Paul Brown's aggressive style netted him a victory at Mosport in 2011 (Weber Image)
While each team in the Pirelli World Challenge paddock takes its respective racing seriously, the activity at the track is secondary to the health of the participants, and Paul Brown/Tiger Racing knows this all too well in 2012. Team owner, driver and defending Pirelli World Challenge GTS class Champion Paul Brown was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma (skin cancer) two weeks prior to the 2012 season opener, forcing him out of the seat that took him to his first professional title and into treatment at the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.
While still undergoing treatment, Brown watched driver Justin Bell win the opening two races and take an early-season point lead in the No. 50 eBay Motors/Kenny Brown Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302S. Subsequent races have dropped Bell from the top of the points, and with Bell’s television broadcast commitments with the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions this weekend, Brown will attempt to make his return to the driver’s seat in Canada, where he won one of the two races in 2011.
Brown will test the car on Friday. In the event he needs a relief driver, Touring Car driver and fellow former series Champion Jeff Altenburg will be standing by to join the stout Pirelli World Challenge GTS field.
With his back-to-back wins at Detroit and a surprise victory at Miller Motorsports Park, rookie Andy Lee has put his No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro atop the GTS standings, with 832.
Lee will have his hands full maintaining that lead, though, as all-time series wins leader Peter Cunningham is just 10 points behind. Two years ago, Cunningham shocked the higher-horsepower cars by stealing the GTS pole in his naturally-aspirated four-cylinder Acura TSX, noting the car’s balance and prowess through the high-speed sweeping corners. Cunningham now has V6 power in his No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, meaning the car now has handling and power, which could prove to be a lethal combination to the competition. Cunningham’s teammate, Nick Esayian, has four top-five finishes this year and will be a factor as well.
The challengers don’t stop at the Acuras, though. Third-in-points Jack Baldwin (No. 68 Team Hot Wheels/Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman S) is no stranger to CTMP, with multiple Trans-Am Series podiums on his resume.
The biggest threat to any of them, however, could come from the Kia Motors America team. Michael Galati (No. 36 Kia Optima), like Cunningham, has four series wins at CTMP and another five podium finishes. His teammate, Mark Wilkins makes his first Pirelli World Challenge start at CTMP this weekend, but he resides from nearby Aurora, meaning it’s a home race for him.
Fellow Toronto driver Aaron Povoledo adds to Ford’s attack this weekend. The driver that swept Touring Car qualifying at CTMP in 2011 moves to GTS with the No. 26 Total Lubricants/Dell Cherries Ford Mustang Boss 302S and will also contend for top honors this weekend.
A strong Nissan contingent is also in the field. Ric Bushey and Greg Shaffer are teammates in the Nos. 51 and 52 Nissan/SPL Pro/Sparco/Motul Nissan 370Z machines, and Brian Kleeman will drive the No. 07 Nissan/DXD Clutches/UpRev Nissan 370Z.
The GTS field will be a part of a two-class race that will be led by the Pirelli World Challenge GT cars. Unlike the tight point battle in GTS, GT is shaping up to be a runaway just past the season’s midpoint.
After sweeping the pair of races in Detroit, Johnny O’Connell (895 points) has a huge, 138-point lead over Cadillac Racing teammate Andy Pilgrim in the race to the 2012 Pirelli World Challenge GT Championship. Pilgrim has another 82 points on third place, meaning O’Connell has 220 points to the next closest true protagonist. Johnny-O has three wins on the season and has only been off the podium once in his No. 3 Team Cadillac Cadillac CTS-V.R. Pilgrim won at Long Beach, and is the only driver to finish in the top five at each Round this season.
Defending Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car Champion Lawson Aschenbach sits third in the Championship and has also recorded a top five finish in each race he has attended this season in the No. 1 TruSpeed/EnTrust Porsche 911 GT3. Aschenbach’s issue is that he had to miss the Miller Motorsports Park round. A winner at St. Petersburg Race Two, Aschenbach enters CTMP with back-to-back runner-up finishes. This weekend, he will be joined at TruSpeed by young rookie Madison Snow (No. 46 Zoro Tools/TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3) and current Touring Car race lap record holder Brett Sandberg (No. 47 TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3).
Randy Pobst first won in World Challenge at Mosport in the series’ first year—1990. He again won in 2010 and is hoping that he doesn’t need to wait until 2030 to stand atop the box again at Canada’s most famous venue. Pobst has had an up –and-down season in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, scoring poles at Long Beach, Mazda Raceway and Detroit, but only bringing home two podium finishes, highlighted by a win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. He sits fourth in points, with 626. Teammate Alex Figge has also been bit by the bad luck bug at times this season, but has a string of three-straight top-four finishes in the No. 9 K-PAX Volvo S60 entering CTMP, the track at which he made his World Challenge debut one year ago.
Racing For Our Heroes single-car Porsche 911 GT3 effort for Steve Ott has frequently surprised the larger, multi-car teams, running solidly in the top five at the last two weekends at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Detroit. Ott could again be a factor, having run up front in developmental series at CTMP in the past.
