Pirelli World Challenge 2016 Touring Car Round 1 Review
Austin, TX – Vesko Kozarov, Elivan Goulart and Will Rodgers took victories in TC, TCA and TCB, respectively, in the opening round of the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season at the Nissan Grand Prix of Texas brought to you by VP Racing Fuels. The 40-minute race was held under sunny, 73-degree weather.
From the rolling start, Nick Wittmer, in the No. 91 Honda Ste-Rose Racing Honda Accord V-6 Coupeled from the pole position in TC through turn 1. Tob yGrahovec, in the No. 26 BMW M235iR for Classic BMW Motorsports, slotted into second and challenged Wittmer for the lead on the opening laps as Kozarov, driving the No. 3 CA Sport Nissan/Nismo/Stance Nissan 370Z followed closely in third position. Tony Rivera, in the No. 97 Brass Monkey Racing Tiburon Motorsports Nissan 370z, slotted into fourth after the first lap.
On lap 2, Carl Rydquist, in the No. 34 CA Sport Nissan/Nismo/Stance Nissan 370Z, moved into fourth followed by Jason Fichter, in the No.7 Shea Racing Honda Accord V-6 Coupe, which demoted Rivera to sixth temporarily as the Nissan driver found a way past Fichter a lap later.
In TCA, two-time class champion Jason Wolfe, in the No. 12 Kinetic Motorsports Kia Forte Koup, jumped into the lead on the start over Goulart, in the No. 70, S.A.C. Racing/SCDA1.com Mazda MX-5 Cup. Patrick Seguin, in the No. 32 Team Ost Racing helpkevinproject.com Honda Civic Si, slotted into the third position in class earning the Optima Batteries Best Start Award gaining eight positions on the first lap. TCA pole-sitter Johan Schwartz, in the No. 46 Prostate Cancer Awareness/B.P.R. CAS Group/Instrumart/PCAP/ZERO Cancer Honda Civic Si dropped back and was 11th after the opening lap.
In TCB, Tom O’Gorman, in the No. 94 Black Armor Helmets TNIA Honda Fit, was in the lead after starting the race in third, as Michael Johnson, in the No. 24 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic, moved into second with Henry Morse, in the No. 14 Hale Motorsports MorseGPS powered by CalAmp/MazdaSpeed/FreeM USA/Corksport Performance/Rolling Hills Prep Mazda 2 in third. Pole-sitter Ted Hough, in the No. 69 Breathless Racing Mazda 2, had dropped back to fifth.
By lap three in TCA, Wolfe continued to hold down the lead over Goulart and Seguin, who would be passed soon after by Drake Kemper, driving the No. 21 Tech Sport Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup.
In TCB, O’Gorman continued to lead Johnson’s Chevrolet, but Rodgers, in the No. 65 Hale Motorsports SolvangBrewingCo/KellyBenefitStrategies/FoundationFightingBlindness Mazda 2, had moved into third after starting at the back of the field. Rodgers had provisionally won the pole earlier in the day but a penalty assessed after a post qualifying technical inspection moved the Mazda 2 driver to the back.
On lap 4, the attention was back on the lead battle as Grahovec stalked Wittmer for the race lead in TC. At the same time, Ricardo Flores, in the No. 10 Breathless Racing Ford Mustang, pulled off with reported tire damage.
A lap later, Grahovec passed Wittmer for the overall race lead. Meanwhile, Andrew Rains, in the No. 44 Rains Racing National Bank of Commerce/PLK Investment Partners/Honda Motorsports Alabama Honda Accord V-6 Coupe, had improved from his 21st starting position to 12th, eventually finishing eighth, earning him the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award.
TCA’s lead battle continued to develop as the race proceeded under green flag conditions with Wolfe out front over Goulart and Kemper, who was passed on lap eight by Eric Powell, in the No. 23 Tech Sport Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup.
By lap 5 in TCB, Hough moved up to third while Rodgers slotted into second, hounding O’Gorman for the race lead. Rodgers soon after passed O’Gorman for top spot in the class.
In TC, Kozarov continued to lead over Grahovec and Wittmer as the trio of leaders diced through TCB traffic. On lap 6, Wittmer pulled off in turn 20 with a mechanical problem, but the battling at the front had allowed Rydquist to close and join Kozarov and Grahovec.
In TCA, on lap 10, Goulart executed a move to put himself into the lead over Wolfe, but Wolfe battled back and the two drivers went side by side for a number of turns with Wolfe passing back for the lead. The TCB race saw Hough move into second as Rodgers continued to lead.
At the halfway point of the race, Adam Poland, in the No. 33 Doghouse Performance Edge Addicts Mazda MX-5, had worked his way into the top five, demoting Jason Fichter, in the No.7 Shea Racing Honda Accord V-6 Coupe, to sixth.
With 13 minutes to go, Kozarov continued to manage a lead of seven tenths of a second over Grahovec, with another second back to Rydquist in third, and an additional 17.5 seconds back to Rivera in fourth, with Poland closing in from fifth.
In TCA, Wolfe and Goulart continued their battle while Rodgers led Hough and O’Gorman in TCB.
As traffic came into play in the closing stages of the race, Kozarov led but Grahovec was able to close, attacking for the TC lead and then trying a series of moves on the last lap.
The two went side-by-side corner after corner battling for the win as the finish line loomed in the distance, with Kozarov edging ahead after turn 16 and driving to the checkered flag for his eighth career PWC win. Rydquist completed the TC podium, with Rivera in fourth and Poland in fifth. Kozarov was awarded the Stop Tech Brake Late, Finish First award.
The action heated up in TCA as well, as Wolfe led but slowed on the last lap with an apparent mechanical issue he later described as a possible fuel surge, with Goulart getting past for the win on the last turn of the track, the pass was awarded the Cadillac ATS-V Move of the Race. Wolfe crossed the line in second with Powell in third.
In TCB, Hough closed in on Rodgers in the waning moments of the race. The two drivers drag raced to the line with Rodgers winning by a nose in his first career professional race.
“There was little of scrapping going on in that one,” said Kozarov. “Too bad Nick (Wittmer) fell out, it would have been more fun for that final lap. Those guys (Grahovec/Wittmer) had some serious machines under them in the race. This is a good track. Not really my favorite but it was fun racing when you have a scrap to get to the finish. It’s always a good way to finish a race and especially the first one of the year.”
“That was a blast. We knew we didn’t have it down the straights but I wanted to stay within striking distance,” said Goulart. “Jason’s (Wolfe) started to bog on the next to the last lap. Then on the last lap, he really slowed and I was able to sneak around the outside and get the lead. I’ll take this one. It was an exciting finish.”
“It was kind of a wild one. We had to start from the back due to some technical issues and I knew I was going to have to fight my way through the field,” said Rodgers. I didn’t really know what it was going to be like since it was my first pro race. We had some cars bumping and banging off the start. Then I found some clear space and starting working my way up the field. I bought the car three days ago and came here. So it was my first time in the car, my first pro race and my first time at COTA. I’m working with the best guys in the paddock in Jim and Joe Jordan. Joey has taught me everything I have in the last two years. He’s the man. It was exciting at the end with the last corner on the last lap to win. Luckily, I was able to pull off by about a foot I think.”
Results are provisional until posted final. TC/TCA/TCB teams next take to the track for their second and final race of the COTA weekend, scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Central time on Saturday, March 5.
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