Four Drivers in the Touring Car Title Hunt at MRLS; Paul Holton leads by 8 points entering TC Rounds 11 and 12
Wittmer, Liefooghe & Grahovec still in the mix for the coveted TC Championship
SALINAS, Calif. – The Touring Car class of the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge season has produced some of the most exciting wheel-to-wheel racing in all of North American road racing.
With fields over 30 cars at most of the first 10 rounds this year, six different drivers have reached the top step of the podium after close competition with many of the events having the top two or three racers finishing within a second at the checkered flag.
And the trend is expected to continue for the final rounds (No. 11 and 12) of the 12-race TC series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday, Oct. 14. Round 11 is set for 9:50 a.m. PDT and Round 12 at 4:00 p.m. PDT. Each race will be 40 minutes in length.
Separate TCA/TCB races are scheduled for 9:00 a.m. PDT and 2:05 p.m. PDT on Oct. 14 as well.
A 28-car Touring Car field is set to take to the famed 2.238-mile, 11-turn Northern California road circuit on Friday for official practice sessions with manufacturers represented by Audi, BMW, Honda, Lotus, Mazda and Nissan.
“This year, the Touring Car action has been sensational with a variety of cars and top drivers battling it out at each event,” said Jim Jordan, Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car class manager. “We now have a tight points battle coming to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next week and the competition should get even more intense. It should be a tremendous TC weekend.”
Young Paul Holton, who turns 21 next week, brings the Touring Car point lead to Mazda Raceway after driving the No. 71 Pfaff C360R Audi RS3 LMS Club Sport sedan to two race victories and three runner-up finishes. Holton holds an eight-point margin entering the final two TC events.
“My head is down and I am ready to execute at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,” said Holton from Orlando, Fla., “Eight points isn’t an ideal lead in the championship, but it’s what I have to work with. Compass Racing knows how to win championships and I expect that knowledge from the team to give us an advantage come the end of the weekend.”
Holton’s point total of 183 currently tops the Touring Car standings followed by Nick Wittmer at 175, Greg Liefooghe at 162 and defending TC class champion Toby Grahovec at 156.
Wittmer, the veteran racer from Montreal, Que., Can., scored his first 2017 victory in No. 91 ST Racing BMW M235iR in Round 8 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on Labor Day weekend. Nick also has three second places and one third so far in 2017.
“I can’t wait to go to Laguna Seca,” said Wittmer. “It’s one of my favorite tracks, because most of the video racing games I play have that race track. It’s one of the most fun tracks to race with because it’s the closest one in a game that we can actually go and drive. The elevation is great, the scenery is beautiful, everything is beautiful. Hey, it’s California.”
“As for the title, it’s unreal. I can’t believe it’s coming down to the last race, and the top four guys have a chance at winning the Championship. The car is ready, and we’re going for the title. We’re only eight points behind, that’s five positions. So, I just need to beat Holton, three positions in one race, and two in the other, and we land the Championship.”
Liefooghe, the San Francisco competitor, is the winningest TC driver this year with four wins in the No. 20 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M235iR. Greg recorded victories at VIR, Utah (twice) and COTA. He also has one second place and two pole positions in 2017.
“It was a huge battle at COTA in the TC class,” said Liefooghe. “We were a little bit stronger at the end. It was great racing with them, it’s super clean. We’re just chugging along all year, taking it one race at a time. The guys work super hard on the car. It’s all about the little details. It’s always on the alignment pad and the team is preparing the car. Steve (Cameron) is super smart so we’re always tuning something between sessions.”
Grahovec, whose Classic BMW racing operation has run up to five cars at a race this year, won the TC title last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and brings his No. 1 Classic BMW BMW M235iR back with a chance for another time. The Texas-based driver suffered a slow start in 2017 but has come on with two seconds, one third and one fourth in the last four rounds. He’ll seek his first 2017 win this year in Rounds 11 and 12.
“Yes, we had a slow start to our 2017 season,” said Grahovec. “We came close to the win at COTA, just losing to Nick by three-tenths of a second. It was a thrilling race. And getting back on the podium has helped us in the points hunt. We will need a great weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to pull off another championship. But I’m not giving up. Our Classic BMW team has been coming on in the second half of the year. So, we will see what happens.”
Among other TC contenders at PWC season finale will be 2016 TC ‘Rookie of the Year’ Anthony Geraci, of Glen Cove, N.Y., who won a pole position at VIR in the new No. 69 S.A.C. Racing Audi RS3 LMS Club Sport sedan as well as young (age 19) Mason Filippi of Alamo, Calif., who has a TC victory in CTMP in his No. 12 Winding Road Team BMW M235iR. Filippi is current fifth in TC points.
Ranked sixth in TC points is Anthony Magagnoli, in the No. 80 Rooster Hall Racing/FCP Euro BMW M235iR, who has recorded two podium finishes in his last four events. Magagnoli has made a nice late-season charge in the TC standings.
Another top contender based out of New York is BERG Racing led by team owner and last year’s Utah race winner John Weisberg of Webster, N.Y., who campaigns the No. 5 REDCOM Laboratories/Micro Precision Components/BERG Racing Mazda MX–5. Joining the BERG Racing team at Utah is young Jason Coupal of Rochester, N.Y., in the No. 009 REDCOM Laboratories/Micro Precision Components/BERG Racing Audi RS3 LMS Club Sport. Coupal currently ranks seventh in TC points.
The 27-car Touring Car field also features Jayson Clunie in the No. 2 Classic BMW Motorsports BMW M235iR; former TC winner Vesko Kozarov in the No. 3 Rearden Racing Nissan 370Z; Rodrigo Sales, in the No. 8 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M235iR; Nicolai Elghanayan in the No. 9 Muellerized Lotus Exige; Aristotle Balogh, in the No. 19 ART Racing BMW M235iR; J.W. Roberts in the No. 26 Classic BMW Motorsports BMW M235iR; past TCB series champion Johan Schwartz in the 28 AutoTechnic Racing BMW M325iR; Justin Raphael, in the No. 29 Classic BMW Motorsports BMW M235iR; former race winner Travis Washay in the No. 30 Indian Summer Racing Audi RS3 LMS Club Sport; college student Samantha Tan in the No. 38 ST Racing/GPI Inc./Laurel BMW of Westmont, Ill., BWM M235iR; Mark Drennan in the No. 54 Hooverspeed Mazda MX-5; Steve Bottom in the No. 58 Steve Bottom Racing Nissan 370Z; Scott Thomas in the No. 82 AutoTechnic BMW M235iR; Henry Schmitt, in the No. 87 in the BMW of San Francisco BMW M235iR; Chris Ohmacht in the No. 92 Classic BMW Motorsports BMW M235iR; Joshua Foran in the No. 93 Team HMA Honda Accord; Karl Wittmer in the No. 99 Honda Ste-Rose Honda Accord; and Daren Jorgensen in the No. 065 Rearden Racing BMW M235iR.