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Pilgrim and Baldwin Score Pirelli World Challenge Victories at Long Beach

Andy Pilgrim (No. 8) claimed his first World Challenge victory since 2009 at Long Beach. Photo by Mark Weber/SCCAAndy Pilgrim, of Marina Del Rey, Fla., earned his first Pirelli World Challenge Championships victory since 2009 in the GT class and road racing great Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., earned his first World Challenge victory ever in the GTS class at Sunday's Pirelli World Challenge Long Beach Grand Prix presented by StopTech.

Pilgrim started second in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V and - as he had predicted after qualifying - was no match for polesitter Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., on the race's standing start as Pobst used the all-wheel drive on his No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 to full advantage.

However, Pilgrim managed to slot into second place heading into Turn 1 and spent the next several laps searching for an opportunity to make a move. The opportunity presented itself in Turn 1 on Lap 9 of the 31-lap event and Pilgrim made the most of it. In fact, it turned out to be the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race.

"I think traffic played a little bit of a part in it," Pilgrim said. "Randy got stuck in traffic a little bit in the hairpin and I gained on him a little bit on that lap. It wasn't like I had a run on him, but I could stay with him. I just surprised him a little bit there. He was starting to move his brake point back a little bit and I noticed it. I just waited as late as I possibly could. The door was open and I went through."

"Andy just put a beautiful, surgical pass on me," Pobst added. "I had no idea he could gain that sort of advantage in the brake zone in (Turn) 1. He just studied for a while, realized he did have an advantage and he just took it like a surgeon cutting out a tumor. All of a sudden, it was just a beautiful pass."

Once he got around the Volvo, Pilgrim set sail and was never challenged for the remainder of the caution-free race. He beat Pobst to the stripe by 6.337 seconds to score his first World Challenge victory since 2009 at Road America - which ironically came in a K-Pax Volvo - and the 11th of his World Challenge career.

"The Cadillac ran very, very well," Pilgrim said. "It ran consistent and I think it being green the whole time really helped us. The car is so good in various ways. We're very, very happy, Team Cadillac is happy. Long Beach is a great race. To win Long Beach, I've never won it. I've been second a couple of times but it's very good to win it. I'm very happy to win at Long Beach."

After a difficult weekend at the season-opening doubleheader in St. Petersburg three weeks ago that produced a 12th- and a ninth-place result, Pobst rebounded nicely in Long Beach. His Volvo was extremely strong throughout the weekend, as evidenced by the fact that the four-time World Challenge GT champion started from the pole position and led the first eight laps in the race before finishing second.

"Our K-Pax Volvo has got all-wheel drive, which is just a fantastic feature on the starts," Pobst said. "I know these guys hate it, but I love it. The setup we were running made me a little careful the first few laps and Andy got right on me. Our team has been working so hard to get our Volvos back on track in terms of reliability. That's a huge victory for us today. The car just ran beautifully. Another one is that this circuit, I wouldn't have expected it to be good for us. The tight corners, yes, but the braking, not so much. Our car is, I think, the heaviest one in the series as a result of having our all-wheel drive advantage. It keeps the racing close. It was a great race."

Pobst was the meat in a Cadillac sandwich as Johnny O'Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., claimed the final spot on the GT podium with a third-place run in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V. O'Connell, who started third, leaves Long Beach atop the GT point standings by 13 points, 374-361, over Pilgrim thanks to three straight podium results - including a season-opening victory in St. Pete.

"It was actually a race where I was hoping for yellows," said O'Connell. "We were carrying a little extra weight and the longer that thing ran, the more my car was sliding. It was the type of race that you really enjoy. The car ran well. The added weight makes the car go very greasy, and sliding around a lot. If you're not going to win, it's pretty darn cool to see your teammate walking away into the distance."

Fourth place in GT went to local favorite James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3. Lawson Aschenbach, of Darnestown, Md., followed up his dominating victory in the second race of the St. Pete doubleheader with a fifth-place ride at Long Beach in the No. 1 Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche 911 GT3.

Jack Baldwin (No. 68) earned his first career World Challenge GTS victory. Photo by Mark Weber/SCCAIn GTS, Baldwin commented prior to the race that he didn't believe he would be able to beat polesitter Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., into Turn 1, owing to what he believed was a horsepower advantage Cunningham's Acura had over his No. 68 Hot Wheels/Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman S.

