On Sunday, March 30, a mix of new drivers and cars, along with some past Pirelli World Challenge champions, opened the series' 2014 25th Anniversary season with a classic battle of men and machine in the Cadillac Grand Prix of St. Petersburg brought to you by StopTech. After the checkered flag had fallen, open-wheel and sports car veteran Tomas Enge took the overall and GT class victory, while three-time series champion Lawson Aschenbach took the GTS class victory, and Andrew Palmer took the top honors in the new GT-A classification.
Enge, of Liberec, Czech Republic, in the No. 25 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2, fell back on the start but slowly worked his way through the field until a late race pass of Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. The move, completed on lap 29 with just more than five minutes remaining helped to complete a comeback victory after a slow getaway from the standing start at the 1.8-mile street circuit, and netted Enge the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race award.
"Unfortunately things didn't go well at the start, obviously I dropped back, I don't know to which place. P10 or something," Enge said. "I knew if I kept calm and stayed out of trouble, I had a great car to come to the front and to make it back."
The race's only full course caution flew just before half distance for contact at Turn 4 between Jim Taggart, of Cary, N.C. in the No. 7 Taggart Autosport/Smartcharms.com Porsche GT3 R and Erik Davis, of Burbank, Calif., in the No. 75 Always Evolving Racing/Autotopia, LLC Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
"Everything else went really well, including the pass," Enge said. "Everything else came better, car, tires, setup, durability during the race. I'm really happy we could present these beautiful Reiter Engineering Lamborghinis here in U.S.A. with this great championship."
Pilgrim, who scored nine podium finishes in 2013, secured his first of 2014 in the first race of the year. It was a strong effort for him, as he said the podium result was more than he expected.
"We didn't get a great start like we thought we would," Pilgrim said. "The Cadillac CTS.V.R was great right off of the bat. Enge did not get a good start. He had to come from way back. The yellow really helped him and hurt us. Without the yellow I am not sure he could have caught me. Enge came back to us. It was a good first race; I am disappointed not to get the win, but happy to be on the podium. It was unexpected."
In third place overall and top GT-A classified driver was Palmer, of Chicago, in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra. Palmer has only a handful of past car races under his belt but enjoyed a great battle with the R.Ferri Motorsports pair of Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s, driven by Anthony Lazzaro and Nick Mancuso.
"The first standing start couldn't have gone better – ninth to second – with great race car driving and it was fun," he said. "The Ferrari was quicker on straights, but the Audi better on the brakes. We came away with the podium finish."
Lazzaro, of Atlanta, Ga., finished fourth in the No. 61 Remo Ferri Group – Ferrari of Ontario/Ferrari of Alberta/Maranello Autobody Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and Mancuso, of Chicago, finished fifth and second GT-A in the No. 16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
In GTS, defending series champion Aschenbach, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., took what he deemed to be a "lucky" victory in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Aschenbach and Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Col. in the No. 20 Best IT/Crown 7 Chevrolet Camaro, enjoyed a good fight throughout the race with Lee leading most of the event until he was held up by slower traffic on Lap 26, resulting in the awarding of the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award.
"I never really believed in luck until today," Aschenbach said. "It was Andy's race – he got sort of messed up going into I guess Turn 4, and I was lucky to get around him. We got fortunate today and hopefully we can be better for Long Beach."
Lee, twice a polesitter at St. Petersburg and a frequent lap leader at the track, came up short of a track win here once again. But it was a fighting effort from the third-year driver and 2012 GTS class rookie-of-the-year.
"I don't know how many laps led I've led here without winning," Lee said. "Every year this place seems to bite me in one way. I thought he'd open the door, but he turned down on me. He didn't do it on purpose. That's part of getting around here. The Best IT crew gave me a phenomenal car."
In third place was polesitter Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., in the No. 73 RESET-MD/Motul/StopTech Porsche Cayman S. Baldwin, who won both St. Petersburg races in 2013, was slightly behind the Camaros for most of the race but was pleased with his third St. Petersburg podium in the last two years.
"We lost a bit off our starting position, but the race was good from my point of view," Baldwin said.
Ford drivers completed the top five in GTS. Series returnee Tony Buffomante, of Naperville, Ill., finished fourth in the No. 33 Capaldi Racing/Ford Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S, and series debutante Jack Roush Jr., of Livonia, Mich., finished fifth in the No. 60 ROUSH Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R.
The next round of the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge Championships' season is the Roar By the Shore presented by Kia in Long Beach, Calif. on April 13, part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend.
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