BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (April 27, 2015) – Only a week after collecting two top-10 finishes on the streets of Long Beach, California, RealTime Racing backed it up with another pair of top-10’s at Barber Motorsports Park in the Pirelli World Challenge GT Championship.
The rolling 2.38-mile road course located just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, proved to be an interesting challenge for the RealTime Acura team. Though Cunningham had 239 World Challenge race starts coming into the weekend, he had yet to turn a wheel around Barber Motorsport Park. Both Cunningham and Ryan Eversley were chasing setups going into qualifying, with sporadic rain moving in and out of the area and open-wheel series laying down more tire rubber with each session.
The No. 42 and No. 43 RealTime/Acura Motorsports/HPD Acura TLX-GT cars rolled onto a damp circuit with rain tires Saturday morning for qualifying. An evening storm had drenched the circuit, but it was clear a dry line would form shortly.
The field was divided into two qualifying groups. Cunningham was assigned to the first group and faced the track at its wettest. At the close of the 20-minute session, Cunningham was on top of the provisional grid, but the sun was out and drying the track quickly.
Eversley qualified in the second 20-minute session, which promptly topped the quickest times of the first group. Soon teams were switching to slick tires, Eversley included. The switch was the right move. Eversley’s TLX qualified fifth, and Cunningham’s rain tire lap held up for 12th.
Race 1 – Saturday
For the doubleheader weekend, World Challenge opted for a rolling start for Saturday and a standing start on Sunday.
When the green flag waved, Eversley dropped to seventh while Cunningham picked up a spot and was into 11th. The two held their positions as the race ran cleanly before the first full-course caution was issued 15 minutes into the 50-minute sprint.
After the restart, Eversley was sandwiched between two Cadillac ATS-VRs while Cunningham had a front row seat. Just before the second full-course caution was issued, Eversley lost a spot to Johnny O’Connell’s Cadillac, which meant the Acura duo started side-by-side for the second restart.
“We were coming out of Turn Three and I could have raced him through there and maybe take the position, but rather than jeopardize both of our cars through a flat-out corner, I instead said over the radio ‘you got it’ and let him go,” Cunningham said of the pair’s side-by-side moment. “I fell in behind him and didn’t pass him until he had his issue in the last corner.”
Eversley’s issue was a brief off in the final turn leading onto the front straight that killed his momentum into Turn One.
“I slid wide coming onto the front straightaway, which I’d done five or six times already, and it finally got the best of me,” Eversley said. “Peter was able to get by, which was totally fine, but going into Turn One, one of the Audis got into my right rear a little bit and slid me off the road. I lost five or six spots right there.”
A final full-course caution was issued with Cunningham running ninth and Everlsey 16th. By the time the incident was cleared, there was only time for one green flag lap. Though it wasn’t much time, Cunningham was able to move up one position to eighth and Eversley picked up two positions to finish 14th.
“I had a pretty clean race other than during the full-course yellow I got hit from behind by somebody trying to scrape some radiator blockage off the front of his car,” Cunningham said. “This track is fun. Now that I’ve got a race under my belt and know where the corners go, I think I can do better tomorrow.”
“We didn’t have the best setup on the test day, but we found something we liked that was easy to drive on old tires and new tires,” Eversley said. “For qualifying we put our St. Pete setup back on and that was okay. I don’t know what changed for the race. I don’t know if it was the IndyCar tire rubber or what. It was really hard to get the car to rotate in the slow speed corners and in the high speed stuff it was dicey.”
Race 2 – Sunday
Using fastest race laps from Saturday’s race to set the grid for Sunday, Eversley lined his TLX up in 13th while Cunningham took up 16th on the grid. This race employed World Challenge’s traditional standing start.
When the start lights went out, the field didn’t make it very far before a full-course caution was issued for a stalled car on the front straight. The car in question was able to get going on it’s own power, which brought the green flag back out the following lap.
Eversley timed his restart perfectly, advancing to eighth and then seventh on the following lap.
“We’re still struggling on restarts, but I was able to get enough of a gap between me and the car ahead, that when I went back to power I was about to either run into the back of him or go green without any problems and that’s exactly what happened,” Eversley explained.
With 20 minutes remaining, the yellow flags were out once again for a car fire. Eversley and Cunningham were seventh and 12th, respectively, when it was time to restart with six minutes remaining. This time, Eversley restart did not go as smoothly.
“On the last restart, we were on the outside of one of the Cadillacs, racing clean and then another guy got involved and all three of us went flying off the road a little bit and I got the worst of it,” Eversley said.
Cunningham took advantage of the battle ahead and moved up to ninth, while Eversley fell to 12th. Both drivers ran out of time to advance any further in the field and crossed the finish line in that order.
“Toward the end of that long green flag run, the cars ahead of me weren’t getting smaller, they were getting bigger,” recalled Cunningham. “I think maybe I was on a steady pace and they had worked themselves over. I don’t know if I could have caught any of them if we hadn’t had that yellow. With the way the yellow turned out we knew it was either an opportunity to move forward or get passed. I’m pleased that we made it out on the other side and were able to pick up a few positions in that short run at the end.”
Eversley lamented a finish that didn’t represent the strength his TLX exhibited.
“I’m really happy with the way we performed today compared to yesterday,” Eversley said. “We made some good changes to the car. We definitely had a seventh-place car, but that’s probably all we have at the moment. Barber isn’t really our track, but we’ll get better and hopefully when we come back next year we’ll have more aero and experience with the chassis. It’s a positive weekend, but we didn’t get what we deserved.”
Speaking from the driver/team owner role, Cunningham is glad to have two cars in one piece and more time to prepare for the next round than the three day turnaround between Long Beach and Barber.
“I think these RealTime guys deserve a couple days off,” Cunningham smiled. “I’m not sure if they’ll get them or not, but at least we can be home with our families for a couple weeks before the next race. It’ll be good to get to Mosport, because we haven’t been there in a few years and it’s a daunting and wonderful pace.”
Following Rounds Six and Seven at Barber, Ryan Eversley is fourth in the GT Drivers’ Championship. Cunningham is 14th. Acura is seventh in the GT Manufacturers’ Championship.
A replay of the doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park will air on May 3 at 2pm ET on CBS Sports Network.
Next up on RealTime’s schedule is a trip north of the border to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, May 15 – 17. Saturday’s race is set for 1:15pm ET and Sunday’s race will go green at 2:30pm ET. Both races will be streamed live on www.world-challengetv.com.