Rapone captures both TCB wins in Saturday's Motul CTMP Grand Prix Presented by Optima (Weber image).
The twin sprints included back-to-back 25-minute timed races with a 15-minute intermission. It was the second time Pirelli World Challenge ran the race format, owing to the welcome inclusion of the new Touring Car B class for B-Spec℠ cars.
Unlike traditional Pirelli World Challenge races, the Touring Car and Touring Car B races utilized a rolling start. Starting from the pole for the first race in his No. 03 MAZDASPEED Motorsports MAZDASPEED3, Cooper took the early lead over Todd Lamb’s No. 71 National Karting News/HPD Honda Civic Si. The action was fierce behind Cooper, and it was fifth-starting Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., making the most noise in his No. 43 HPA/RennGruppe/Brimtek/SGRacing Volkswagen GLI.
Altenburg steadily moved up within the group, taking second place on lap 11 and moving to Cooper’s bumper for the final two laps. Just after the white flag flew, Altenburg passed Cooper to the inside in Turn One. From there, he took the lead and never looked back. The win was his first Pirelli World Challenge win since 2007 when he won the Touring Car Championship. The pass was honored after the race as both the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race and the Kia Turning Point of the Race.
“We had the Jetta GLI working fantastically,” Altenburg said of his race win. “We got Shea [Holbrook] at the start. Then, I followed Todd [Lamb] through when he was battling with his teammate. By the fourth turn, I was in third place. And frankly, for a while, that was as far as I thought we were going to get. Later in the race, Todd made a bobble coming onto the front straight and I got him. A couple laps later, the Mazda [Michael Cooper] made a bobble on the front straight and I got him. It was an opportunistic win.”
Cooper held on to second place, 0.643-second behind, followed by Lamb, Ryan Winchester (No. 72 Ligon Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si) and the No. 82 M&S Produce/Ultimate Racing Honda Civic Si of Gary Kwok, making his series debut.
In Touring Car B action, Rapone started first in the No. 73 Durabond Racing Honda Fit, but found himself behind the No. 86 CapaldiRacing.com Ford Fiesta of Craig Capaldi after a lap-six restart. Rapone didn’t stay second for long, re-passing Capaldi for the lead in Turn 10 that same lap. The move earned Rapone the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award.
From there, he sped away to a 7.384-second victory in his series debut over Capaldi, of Lenox Township, Mich. Pre-event point leader Jonathan Start completed the podium in his No. 00 Kawartha FIAT/Speedlogix Fiat 500.
Toronto’s P.J. Groenke finished fourth in his No. 84 Tundra/Verax.ca MINI Cooper, earning the Sunoco Hard Charger award. Rapone earned the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start.
After a 15-minute intermission, in which teams were permitted to change one tire without a starting position penalty, the field was gridded by the finishing order to begin the second, 25-minute contest serving as Round Eight for Touring Car and Round Five for Touring Car B.
In Race Two, Altenburg got the jump at the start and led through Moss Corner. Up the Andretti Straightaway, Cooper and Lamb both got runs on Altenburg and split him entering Turn Eight. Cooper’s pass netted the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
Lamb was then alongside Altenburg and the two went side-by-side through Turn Eight, making contact in the transition to Turn Nine. By the time the dust settled, Altenburg, Lamb and Winchester each had serious damage, with others potentially sustaining minor damage. The Compass360 Honda teammates reported to the pits for repairs, while Altenburg’s Volkswagen sat stricken alongside the road entering Turn 10.
The incident served as the Kia Turning Point of the Race.
“I got through most of the first lap, coming down the back straight the Mazda [Cooper] got a run in the inside and the Honda [Lamb] was coming on the outside,” Altenburg recalled. “I figured both were going to pass me – no worries. The Mazda cut over for some reason. I had the Honda next to me so I really couldn’t move. I was giving him the turn, but I guess he wanted a little more than that and clipped my fender. I went side-by-side with Todd [Lamb]. Whether it was clearly my mistake or aided with a little alignment by the Mazda, one way or the other, I got out of shape. I got into the Honda and that was it.”
When the cars gathered behind the pace car under full course yellow, Cooper led Gary Kwok, the No. 83 M&S Produce/Ultimate Racing Honda Civic Si of brother Tom Kwok, Shea Holbrook’s No. 67 TruCar.com Honda Civic Si and the No. 97 GoopyPerf/Itraycer Mazda RX-8 of Marlin Langeveldt.
On the restart, Cooper and Gary Kwok made it a two-car race, as Holbrook worked to pass Tom Kwok for third.
On lap nine, Gary Kwok moved to the inside of Cooper in Turn Three, completing the pass for the lead. Up the Andretti Straightaway, Cooper re-passed for the lead. In Turn Nine, the two made contact, with Cooper sliding sideways and Kwok re-assuming the point.
Unfortunately for Kwok, the initial pass in Turn Three came under a local caution, meaning he had to allow Cooper back around, which happened on lap 12. Two laps later, Kwok made the same move in Turn Three for good, earning the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race. He gradually pulled out over the next three laps to take what appeared to be a 3.462-second victory over Cooper, who had to work to hold off Holbrook on the final lap.
Following the race, Kwok’s car was found to be underweight, disqualifying his Race Two finish and handing the win to Cooper.
Following Holbrook, Tom Kwok finished third, followed by Langeveldt, who captured the Sunoco Hard Charger Award as well as the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start. Steve Blethen finished fifth in his No. 98 Mazda RX-8.
Cooper’s win and second vaulted him into the provisional Touring Car point lead after eight races, 1056 to Todd Lamb’s 960. Tristan Herbert is third, with 659, followed by Holbrook (641) and Winchester (638). Honda leads Mazda in the Manufacturers’ Championship, 60 to 53. Volkswagen is third, with 36.
Rapone went flag-to-flag to win Touring Car B, his second Pirelli World Challenge race start and win in the span of an hour. As with the first race, Capaldi finished second, 5.867 seconds behind, followed by Start.
After finishing fifth in the first race, Peter Schwartzott Jr. moved up a position in the No. 04 Mazda Motorsports Development MAZDA2, followed by Groenke.
Start leads the provisional Championship standings for Touring Car B, with 597 points to Capaldi’s 571. They are the only two drivers to have competed in all five races this season. Honda leads the Manufacturers’ Championship, with 35 points to Fiat’s 32. Ford is third, with 30, followed by Mazda (21) and a tie between Kia and MINI, each with five.
The format changes for Sunday’s race, with a single 40-minute race utilizing the traditional standing start. The race will be webcast live at 12:45 p.m. (EDT) at www.world-challengetv.com. All three races will be aired on NBC Sports Network, Saturday, July 7 at 5 p.m. (EDT).