BMW racer stands on podium in 10 of 12 races to claim competitive class
CELINA, Texas – It’s been a big year for Pirelli World Challenge racer Toby Grahovec.
Grahovec, an Orland Park, Ill., native, has been sporting a wide smile since the birth of his second child, a boy named Ronan, this year as well as the sensational World Series victory of his beloved Chicago Cubs.
The former college hockey player (forward-center) at Robert Morris University topped off his 2016 with an impressive Touring Car series championship, his first professional title.
“Yes, I’ll say it was a great year for me as well as my wife, Morgan,” said Grahovec, who now resides in Celina, Texas., closer to his Classic BMW Motorsports racing headquarters. “Ronan is a great little guy and our first full season with the BMW M235iR was special with our consistent runs. Of course, the Cubs’ World Series win was incredible too.”
Grahovec, 37, has been a winning driver since his karting days as a teenager but it was hockey that helped him earn a business degree via athletic scholarship at Robert Morris After graduation, Toby sought a career in motorsports as he assisted Peter Cunningham’s RealTime Racing operation with a variety of on-track events including teaching race driving.
He became a serious contender for SCCA national championships with victories in 2005 and 2009 in the SSB division with an Acura Integra built by RealTime Racing.
“I owe a lot to Peter and his RealTime Racing group as well as my dad (Duane),” said Gravohec. “My dad raced super karts at places like Daytona and they were fast. I was able to get into karting and then racing in cars. They guided me in the right directions and I wanted to race for championships as the years continued. Winning the SCCA Runoffs were exciting and I want to win a pro title next.”
In 2015, he competed in six Pirelli World Challenge races in the Touring Car A category with hopes of moving into the top Touring Car division in 2016.
“I had a long association with Classic BMW and we were looking at the new M235iR model for the TC class,” he explained. “BMW had been running the car in Europe and we thought it would be competitive in PWC. We got the car just ten days before the season opener at COTA (Circuit of the Americas) in March. We only tested one day and the car felt great.”
Grahovec’s initial feelings about the new BMW were correct as he recorded a victory and a second place in the two COTA Touring Car feature events. He returned for the second TC weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park with another win and runner-up to advance to the top of the Touring Car point standings. Toby’s plan for a 2016 title run was coming together.
“We had a wild race in the second event at CTMP,” he said. “There were like four or five guys in the mix and we were swapping the lead two or three times a lap. It was spectacular and we had another good weekend.”
With the point lead after the first four events in the 12-race series, Grahovec used his vast racing experience to develop a game plan for a championship quest.
“Our plan was to keep stepping up onto that winner’s podium (Top 3 finishers),” Toby said. “The competition was tough with the Mazdas and the Hondas. We wanted to win every race, but if that was not possible, then make the podium. We came close to it.”
In ten of the 12 TC races, Grahovec was on the podium with two wins, four second-place and four third-place finishes. In fact, in his two other non-podium events, he secured fourth place.
“I thought I had another win at Utah, but we hit some sand and dust in the final corner and slid wide,” he admitted. “John Weisberg slid inside of me and went on to take the win. I had to settle for third. But the points were important towards our goal.”
In the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, another Mazda contender, Patrick Gallagher, made a valiant attempt to edge Toby for the championship with two poles and two race wins. Grahovec knew what he had to do to take the crown.
“We had figured out the points pretty closely and, if Patrick did a clean sweep, we had to take third in both races on the weekend,” said Toby. “When I saw Patrick jump out to the lead in the second race, I was going to do everything I could to get to the podium. And we finished third in both races and won the championship by five points. It was that close. But it felt great.”
It was an exciting finish to a memorable year for Grahovec, his family and his Classic BMW Motorsports team.
“It’s over with now and we can enjoy the title and time with the family,” he said. “I can help Morgan (a pediatric neuropsychologist) with the kids and look to the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge season. We have more BMW cars coming to the team and we hope to expand the racing operation next year.”
Grahovec said a new BMW M235Ir TC machine costs $89,800 before special PWC add-ons and is a very competitive car for the price in the highly-competitive TC division.
“It’s a super car to race from a driver standpoint and I think a racer would be competitive with the car immediately like we were,” Toby said. “We have a championship with the BMW. So, it is a good machine.”
And Grahovec hopes for another title trophy on his mantle with the BMW in 2017.