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Long Doubles, Foss and Herbert Earn First Pirelli World Challenge Wins at St. Pete

All three eventual class winners held off last lap surges by rivals to take Pirelli World Challenge Championship Round Two wins on Sunday at the Acura Sports Car Challenge Presented by Pirelli. Patrick Long, from Belleair, Fla., Eric Foss, from Dallas, Texas, and Tristan Herbert, from Reston, Va., captured narrow GT, GTS and Touring Car class victories, respectively, on the street course as part of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. 

Long earned his second win of the doubleheader weekend in the No. 45 Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche 911 GT3 by 0.627-second over Porsche rival James Sofronas. Long averaged 67.890 mph over the 32-lap race, that was slowed for six laps by a caution period and reduced by the series’ time limit to 50:54.334.

Starting second on the grid, Long dropped behind polesitter Randy Pobst, in the No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60, and the No. 14 GMG Porsche 911 GT3 of Sofronas as the lights went out to begin the race. Sofronas went past Pobst on lap three, with Long moving around the Volvo and into second on lap six. The order remained unchanged as the caution flag flew on lap 11 to clear a two-car incident involving the No. 61 Gila Monster Racing Volkswagen Jetta Touring Car of Carolyn Kujala and the No. 91 JRP/Fuchs/Hub Stands Porsche Cayman GTS car of Ernie Jakubowski.

Sofronas and Long both pulled away from Pobst and the rest of the field on the restart, with Sofronas opening a small gap Long. Long closed the gap and patiently worked through the traffic of the 46-car field on the tight, 1.8-mile street circuit.

Patrick Long took both GT class wins in St. Petersburg.

Long slipped past Sofronas in traffic with three laps to go on the Bay Shore Drive back stretch and used the traffic to open up his final margin of victory in a move that earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.

“It came down to traffic. I mounted my charge with about eight to go and got up to his bumper. I waited for the right time to roll the dice and just take the opposite of whatever option he took. Because I had no pressure from behind, I could just wait for one of those factors to play out. It happened on the back straightaway and we could have gone side by side in the kink but he was to my right, which was outside, and gave me plenty of room.

Despite a long career in sports cars, Long had just one World Challenge start in his career prior to the 2011 season opener. Planning to run for the 2011 championship with the TruSpeed team, Long walked away impressed.

“I have to say, the whole World Challenge series is really strong and they made me work hard for both of these wins. There was no clear sailing or easy job this weekend. It’s nice to run really hard and bring a car back clean. A lot of different series that I’ve come in to, especially early on, you end up in a knock down, drag out in the final few laps and I think this is a better way to race.”

Despite leading 27 of the 32 laps, traffic and Long’s driving held Sofronas to a second-place finish. It was his second podium of the weekend after a third-place finish in race one.

Mike Skeen completed the podium with a systematic charge from the back of the GT field at the start. Skeen’s No. 2 Cragar Wheels Corvette was battling for the lead with Long during Saturday’s race when, on the final lap, he was collected by a spinning GTS car. The resulting damage and engine change left him at the rear of the field at the start.

Sixth on the restart, Skeen moved past the No. 11 Kleinschmidt/Blackdog Racing Corvette of Tony Gaples on the next lap, and battled for several laps with Jason Daskalos in the No. 7 Dalsin Development Dodge Viper before moving past on lap 26.

Skeen then swapped positions three times in six laps with Saturday’s runner-up Dino Crescentini, who spun in the No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 on the opening lap and worked back through the entire field. Skeen moved into third on lap 30 when he passed Crescentini for the final time and the Volvo of Pobst ended three laps short of the finish after contact with the wall.

The efforts earned Skeen the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race on his way to the podium finish.

Crescentini was running fourth at the white flag, but fell to ninth by the checkered flag. Daskalos and Gaples finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Pobst was scored 13th in class at the finish.

Foss earned his long-awaited first World Challenge win the hard way in his No. 73 Traxxas/St. Jude Hospital/SPX Ford Mustang FR500S, holding off the series’ all-time wins leader and six-time champion, Peter Cunningham.

Foss started fourth on the grid but moved to second at the standing start in his Mustang, then raced class polesitter Paul Brown in the No. 50 Lucas Oil/K&N Filter Ford Mustang Boss 302S. The Mustangs chased each other through the streets of St. Petersburg until the restart, when Brown made slight contact with a Touring Car, which was enough to cut down the tire and take him out of contention.

Eric Foss (leading) held off defending champ Peter Cunningham (trailing) for the GTS class win on Sunday at St. Petersburg.

Cunningham had closed the gap to Foss, who won the Touring Car Rookie of the Year in 2009, and made the race close for the final few laps.

