SONOMA, Calif. – Class points leaders Ryan Winchester (Touring Car) and Ernie Francis Jr. (Touring Car B-Spec) swept Saturday’s rounds 11 and 12 of the Pirelli World Challenge season at the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.
The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend serves as the second-to-last dates on the 2013 calendar, and the wins for both drivers solidified their championship hopes.
It was a banner day for Compass360 Racing, which locked out the podium with the exact same 1-2-3 order in both races. Karl Thomson’s team has also accomplished the feat three other times this year (Rounds 2 and 3 at Circuit of the Americas, Round 5 at Lime Rock Park). Winchester took home his fourth and fifth race wins of the 2013 season.
Meanwhile in TCB, Francis Jr. scored a dramatic win in Round 11 and a more conventional triumph in Round 12, to score his sixth and seventh victories this year.
Round 11 of the championship went green under sunny skies and an 82 degree ambient temperature at the 2.3-mile Sonoma Raceway, but unfortunately did not stay green for very long. Brian Fowler in the No. 65 Shea Racing Ford Fiesta rolled his car on entry to Turn 7. Fowler was uninjured from the contact and the car sustained only minor damage, but his race was over on the spot.
The ensuing four-lap caution tightened the field once again and from there, Winchester took the lead from the Motul pole position. Winchester, driver of the No. 72 C360R/Ligion Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si, was able to enjoy a relative cruise from there ahead of his teammates.
“After the restart it was ok. I got a pretty good start again,” Winchester said. “I was able to get myself a comfortable gap, where I didn’t have to look behind me too often. I didn’t have to worry about someone behind me making a late move. I was able to run my own pace.”
Behind him, teammates Brett Sandberg and Remo Ruscitti were engaged in a fight with Michael Cooper, who was seeking his fifth consecutive TC class win. Cooper advanced two positions from fifth to third on the start in his No. 1 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda Mazdaspeed 3, getting in-between Ruscitti in second and Sandberg in fourth. Cooper’s move earned him the Cadillac Move of the Race.
On lap seven, Cooper tried a move on Ruscitti, of Vancouver, Canada and driver of the No. 71 C360R/Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si, but he lost momentum in turn two. That allowed Sandberg to slip by for third in the No. 70 C360R/GearTie.com/HPD Honda Civic Si.
A lap later, Sandberg made it past Ruscitti for second place at Turn 4. Cooper’s quest for five in a row officially ended when he pulled off course on lap 10, in-between turns seven and eight, with a loss of power. Unfortunately, that meant he was also unable to start Round 12.
Winchester ran strongly to the finish from there to take the win by 2.161 seconds over Sandberg at an average speed of 66.604 mph. Sandberg’s second-place finish was his best result since his last win at Round 5 at Lime Rock.
“We are all teammates running under the same group. And all the cars are exactly the same so it really comes down to making your moves, being smart and managing traffic,” Sandberg said.
The TCB race ended with a last-lap thrilling finish. Polesitter Robbie Davis led from the start in the No. 37 MINI of Charleston Racing MINI Cooper but lap-by-lap, Francis Jr. closed the gap in the No. 98 Festivals of Speed/Breathless Performance Mazda 2.
As the two ran nose-to-tail, with Francis Jr. mere fractions of a second behind, he made a lunge to the inside of the right-left chicane sequence at turn nine. Davis moved to defend, but Francis Jr. held firm and snuck past on the inside of the corner, emerging ahead at corner exit.
“I just had to start closing the gap on him,” Francis Jr. explained. “It seemed like he moved over just a little bit and got us into the dirt, and we went through there.”
Davis, who fought valiantly to hang on and secure what would have been his fourth win of the season, was gracious if disappointed with his second-place finish.
“It was a great race and I don’t think I’m too happy about what happened at the end,” Davis said. “Ernie Jr. is a great driver and I realize that stuff happens, but at the same time you have to be careful. It’s a bummer we didn’t get that win but we are still happy we got that second place and to keep things close.”
Tyler Palmer recorded yet another podium in the No. 24 BlackForest Porsche/Discount Tire/4R Motorsports/Mobil 1 MINI Cooper in third place from the same grid position.