It's possible, then, that Baldwin may have even surprised himself when he found himself at the head of the class field in Turn 1 on Lap 1. His start was so good that it won him the Kia Turning Point of the Race award.

"I thought a lot about that start," described Baldwin. "I don't have a lot of practice at it, but I started out drag racing back in the day and I just though, 'You know what? I'm going to go out there and just come off the line like I used to. I'm just going to forget about this launching stuff.' I just watched the light. It was like a tree and it was, OK, boom! I let the clutch out, it kind of slipped a little bit, it kind of hooked up and man, I was passing everybody. I couldn't believe what a start that I got. It was like a start that you dream about. I was just whizzing by people."

Baldwin held the GTS lead throughout the race but his mirrors were full of the No. 50 eBay Motors Ford Mustang Boss 302S driven by Justin Bell, of Los Angeles, Calif., as the laps wound down. Baldwin's car had some body damage from contact with another car and that coupled with the fact that Bell closed up somewhat dramatically behind Baldwin made it appear that Bell would somehow find a way to score his third straight GTS win after sweeping the St. Pete doubleheader.

As it turned out, Baldwin was merely managing his gap. He stretched his advantage slightly over the closing laps to come out on top in a battle of the Bs, finishing ahead of runner-up Bell and third-place Colin Braun, of Charlotte, N.C. It was Baldwin's first career World Challenge victory and came in just his third series start.

"We were fortunate enough to win today at Long Beach," Baldwin said. "For me, it was real special because this is home base for Mattel Hot Wheels. Their office is right down the street in El Segundo and they were all here. For me, if there was one to win, this was the right one, so I feel real good about that."

The second-place run for Bell was easily enough for him to maintain his spot atop the GTS driver standings with three of 13 races in the books. He now holds a 61-point lead, 415-354, over Cunningham, whom he passed for second on Lap 12 to earn the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.

"Our car was a little pregnant this week, but the Mustang did really well," Bell said. "EBay Motors, they're sort of upping their support. They're really enjoying being with the team. I'm going to probably do a lot more races, because I decided that I like playing in this sand pit, so I'm going to probably stay on a bit more. [Owner] Paul [Brown] is probably going to let me do it. It's great. No excuses. He won, I'm second and he's third and it was a good way of going racing. Long Beach makes us actually fell special because they put on such a good race. It's worth getting up at 5 in the morning, because we're in the big show. Congratulations to everyone, congratulations to my team."

Newlywed Braun, who just got married last weekend, celebrated his honeymoon with a third-place run in the No. 38 Infinity Audio/Kia Motors America Kia Optima. It was quite a turnaround from the St. Pete doubleheader in which Braun finished 14th and 16th, and he's looking forward to continuing his forward progress over the remainder of the season.

"Obviously, it feels great," Braun said. "These guys have done an awesome job on this Kia Optima. The guys back at Kinetic Motorsports built a fast car. We were able to qualify third today and it was just one of those races where it didn't seem to have a terribly fast pace but we were able to stay out of trouble and be in the right spots. Things sort of fell our way and we were able to come of here with a podium."

Fourth place in GTS went to Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif. in the No. 34 RealTime Racing/Acura/HPD Acura TSX. Roger Miller, of Salt Lake City, Utah, finished fifth in the No. 23 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S and earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for improving 13 places from start to finish.

After dominating the GTS class in both practice sessions and qualifying, Cunningham had a disappointing, seventh-place performance in the No. 42 RealTime Racing/Acura/HPD Acura TSX. Cunningham fell victim to a brake problem during the race, which forced him to spin.

The Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award went to Tony Gaples, of Lincolnshire, Ill., in the No. 11 Kleinschmidt Chevrolet Corvette. Cadillac holds a five-point advantage over Porsche, 25-20, in GT manufacturer points, while Ford is six points ahead of Acura, 25-19, in the GTS manufacturer battle.

The Pirelli World Challenge Long Beach Grand Prix presented by StopTech will be televised on NBC Sports Network at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 29.

The 2012 Pirelli World Challenge Championships will return to action at Miller Motorsports Park with a single race for the GT and GTS classes and a tripleheader of racing for the Touring Car class. The new B-Spec class will also make its World Challenge debut with a Utah tripleheader.

For more information, please visit www.world-challenge.com.

Follow World Challenge on Twitter @WCRacing.

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