IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Race Report from Montréal
Sean Johnston Makes it Two-In-A-Row at Montréal
MONTRÉAL, Quebec, Monday, June 11, 2012—Perhaps it's fate that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal winds its way around a Casino, because Sean Johnston is ready to double down.
The 21-year-old already struck it rich with his first career pole Saturday in qualifying, immediately following his first career victory just a few weeks ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
And his lucky streak continues as he took home another Platinum class win Sunday at the Grand Prix du Montreal in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series.
The young Californian lead the competition from flag to flag, dominating all the laps in the 30-minute feature that was a prequel to the prestigious FIA Formula One World Championship race that afternoon.
But his victory was not just based on luck. He and his Wright Motorsports team had a game plan that was not short on strategy and required a cool head.
“It was an awesome race for me,” said Johnston while behind the scenes on the Formula One Podium. “I knew the first corner could have taken several cars out, so I was extra careful. I made it through in one piece. From there I just tried to set a quick, but comfortable pace.”
The overall Platinum podium was the result of some great Porsche GT3 Cup action on the 2.71-mile, 14-turn, park-like circuit. In front of building crowds, veteran Fernando Pena and his teammate Madison Snow kept Johnston clearly in their sights as they took second and third place respectively overall, and in the US series Platinum class, giving Wright Motorsports the top three spots on the podium for the day.
“The team gave me a great car,” said Pena. “It would do anything I asked of it. And to be one, two and three on the podium is a spectacular result. I didn't think I could catch Sean - it was his day. So I settled into 2nd and raced for myself. Towards the end Kyle (Marcelli) started to cut into our lead, but we were taking it a little easy at that point to save the car. If he had caught me, I would have let him go - we are running for the championship and he is not eligible, so let him go.”
Snow, who shared the overall podium with his mother Melanie today in Gold Class Competition, had one of the most amazing battles of race with Michael Mills of Effort Racing to earn his third place finish. The two had a fierce battle for two to three laps, alternately swapping the lead and rushing down the front stretch side-by-side trying to gain the advantage. In the end, it was Snow who swept by and gained his place on the third step of the overall podium.
“I wanted to avoid any first corner mayhem,” said the 17-year-old. “So I played it cool at the start. From then on, I was racing Michael Mills. It was some good clean racing. We stayed out of trouble and got a much-needed third place.
Mills, who went on to finish fourth place in this race made some great gains over the course of the weekend.
“We were working really hard over the course of the whole weekend and we never quit trying to find more speed,” he said. “Today we were able to find almost two seconds and were able to come up from behind to have just an awesome battle with Madison (Snow).”
Gold class racing once again proved it was worth its proverbial weight as the energetic and affable young Venezuelan Angel Rafael Benitez Jr., brought his Ansa Motorsports Porsche home just ahead of hard driving Melanie Snow with Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports and Mitch Landry to take the Overall Gold Class victory.
“The first turn here in Montreal is pretty dangerous,” he grinned. “But after we got through that, I managed to put a Platinum class car between me and Melanie. That worked out well as I was able to concentrate on keeping a good pace and not over-using the tires. Unfortunately, he spun out and Melanie started to gain on me. But thankfully, she ran out of time. Also, I am very, very proud to have won my class for my country and my people in Venezuela.”
While first turn on the opening lap promised to be daunting to all competitors, Melanie Snow stayed clear to gave Benitez Jr., a great chase, but ultimately was not able to catch him.
“I was able to avoid all of the first corner pushing and shoving,” she said while wiping off the aftermath of one of the most notable champagne fights in Porsche GT3 Cup racing history.
“I wound up with a Platinum car between Angel (Benitez Jr.) and me. I stayed out of trouble and when the Platinum car spun, I was able to get within about five seconds or so of him. But the car was great and I really want to thank Snow Racing and Wright Motorsports for giving me an outstanding car today.”
The No. 54 Wright Motorsports entry driven by Mitch Landry navigated the traffic nimbly, but not without incident.
“I think I could have done better than I did, actually,” the Louisiana native said. “I was a little too aggressive a little too early and I cooked my brakes. I got to the hairpin and found I had a long pedal. The next time around I had to pump the brakes fast, but didn't do it fast enough so I spun and flat spotted the tires. The team gave me a great car, I just wish I could have done more with it.”
The Canadian forces fared extremely well through the traffic and Etienne Borgeat was able to take the top position in the Platinum class in his GT Racing entry, followed closely by Marco Cirone and Perry Bortolotti , giving 6th Gear Racing the remaining spots on the Canadian Platinum podium.
In Gold, Bruce Gregory crossed the line 2.5 seconds ahead of his SpeedMerchants teammate Robert Maranda to take the Canadian victory, with Shaun McKaigue of Fiorano Racing taking the final Canadian podium spot.
The next race on the schedule remains in Canada at the Mobil 1 presents the Grand Prix of Mosport on July 20-22, where the Canadian and US Series once again compete in separate feature races in the same arena in an international battle for Porsche superiority.
To learn more about the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, visit imsachallenge.com on the Web, http://www.facebook.com/gt3cupchallenge on Facebook and @GT3Challenge on Twitter.