheader featured a unique format with two 30-minute races separated by only a brief 10-minute break on the 2.2-mile mile West Course configuration.
The combined field started the first of the 30-minute races with Jan Heylen’s No. 43 HPA Motorsports/Brimtek Volkswagen Jetta GLI on the point, but things were immediately jumbled up when Heylen’s VW didn’t accelerate at the line. Cooper, starting on the outside of row one, took advantage in his No. 03 Atlanta Motorsports Group MAZDASPEED3 and led the field into Turn One.
Lamb, who started third in the No. 71 National Karting News/HPD Honda Civic Si, found himself jumbled in fifth position as the field completed the first lap while Cooper and Heylen rushed out to the lead. As the two leaders swapped positions, Lamb moved with Compass360 Racing teammate Ryan Winchester’s No. 72 Ligon Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si to the lead pack.
Lamb and Winchester inserted themselves into the lead pack on Lap 7. Heylen fell off the pace with electrical gremlins on Lap 8, and Lamb was in the lead for good on Lap 9. Cooper faded in the latter stages of the race, leaving Lamb to hold off Winchester by 0.566-second over the 18-lap, 39.6-mile race.
Lamb averaged 78.832 mph over the race distanced, earned the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race when he took the lead from Cooper, and earned the Kia Turning Point of the Race with Winchester as the two moved through the field.
“We made some wholesale changes to the National Kart News Honda before the race,” Lamb said. “I didn’t really like the way it was set up for qualifying, so we made a lot of changes and kind of went back to some stuff we did in practice. I didn’t know what we had in the race. So we thought we’d slot into second, third somewhere and run it around for a bit.
“The start didn’t go as planned at all. The polesitter ended up checking up when the green flag came out and I ended up coming out of turn one in probably eighth spot. I thought oh, boy, we’ve got our work cut out for us. I just put my head down and turned in some really good laps and was able to get through the field. I took advantage of some really good opportunities with some B-Spec guys holding everybody up, and I stuck it in there a few times and it all worked out.”
Winchester was closing on Lamb at the end of the race, but ran out of time before he could mount a serious charge. The runner-up finish was the first podium for the rookie driver in Pirelli World Challenge.
Gustavo Michelsen took advantage of Heylen’s issues and Cooper’s fade to claim the third spot on the podium and his first-career rostrum finish in the No. 69 TLMUSA.com Honda Civic Si. JD Mobley moved past Cooper on the final lap to take fourth-place in the No. 97 Don Walker Racing Mazda RX-8, with Cooper relegated to fifth.
Michelsen also won the Sunoco Hard Charger award after improving four positions during the race.
Before the mechanical issues relegated him to a 10th place finish, Heylen turned the race’s fastest lap in 1:38.507 (80.400 mph).
The Touring Car-B race featured three official lead changes amongst three drivers, but several unofficial lead changes happened amongst the cars making their Pirelli World Challenge debut. Craig Capaldi led the opening seven laps in his No. 86 CapaldiRacing.com Ford Fiesta before Shaun Bailey took a turn on the point in the No. 0 Road & Track MAZDA2 for four laps.
Capaldi led three laps in the middle stage of the race before Start took the lead in the No. 00 Fiat USA/SRT/Carbotech Fiat 500 and pulled out to a 2.171-second win once clear of traffic. Start’s pass for the lead was named the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
“Race one was exactly what B-Spec should be,” Start said. “Close, tight, and very similar cars. I had the race of my life in the fun category. We were able to flip and flop, and we raced each other clean. This is what World Challenge is.”
Bailey, the associate engineering editor at Road & Track, finished second, with Capaldi third and Sage Marie’s No. 45 Honda Performance Development Honda Fit finishing fourth. Marie earned the Optima Batteries Best Start award for his improvement on the opening lap.
With the Race 2 grid set based on finishing order in race one and just a 10 minute break between races, the drivers who successfully managed their cars and equipment were at an advantage.
