Freedom Autosport’s Derek Whitis and Tom Long have the distinction of finishing on the podium in the debut GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race at the new Circuit of the Americas. Whitis and Long drove the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 to second in the Street Tuner class after a thrilling last-lap pass.
Whitis had never turned a lap of the track prior to last weekend, but he qualified 16th for Saturday’s 2.5-hour race. Once the green flag dropped, so did Whitis’ lap times. By the time he pitted during a caution period, Whitis had moved up to seventh.
After an equally quick pit stop by the Freedom Autosport crew, Long took the No. 25 Mazda out in fourth. From there, Long worked his way into the lead, which he held onto for much of the latter half of the race.
The team took a gamble, deciding to stay on track during a mid-race caution instead of pitting for a splash of fuel. Making it to the end of the race relied on more cautions, and the strategy played out perfectly.
Long was passed by some higher-powered cars on the last restart, but he continued to battle within the top three. Long was third when the white flag came out, but he made a daring pass on the final lap to finish second.
“This was an awesome race for the Mazda MX-5 at an amazing facility. We couldn’t be happier to get on the podium in our first race here," stated Whitis. "What a great way to show all the fans the power of the MX-5! Standing on the podium is also an extra opportunity to say thanks to all of the veterans, which is always an honor.”
“It was a great result. It’s not a win, but in the big picture this is what we needed,” says Long. “Things are clicking and the team did an amazing job with pit stops. Overall, everything ran smoothly this weekend. The track is a blast to drive, too: it’s mentally challenging because it’s very complex, but it’s a lot of fun in a Mazda!”
The No. 26 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 finished 23rd after an early setback that left the car with only second and fifth gear. Rhett O’Doski and Andrew Carbonell were able make the best of it to score points for the championship.
Fans can catch the race and Freedom Autosport’s podium finish on SPEED on Saturday, Mar. 9, at 4:00 p.m. ET.
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