Figge, Lee Grab World Challenge Glory

Alex Figge drove to victory in the GT class during the 2012 finale for the Pirelli World Challenge at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. (Mark Weber/SCCA Photo)
Alex Figge drove to victory in the GT class during the 2012 finale for the Pirelli World Challenge at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway Saturday. (Mark Weber/SCCA Photo)

SONOMA, Calif.– Alex Figge picked up his second career Pirelli World Challenge Championship victory and Andy Lee capped his rookie World Challenge season with a fourth GTS victory in Saturday’s season-ending Cadillac Sonoma Grand Prix.

Figge started the No. 9 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 from the pole position and led every lap en route to the victory. However, the win didn’t come without a few tense moments for Figge, as Andy Pilgrim got right to Figge’s bumper while negotiating lapped traffic and appeared to be moving into position to take the position away as the laps wound down.

Once clear of traffic, however, Figge managed to stretch the lead slightly and went on to cross the stripe 1.131 seconds ahead of Pilgrim, earning him the Kia Turning Point of the Race Award. It was the first World Challenge victory for Figge since winning the first race of the 2011 doubleheader at Mid-Ohio.

“I was quite confident in the beginning of the race,” Figge said. “When you’ve got a racer the caliber of [teammate] Randy [Pobst] watching your back, it’s always nice. I saw his car start to go off and I saw Andy get by him, and I still thought I’ve got enough. Boy, that changes quickly when you get into traffic.

“I immediately realized what was going on with Randy’s car, it certainly got a little greasy out there trying to keep it under me. I certainly was extremely happy to see the white flag, and even more happy to see the checkered flag. I had to hang onto it a couple of times, but mostly just ecstatic for the weekend with all the Volvo people here and, not only that, but with Alex’s Lemonade Stand this weekend it’s really special for all of us at K-Pax and Volvo.”

Pilgrim steadily worked his way forward from fourth on the starting grid in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. He methodically found his way around teammate Johnny O’Connell and took second a few laps later from Pobst, on Lap 20 of the 26-lap timed event. The runner-up performance was Pilgrim’s fifth podium of the season and enabled him to solidify second place in the final 2012 GT driver standings.

“It’s a difficult place to drive, because you’re sliding around everywhere, you really have to pick your moments and every corner has its issues,” Pilgrim said. “You just have to stay in control, and you have these controlled, lurid slides going on everywhere. So you have to stay within yourself and try to push yourself. It’s a real driver’s race track.

“Coming into the weekend, I’m just so proud of the whole team and Johnny [O’Connell]. We got Manufacturers, he got the Driver’s Championship, and if I can’t get the Driver’s Championship, finishing second behind him to me is like winning the championship also.”

Coming of a sweep of both races at the Mid-Ohio doubleheader earlier this month, Pobst settled for third this time around in the No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60. It was his fifth podium of the season.

“Alex was just plain fast,” Pobst said. “My K-Pax Volvo was good, but it wasn’t good enough to keep up with him. It was a good race with the Cadillac, and I’m just happy to be on the podium with this great team once again.”

O’Connell closed out his 2012 World Challenge GT championship-winning season with a fourth-place ride aboard the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V. It was the first Pirelli World Challenge title for the decorated sports car racer.

In the GTS race, Lee’s pass for second place on Lap Eight around Peter Cunningham earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.

His next pass, however, may have been just as clean and meant a fair bit more as he took the lead from Jack Baldwin in Turn Five.

Shortly thereafter, Baldwin – who had started from the GTS pole and led the first 14 laps – fell out of the battle for the victory with a cut tire. Lee, on the other hand, steadily pulled away over the remainder of the race in the No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro and went on to earn a comfortable, 9.930-second victory over Cunningham.

“When it started, I figured it would be quite a battle to get around Wilkins in the Kia,” said Lee, who earned World Challenge Rookie of the Year honors. “He was the person I was most worried about. On the start, we got right around him, but so did Cunningham. He actually went by me. Peter Cunningham has been around for so long, and to pass that guy is so difficult, I knew I had my work cut out. I knew his main concern was the championship, so after I made a move, he made it somewhat easy on me. Jack had a flat tire, and after that we just decided we were going to lay down a qualifying lap until the race was over.”

Cunningham picked up his eighth podium result in 12 starts this season in the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. The runner-up performance was easily more than enough to earn Cunningham his 10th championship in SCCA Pro Racing competition.