Tony Gaples sits eighth in points, one behind Ott, and makes his milestone 100th-career World Challenge series start this weekend in the No. 11 Kleinschmidt Chevrolet Corvette.
All eyes will unquestionably be on the CRP Racing stable this weekend, though. The team’s No. 02 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette has taken three out of the last four Pirelli World Challenge wins at CTMP, including a weekend sweep by this year’s pilot Mike Skeen one year ago. Ron Fellows guest drove the car in 2010, winning the first of the pair of races. On the other side of the tent, is the ever-improving No. 12 Hawk Performance Nissan GT-R, driven by 2010 race winner Jason Daskalos. This team undoubtedly has the drivers and the car that know their way to victory lane. The question will be if reliability and luck will be on their side this weekend.
When Daskalos won in 2010, he drove a Dodge Viper out of the Daskalos/Roberts Racing stable. The series welcomes back Toronto’s Fred Roberts this weekend as the pilot of the lone Viper—the No. 89 Direct Energy Dodge Viper.
It’s three times the fun for Pirelli World Challenge Touring Cars, as both the lead Touring Car class and the Touring Car B (B-Spec) class will have a trio of races over two days. Saturday will feature back-to-back 25-minute contests, while Sunday has a single 45-minute race. This is the first Touring Car race since Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May and the first Touring Car B race since Miller Motorsports Park in late April.
Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car has been a battle all season between two former SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Champions—Todd Lamb and Michael Cooper. Both rookies in Pirelli World Challenge, Lamb and Cooper have won five of the six races thus far in 2012.
While his greatest career success thus far came in a Mazda, Lamb flies the Honda Performance Development colors this year, and sits atop the Championship standings in his No. 71 National Karting News/HPD Honda Civic Si with 771 points off the strength of wins at Miller Motorsports Park and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Cooper’s three wins in the No. 03 MAZDASPEED Motorsports MAZDASPEED 3 top the series, but his other three finishes have been off the podium, meaning he sits 12 points behind Lamb entering the weekend.
Tristan Herbert capped an otherwise miserable tripleheader Miller Motorsports Park weekend with a win in the No. 33 HPA/REnnGruppe/Brimtek/SG Racing Volkswagen GLI but has shown speed at both St. Petersburg and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, winning the pole. He could well be a factor in the win at CTMP and is coming off a huge crash at MRLS. Teammate Jeff Altenburg would likely be near the top five in points had he not missed the three races at Miller. He comes off a runner-up finish at Mazda Raceway and should also factor into the mix this weekend.
Lamb’s teammates will also be strong, including Ryan Winchester (No. 72 Ligon Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si) and Shea Holbrook (No. 67 TrueCar.com Honda Civic Si). Holbrook became the first woman to win a World Challenge Touring Car race at Long Beach in 2011.
Returning to the series for the first time since 2004 is former World Challenge race winner Peter Schwartzott (No. 41 Peter Schwartzott Racing Honda Civic Si). At 72, Schwartzott probably has as many miles as anyone around CTMP, winning his first professional race at the track in 1978 in the Volkswagen Cup.
Local fans will have plenty of drivers to root for in Touring Car as well, with Clarence Creek, Ontario’s Patrick Seguin coming off a career-best third at Mazda Raceway in his No. 80 Theberge Homes/Capsparts.com Volkswagen GTI. Other Canadian drivers include Anthony Rapone, of Thornhill, and Gary and Tom Kwok, of Markham.
Based on the new B-Spec℠ rules set by Sports Car Club of America, Touring Car B makes its second appearance with Pirelli World Challenge in 2012 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, joining Pirelli Touring Car for a trio of races.
Championship protagonists Jonathan Start (No. 00 Kawartha Chrysler-FIAT/Speedlogix/FIATUSA.com Fiat 500) and Craig Capaldi (No. 86 CapaldiRacing.com Ford Fiesta) will again square off as the two battle for top honors in the point standings. Start won each of the back-to-back 25-minute contests at Miller Motorsports Park, but finished fourth in the third. Capaldi consistently ran with the leaders, scoring back-to-back-to-back third place results.
The remainder of the TCB field is made up of first-time Pirelli World Challenge competitors, including the Honda Fits of Thornhill’s Andre Rapone (No. 73 Durabond Racing) and Zack Skolnick (No. 93 Honda Performance Development), journalist Jim Kenzie’s No. 92 Xtreme Indoor Karting/Gunther Kia Rio, Toronto’s P.J. Groenke’s Tundra/Verax.ca MINI Cooper and Peter Schwartzott Jr.’s No. 04 Mazda Motorsports Development MAZDA2.
Each of this weekend’s five races (two for Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTS and three for Pirelli World Challenge TC/TCB) will be broadcast live on www.world-challengetv.com. Additionally, NBC Sports will air the races on Saturday, July 7 at 5 p.m. (EDT).
Follow the Pirelli World Challenge Championships on Facebook and Twitter (@WCRacing). For more series and event information, please visit www.world-challenge.com.