Lamb’s win allowed him to lead the field from the green flag and Cooper tucked in behind Lamb at the start of the race in what was immediately a three-way battle joined by Winchester. Cooper tucked to the inside of Lamb on a number of occasions, even running off course and falling back to third on lap six.
With Shea Holbrook’s No. 67 TrueCar.com/Lucas Oil/K&N Filters Honda Civic running close behind in fourth and ready to pounce should any of the top three make a mistake, Cooper found a way around Lamb on lap 16 and was able to pull away.
Cooper stretched his advantage to 2.810 seconds by the checkered flag of the 18-lap race, averaging 77.954 mph over the race distance.
“It was a hell of a race,” Cooper said. “I learned a lot in the first race and really applied it to the second race. I was just hanging there and letting Lamb set the pace. I was really just saving what I had. I could get a run on him and make him block me here and there. We ended up getting by him; he missed a gear and I got up the inside and that was really it.”
One of Cooper’s lessons was that the quick pace early in the first 30-minute race was too much.
“It was too hard, too early,” he said. “That was the first long run on these tires and the car is pretty new to me so I definitely burned it down pretty bad. But I took what I learned in race one and I knew what I had to do for race two and I made it last. I’m happy with it.”
Cooper put those lessons to use, earning the Sunoco Hard Charger Award, the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race for his pass on Lamb, and the Kia Turning Point of the Race when he moved to the lead.
Lamb learned the same lesson by the end of race two, falling behind his Compass360 teammate with two laps to go and giving Winchester his second-consecutive runner-up finish. Lamb finished third for his fourth podium finish of the year in as many races.
Winchester turned the fastest lap of Race Two, lapping the track in 1:39.080 (79.935 mph).
Holbrook finished fourth, just ahead of a late-charging Mobley to complete the top-five.
Despite mechanical issues that relegated him to a 10th-place finish, Karl Thomson was awarded the Optima Batteries Best Start for improvements on the opening lap in the No. 70 HPD/Ultimate Racing Honda Civic. Thomson ran as high as fifth before pulling off with five laps to go.
While the opening Touring Car-B field was a race-long battle, Start took control of race two from the green flag and led every lap to the finish, taking a 1.392-second victory to sweep the doubleheader.
“I raced smart, and I think that’s what it was,” Start said. “I wanted to be smooth, I wanted to be consistent, and I wanted to take care of my tires in the first race and I think I did. I watched the other guys and there were some moves where I was like, you guys are nuts. You guys are going to scrub your tires.
“At the end of the day, it’s two wins in the first round of World Challenge TCB, and I’m happy.”
Capaldi’s Ford and Bailey’s Mazda battled for the second position for most of the race, joined early on by Marie’s Honda. Capaldi earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race while mixing it up with Bailey, but Bailey moved around Capaldi late in the race to take the runner-up position in Round Two.
Capaldi finished third, followed by Marie and Salt Lake City’s Branden Miller in the No. 09 MMP/Ford Racing High Performance Driving School Ford Fiesta.
Winchester will start Sunday’s 40-minute Touring Car/Touring Car-B combined race on the pole for his fast lap in race two, while Bailey will lead the TCB class to the green flag after a lap of 1:51.261 (71.184 mph).
After four of 14 rounds in the Touring Car class, Cooper holds a 564 to 493 point advantage over Lamb, with Winchester (347 points), Michelsen (324) and Robb Holland (292) behind. Mazda and Honda are each tied with 31 points in the Manufacturers’ Championship, while Volkswagen trails with 8 points.
Start’s sweep gives him the Championship advantage early in the nine-round Drivers’ Championship, scoring 295 points to lead Bailey’s 237. Capaldi (215), Marie (179) and Miller (162) trail. Fiat owns the Manufacturers’ Championship with 19 points, followed by Mazda (14), Ford (11), Honda (6) and Kia (1).
The Touring Car and Touring Car-B classes will complete the tripleheader weekend with a 40-minute race on Sunday at 11:25 a.m. MDT.
More information can be found at www.world-challenge.com. Follow Pirelli World Challenge on Twitter @WCRacing.