Holton, Fassnacht & Groenke Crowned PWC Touring Car Champions After Exciting 2017 MRLS Season Finales
BMW & Mazda Score TC Manufacturers’ Point Titles in 2017
MONTEREY, Calif. – The 2017 Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car point championships came down to a fitting climax last weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with champions having to put in top performances to claim the coveted Touring Car, TCA and TCB titles.
At the season-ending TC banquet held at the Embassy Suites in Seaside, Calif., three of the favorites entering Rounds 11 and 12 were honored before a packed house as numerous awards and championship trophies were distributed.
It took winning runs for both Paul Holton and P.J. Groenke to secure the TC and TCB crowns, while a calculated performance by Matthew Fassnacht gained the Mazda racer the TCA honors.
Holton, driving the No. 71 C360R Compass Racing Audi RS3 LMS sedan, left little doubt that he was the class of the field at MRLS on the legendary 2.238-mile, 11-turn Northern California road circuit. The 21-year-old driver from Orlando, Fla., recorded a “clean sweep” of the doubleheader weekend with two wins, two pole positions and two race fast laps. Holton totaled four victories in the 2017 12-event series.
In addition, Holton’s team, C360R from Canada, captured the Touring Car team title with 227 points over Stephen Cameron Racing at 213 and Classic BMW at 206.
Trailing Holton (235) in the final TC points were four BMW drivers – Greg Liefooghe (208), Nick Wittmer (190), Toby Grahovec (190) and Mason Filippi (173).
With a strong contingent in TC this year, BMW won the Touring Car Manufacturers’ Trophy with 112 to Audi’s 83. Victor Lelu, manager of BMW North America Motorsports, accepted the trophy for the TC Manufacturers’ honors.
“We started out the season with a win on the debut race,” said Holton. “That was a great race with Greg (Liefooghe) and Nick (Wittmer) and I think we were all nose-to-tail throughout the whole race so that was really fun. Throughout the season we’ve had our ups and downs with BoP and some mistakes I made but we pulled it together. We had a clean weekend which is exactly what we needed to do.”
“Our Audi Sport, C360R – they gave me an absolutely phenomenal car today and I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of it. I’m not a guy that’s normally at a loss for words but I’m having a hard time finding them now. We call it the Grand Slam – two wins, two poles and two fastest race laps is fantastic.”
In TCA, it came down to a two-driver and one team contest entering the final two events and Fassnacht played it cool with his No. 74 S.A.C. Racing Mazda Global MX-5 Cup car. After two wins in the season opener at VIR, Fassnacht was consistent throughout the year and did it again at MRLS with two fifth place finishes to clinch the championship.
The Madison, N.J., racer scored 245 points to defeat defending TCA champion and S.A.C. Racing teammate Elivan Goulart of Shelton, Conn., in the No. 70 S.A.C. Racing Mazda Global MX-5 Cup car at 226. 2016 TCB champion Tom O’Gorman made an impressive TCA debut in 2017 with a third place series finish in the No. 94 Shea Racing Honda Civic Si.
With Fassnacht and Goulart leading the way, Mazda took the TCA Manufacturers’ crown with 120 markers over Honda’s 66 and Mazda’s John Doonan was on hand to claim the TCA points trophy. S.A.C Racing won the TCA team title with 265 over Shea Racing’s 230 and TechSport Racing’s 218.
“I don’t like to race this way for points,” said Fassnacht. “It’s not as fun. We did want to keep an eye on the championship, and I’m an analyst so I had a spreadsheet going into the weekend. There were an interesting number of permutations and all these things that were going on. Unfortunately for Elivan, he hit the curb in turn six and that changed the whole thing. At that point we knew the math for the number of cars. So, we reduced the risk in the first race by letting people go by and managing the points – again, not as fun as being able to go-go-go, but hats off to Powell and Murillo for what they’ve accomplished.”
“This has been quite a ride for me. It’s only my second season racing professionally full-time and I’ve had quite a few ups and downs. Elivan and I have a great relationship. But I think the most important part of this weekend other than winning the championship was being able to pass Elivan on the track because he’s a great driver.”
Maybe the most emotional championship win came from Groenke, the veteran TCB racer from Richmond Hill, Ont., Canada, who has the most TCB starts.
Only three points separated Groenke, Jake Pipal and Canaan O’Connell entering the doubleheader 40-minute races at MRLS, but the Canadian was not to be denied when he drove his No. 25 TechSport Racing Chevrolet Sonic to both victories.
Groenke scored 268 points to Pipal’s 266 (in the No. 6 Jake Pipal Racing Honda Fit) and O’Connell’s 253 (in the No. 24 TechSport Racing Chevrolet Sonic). TechSport Racing won the TCB team championship with 286 over Jake Pipal Racing’s 264.
The 19-year-old Pipal was named TCB Rookie of the Year, while Anthony Magagnoli claimed the TC Rookie of the Year (in the No. 80 FCP Euro/Rooster Hall Racing BMW M235iR) and Jeff Sexton took the TCA Rookie of the Year (in the No. 89 Winding Road Racing TFB Mazda Global MX-5 Cup).
“I’m at a complete loss of words,” said Groenke. “I’ve been in PWC TCB since the inception in 2012. I ran one race weekend there and I’ve been in this class ever since. That race, I thought, ‘No one is taking this away from me.’ I put it to the floor on that standing start, got Canaan (O’Connell) on that standing start and honestly, I can’t remember where I got him but once I did I was just gone, and there was no way that he was going to catch me or anyone else for that matter. To sweep the weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, such an iconic track, for the last race of the season of TCB and to be the champion. I don’t know what to say. I can’t thank TechSport Racing enough and my sponsors – Sid from Verax.ca, Jonathon from Tundra, Stratus from Prestone, and Sean and Peter from Cabano’s Comfort Food. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my sponsors and this is for them.”
The coveted Touring Car Crew of the Year honors were taken by Stephen Cameron Racing in TC, S.A.C Racing in TCA and Jake Pipal Racing in TCB.
The final TC events of the year from MRLS will be televised on Sunday, Oct. 29, on CBS Sports Network with the Touring Car races at 6 p.m. EDT and the TCA/TCB events at 7 p.m. EDT.