Foss held off Cunningham’s No. 1 Acura/RealTime Racing/HPD Acura TSX, crossing the finish line with a 2.005-second margin of victory after earning some breathing room on the final lap.

“I’ve watched World Challenge since I was a kid, and getting an opportunity to win in this series and stand on the top spot of the podium is something I’ve been dreaming about for years,” Foss said.

“I think being my first World Challenge win, and [Cunningham] has won several of these, I just wanted it so bad and he’s a smart guy and knows there’s going to be several of opportunities down the road. I took a lot of chances, some maybe that I shouldn’t have, but the car held together. Traxxas, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, SPX and Amsoil really put this together and giving me this opportunity has just been phenomenal.”

Foss led 15 laps (Brown led the other 16 completed by the GTS class) in the race.

Chris DeSalvo’s No. 37 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT joined Foss and Cunningham on the podium, marking the first World Challenge podium for the rookie driver. Two more Mustangs followed – the No. 27 Winkler Automotive Service Ford Mustang FR500S of George Winkler and the No. 19 Varsity Ford Ann Arbor/Steeda Ford Mustang Boss 302S of Jason von Kluge. Von Kluge captured Saturday’s race win, giving him two top-five finishes in as many World Challenge starts.

Herbert completed his climb from SCCA Club Racing to World Challenge race winner in just his first weekend in the series, earning an eventful 0.737-second Touring Car win in his No. 33 Brimtek Motorsports Volkswagen GTI.

Tristan Herbert rallied from the third starting position to take the Touring Car victory on Sunday at St. Petersburg.

“This is the perfect example of why people get involved with local programs in SCCA,” Herbert said. “That’s where I started, with a driver’s school with the [Washington, D.C. Region] and worked my way up. This is exactly why you get into racing, and what you can do with it if you stick to it and work really hard. It’s awesome, it hasn’t even hit me yet.”

Starting third, Herbert and Chip Herr, driving the No. 07 Grid 1 Motorsports Mazda RX-8, moved past polesitter Lawson Aschenbach at the standing start. Herbert moved past Herr on the third lap and onto the point, building a lead through the caution period.

World Challenge uses a wave around rule to prevent the Touring Car or GTS leaders from being earning a “free lap” on the rest of their class. Because of the on-track position of the overall leader during the caution, none of the Touring Cars were given the order to move past the pace car to the rear of the field.

Herbert and the Brimtek Motorsports team, however, misunderstood the command and Herbert moved past the pace car and circulated to the rear of the field, essentially one full lap ahead of his Touring Car competitors.

Officials called Herbert to pit lane after the green flag and held him until Herr, running second, passed the start finish line – putting Herbert on the track behind the silver Mazda.

Herbert recovered, moved past Herr on lap 22, and then held off a charging Aschenbach’s No. 71 Compass360 Honda Civic Si to the checkered flag.

“I was in first place and we had the full course caution,” Herbert explained. “One of the officials had told our crew chief to wave us by, and just like yesterday we started to go by. I didn’t see anybody following, and the next thing I know I’m totally in the wrong spot. I know I’m in the wrong spot, I’m starting to panic, my crew is calming me down. They know the problem and they’re trying to stage me. I get pulled into the penalty box, and that was ok, they were trying to get me in the right spot. As they’re letting me go I see Chip Herr go by, and all of a sudden I have to get my head back in the game and get right back up there. I was able to get around Chip and make it happen. It was a tough one.”

Aschenbach finished second, followed by Patrick Seguin in the No. 80 Theberge Homes/capsparts.com Honda Civic Si. Devin Cates earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for improving 12 positions overall on his way to a fourth place Touring Car finish in the No. 23 Cutaway Crations/Cates Engineering Volkswagen GTI. Ray Mason, who finished third on Saturday, finished fifth in the No. 69 TLMUSA.com/Columbus Truck Honda Civic Si.

Herr finished 13th in class after a mechanical problem with five laps to go.

Robb Holland earned the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award in his No. 66 K-Pax Racing Volvo C30 for improving the most positions on the opening lap.

After two rounds, Long leads the GT Drivers’ Championship with 322 points, followed by Sofronas (233), Crescentini (180), Skeen (177), and Pobst (162). Foss leads in GTS with 251 points, followed by von Kluge (240), Cunningham (214), and Brown (211). Aschenbach leads the Touring Car Drivers’ Championship with 284 points, followed by Herbert (230), Mason and Seguin (175 each), and Ronald Zitza (160).

Porsche and Ford lead the GT and GTS Manufacturers’ Championship, respectively, while Volkswagen and Honda are tied atop the Touring Car standings.

The Pirelli World Challenge Championships return to action at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 15-17.

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

Follow World Challenge on Twitter @WCRacing.

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