ST. PETERSBURG, FL, March 23, 2013 – Alex Figge, of Denver, Colo., was declared the GT class winner following post-race technical inspection, while Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., made a late-race pass to take the GTS win in the opening round of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships on Friday at the St. Petersburg Sports Car Challenge presented by StopTech.
On the track, Ryan Dalziel made the most of a late yellow flag brought out by the stranded No. 51 Nissan/Motul/OSGiken/SPL/Sparco Nissan 370Z GTS of Ric Bushey on lap 26. Dalziel got the jump on the lap 31 restart and passed the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 of Figge for the lead, taking the checkered flag in first.
The front splitter of Dalziel’s No. 46 Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche 911 GT3 was declared out of compliance in post-race technical inspection, however, resulting in a disqualification and elevating Figge to his third career victory.
Figge had spent the early part of the race lengthening his lead, until the yellow was displayed on lap 26. By lap 21 Figge had extended his lead to six seconds over the field, finding a way to get through the on-course traffic without losing much time. Figge picked up rubber from the track behind the pace car during the wave-by for GTS cars under yellow, causing him to lose grip on the exit of Turn One.
James Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., had a strong race in the No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS. Sofronas was passed at the start by Johnny O’Connell in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, eventually moving back around the Cadillac and the No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 of Randy Pobst – inheriting second after the infraction.
“We ran out of time. It’s a good way to start, with a podium. This is a championship run, so points are good and there’s another race tomorrow. We’ll be ready to go.”
O’Connell’s teammate, Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., became the second Cadillac in the top four in Saturday’s race. Pilgrim, driving the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, moved around Pobst and the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette of Mike Skeen on the lap following the restart.
Pobst and Skeen finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Lee, of Colorado Springs, Co., had a strangle-hold on the GTS class for most of the race. Leading up to the yellow flag, thrown on lap 24, Lee had begun to open a gap over Baldwin and the rest of the GTS field.
“This is great for me. I was born and raised here in Tampa, I’ve raced here before in St. Pete, so this is my actual home town. It’s really great to win here in St. Pete, I love this race and I love this race track.”
“I’m ok with [second place],” Lee said. “We had such a long struggle over the off season, just to get this car back together. I can’t thank my guys enough for sticking with me, we were up and down all year. The battle with Jack in the last few laps, how many guys get to do that? If I was going to lose to anybody, I’m just glad it was him.
“It was hard fought,” Cunningham said. “It was very tight out there, I could have very easily finished 5th but I got some help from a couple of friends and managed to be on the podium.”
Gleason finished fourth, but was penalized 20 points for the contact. Aschenbach recovered to finish fifth.
Dalziel’s disqualification results in a loss of points and prize money, as well as qualifying time for Sunday’s race. Brett Curtis was penalized 20 points for avoidable contact in a separate incident during the race.