Mike Skeen wins Rounds 8 and 9 of the Pirelli World Challenge GT Championships in dominating fashion at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Weber image).
In GTS competition, Mark Wilkins, of nearby Aurora, Ontario, earned his first-career series win, providing Kia with its second series win and the weekend sweep.
Skeen started from the pole and took the lead from the standing start while chaos ensued behind on the GTS grid. Starting third in GTS, Toronto’s Aaron Povoledo tried to shoot the gap between the front row Kias of Wilkins and Michael Galati, but ended up with his No. 26 Total Lubricants/Dell Cherries Ford Mustang Boss 302S across Galati’s nose and hard into the left-side wall. The action was deemed the Kia Turning Point of the Race.
Povoledo was treated and released from track medical.
Following six laps of cleanup, Skeen got away cleanly and sped away to a 12.284-second victory over Lawson Aschenbach’s No. 1 TruSpeed/Privacy Star/EnTrust Porsche 911 GT3, averaging 93.231 mph over the 31-lap, 76.229-mile race.
“That was a great race,” Skeen said. “We got that early caution, but other than that, the race went green the whole time. [Alex] Figge gave me a good little run there in Turn One. He got a good start, which we knew he would. Fortunately, we raced nice and clean two-wide through Turn One and we came out on top. From there, we were just biding our time and setting our pace. We had a good pace in the car so we could work at our own pace through traffic, manage the GTS guys. We got through clean without any scratches.”
Skeen set a new Canadian Tire Motorsport Park track record, turning a 1:20.425 (110.070 mph).
Aschenbach started fifth but moved to fourth at the start. Alex Figge, of Denver, Colo., also advanced one spot in his No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, around point leader Johnny O’Connell’s No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R into second. At the end of lap six, O’Connell jumped inside Figge in Turn 10 for second, a move that earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
O’Connell opened a gap on Figge, who had to fend off Aschenbach, Steve Ott’s No. 85 Racing For Our Heroes/Loctite Porsche 911 GT3 and the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R of Andy Pilgrim over the next 10 laps.
On lap 16, Aschenbach moved to third around Figge. A dozen laps later, third became second, when O’Connell had to pit with a flat tire.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit happy when I saw [Johnny] O’Connell slow down because I don’t want him to run away with this Championship,” Aschenbach said. “I feel like we are going to give it our all the whole time and hopefully we can get it at the end.
“We kind of knew coming in that this was not the best track for us so we were a little bit worried. Obviously missing the test day Friday hurt us. We were about a day behind. But, I’ve got to say hats off to TruSpeed and all of our sponsors Privacy Star and Entrust. We had a good car. I think it was about as good as it could be.”
Figge sliced through traffic and held off Ott and Pilgrim to finish third in the lone K-PAX Volvo racing Sunday. Teammate Randy Pobst cheered from the sidelines after surviving a major fire in his team car on Saturday.
Ott finished the weekend with a third on Saturday and a fourth Sunday for his career-best weekend. Pilgrim’s fifth place finish was some redemption after he had a flat left-front tire, like teammate O’Connell, on Saturday.
O’Connell maintained the provisional point leader in GT, with 1083, 177 ahead of teammate Pilgrim (906). Aschenbach is third, with 873, followed by Figge (742) and Skeen (711), who entered the weekend 10th in points. In the Manufacturers’ Championship, Cadillac holds a six-point lead over Porsche, 65 to 59, followed by Volvo (39) and a resurgent Chevrolet (28).
While Povoledo’s car got the worst of the GTS startline crash, Galati did not emerge unscathed. An inspection of the right-front wheel after the race revealed a broken spoke on his wheel, which caused the handling of the car to deteriorate over the course of the race.
That didn’t deter Galati from actually passing Wilkins’ No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima for the lead on lap 22. As the red cars ran nose-to-tail, Jack Baldwin’s No. 68 Team Hot Wheels/Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman S joined the fray, making a three-way battle for the lead with only a handful of laps remaining.
Galati’s handling began to fade, and Wilkins re-took the point on lap 25. Galati could not fend off Baldwin, who moved to second. He was unable, however, to run down Wilkins, who sped away to a 2.795-second win.
“Jack [Baldwin] was coming on really strong,” Wilkins said. “Michael [Galati] was real quick. He [Galati] came up quick and then it looked like he had a little bit of damage on one corner, which was tough. I thought I got a little pick up on the tires. At one point, I went a little off line and wasn’t quite sure. I tried to play it safe. I wanted to bring a good strong result home for Kia. Once I figured out it was all good, I went for it. We had a great car. I’ve just got to thank Kia and Kinetic guys for a fantastic job all weekend.”
Baldwin’s run netted his third top-five finish in the last five races.
“I caught them [Wilkins and Galati], but I was not catching them on the straightaway,” Baldwin. “I was catching them in the corners and getting in position. I knew something was developing. Something was happening. They were a little slow coming off the corners. It looked like one was weak, one was strong. I’m not sure what they were doing. I think they were trying to help each other.
When I got up on them, I figured out where I could pass them, if I could just get a good run. I got a good run of the last corner and was able to stick it down in Turn One. Once I got by, Michael [Galati] fell back. It was great. I would have never imagined the Team Hot Wheels Cayman would have finished second today. But, I’m real happy about it. I’ve got to thank my crew and all of the guys that work on the car.”
As Galati tried to nurse his No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima home, Andy Lee and Alec Udell moved past. On the final lap, Udell moved his No. 16 MDG/Ford Racing/Kart Nation Ford Mustang Boss 302S around Lee’s No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro for third, earning the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race.
Galati ended up fifth, but set a new GTS track record, with a best time of 1:25.858 (103.105 mph).
Peter Cunningham earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for moving up four positions to finish sixth in his No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. Karl Poeltl captured the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start award for advancing five positions on the opening lap in his No. 37 Wossner/Performance Racing Oil Porsche 996. He ultimately finished 10th.
Lee extended his Championship point lead, with 981 over sixth-finishing Peter Cunningham’s 970. Baldwin moved to within eight of Cunningham, with 962. Galati is fourth, with 806, followed by Justin Bell, who missed the weekend due to television broadcast commitments, with 678. Ford re-took the Manufacturers’ Point lead, with 49 to Acura’s 45. Chevrolet is just two behind, with 43, followed by Kia, with 34. Points are provisional pending final race results.
Today’s race will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network Saturday, July 7 at 5 p.m. (EDT). The series takes July off and next travels to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Aug. 3-5.
For more series information, please visit www.world-challenge.com.