Several other class victors crowned in Round 1 race
The Nissan Grand Prix of Texas presented by VP Racing Fuels got underway Saturday with round 2 of the TC/TCA/TCB class cars in a 40 minute sprint race.
The TC class battle was won by Toby Grahovec in the No. 26 Classic BMW M235iR. Grahovec began the race third, behind the two Nissan 370Z’s of Vesko Kozarov and polesitter Carl Rydquist. A move by Kozarov on the opening lap saw himself, Grahovec and Nick Wittmer all pass Rydquist.
Grahovec then picked off his rivals and took the lead with 30 minutes of the race still to go. He was pressured at times by Wittmer in No. 91 Honda Accord and Tony Rivera’s 370Z, but held strong to claim his second victory in the series and the first for BMW’s new M235iR. Grahovec who had a large support base in attendance was elated with the victory.
“We have about 60 family and friends here today and to win is fantastic. You really have to be on the ball with the standing starts, but I had a good one. We’ll have a great party tonight after the win.”
In TCA, defending champion Jason Wolfe in the No. 12 Kia Forte Koup won from second in class and 25th on the grid. Despite polesitter Eric Powell struggling on the standing start and gifting the lead to Wolfe, the Kia driver was repassed by Powell, who made up four places on the first lap and then swapped the lead several times with Wolfe early in the race.
Swarmed by Mazda MX-5s, Wolf earned the move of the race when he went three wide with Powell and Evan Goulart to take the lead of the race on lap 9. The pursuing Mazdas didn’t let Wolfe out of their sight and gave the race a photo finish with Wolfe beating Goulart’s No. 70 MX-5 across the line by inches.
In TCB, Will Rodgers took the No. 11 Solvang Brewing Company Mazda 2 from dead last on the grid to a first place finish in only his first weekend of professional racing. It came hot on the heels of victory in class yesterday that was later nullified by a technical infraction. After taking on his 12 in class competitors and claiming a true victory, Rodgers was emotional, “I knew I had to redeem myself…this has been a very eventful weekend for me in my first pro racing weekend. I can’t thank Hale Motorsports enough for their help and guidance.”
The GTS class featured the most unique machinery of the day as new series rules have American muscle in the form of Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs battling international GT4 machinery in the form of Lotus Evora’s, KTM X-Bow’s, GInettas and Maserati Gran Turismo’s in a symphony of exotic sights and sounds.
Scott Dollahite led from pole in the No. 46 Lotus Evora, but quickly lost first place to Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 10 Blackdog Speedshop Camaro Z28. Aschenbach made the move at the end of lap one and didn’t look back as he lead every lap enroute to a commanding victory to commemorate the former champion’s return to the series. Bob Michaelian brought out an immediate caution after his appropriately wicked handling SIN R1 went off track and was unable to continue.
The race resumed with 36 minutes left on the clock. Aschenbach wasn’t to be challenged, but further back, his teammate, Tony Gaples in his 150th series start, made a strong pass on Dore Chaponik in the KTM and began hunting down Brett Sandberg in the sister ANSA KTM machine.
Mere minutes later, Chaponik got into the back of Anthony Mantella’s No. 8 KTM and spun him. Mantella continued, but Chaponik was handed a drive-through penalty by the stewards. Meanwhile, Gaples slowed on the front straight with suspension failure that put an end to the veteran’s milestone start.
Aschenbach won the race over Nathan Stacy, who had a lonely time in his No. 14 Roush Mustang Boss 302. Behind them, Parker Chase snuck through at the last minute to claim third place in the No. 19 Ginetta GT4. After a season away, Aschenbach opined on the virtues of PWC and clearly enjoyed being back. “Race was pretty good for us today…It was fun out there and it’s great to be back in the PWC series.”
The GT/GTA/GT Cup class put on an excellent battle in today’s main event. Porsche factory driver Patrick Long took the victory in his triumphant return to the series, driving the No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3R for Effort Racing.
The field was led to green by defending champion Johnny O’Connell in the No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R. O’Connell fell back at the start after a brilliant move by Bryan Heitkotter in the No. 5 Nissan GTR who made a banzai push from third to first on the opening lap. The action was quickly halted though after contact between James Sofronas in the No. 14 911 and Duncan Ende in the No. 67 TRG Aston Martin brought out an immediate caution. Both cars limped back to the pits with Ende’s Aston trailing its damaged rear wing along the way.
The lengthy caution meant the race did not restart until 38 minutes remained in the 50 minute contest. At the green nearly half the field moved to attack or defend, the cars climbed the steep hill to turn 1 six wide as they passed the main grandstand.
At this point, the race evolved into a two-horse battle between Heitkotter in the leading Nissan GTR and Patrick Long in the 911.
With 10 minutes to go, Long upped the pressure on Heitkotter and into the esses nose to tail with the Nissan, but the GTR was able to pull out from the 911 on the back straight. As they went through the stadium section, Long lunged to the inside, taking up the entire curb and nearly running afoul of the track limits. At that point, the race was over as Long pulled out a gap that lasted till the checkered flag.
GTA polesitter Martin Fuentes claimed a dominant victory in class in the No. 07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458, as he finished some 16 seconds ahead of second placed MIchael Mill’s BMW Z4. Texan native Alec Udell claimed his fourth GT Cup victory after a race long battle with Sloan Urry and Will Hardeman.
Many drivers notably struggled with track conditions that have deteriorated since last fall’s major floods that struck during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend. The most obvious section was in the braking zone for turn 11 which now features a large bump that pitches many of the cars slightly airborne and has their engines pinging off of the revlimiter.
Action resumes Sunday with races for the GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS classes.