McKENZIE, BENITEZ, JR. START 2012 WITH SEBRING WINS
Sebring, Fla., March 15, 2012 – Tim McKenzie and Angel Benitez, Jr. took class victories in the season-opening race for the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama in Sebring, Fla., but the big winner today was the series as Yokohama Tire Corporation announced an extension of its support of the largest single-make racing series in North America.
As the official tire of the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series, all Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars in the popular 15-race series will be competing on the orange oil-infused ADVAN® ENV-R2™ race slicks through the 2015 season.
McKenzie, from Middleton, Wis., drove his Kelly-Moss Motorsports car to a flag-to-flag victory in one of the lead-up events to Saturday’s 60th Anniversary of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. He beat Wright Motorsport's Fernando Pena by 3.057 seconds.
It was an historic day for McKenzie as he recorded his sixth class pole and victory in the series, which moves him into third in all-time race wins in the Platinum Cup class of the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama series.
“It’s great to go wire-to-wire, and I’m proud of myself and the team,” said McKenzie. “I’d love to think that will continue, but it’s not going to happen as there are other things to contend with. All in all, it was a great race.”
Following Pena across the stripe to round out the top-five were Effort Racing’s Michael Mills and Wright Motorsport’s Kasey Kuhlman and Sean Johnston.
Benitez, Jr., from Venezuela, won the Gold Cup class today by finishing 15th overall in the 35-car field. Scott Tucker, from Madison, Wis., followed Benitez for a second-place finish in the Gold Cup class and 16th overall.
The Yokohama Hard Charger Award winner went to Grant Phipps for advancing the most positions in the 35-car field. He started 17th and finished 8th.
The next IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama race is Friday, March 16 and part of the 60th Anniversary of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida weekend.
Tim McKenzie, Kelly-Moss Motorsports (1st Platinum Cup/Overall)
“I wish I could say I was loafing out there, but when I see Fernando and all of these guys in the mirrors, obviously I respect them, and I drove as hard as I could to maintain a gap. The only issue would be if there was a yellow flag, and then it would tighten up anyway, so there’s no reason to put the car in too much risk. There were certain laps when Fernando gained on me, and there were a few laps where I edged away a little bit. It was good racing.”
Fernando Pena, Wright Motorsports (2nd Platinum Cup/Overall)
“I think we came along quite well for the second half of the race, but with four or five laps to go, the car got a little bit nervous and unsettled at the rear. The team was instructing me that we were putting up pretty good lap times and that I was three or four tenths quicker than Tim, which was encouraging, but when the car got a little unsettled I thought I might have a flat tire. So I had to take it a bit easy. With the pace that Tim was putting down, if you try to be cautious for three or four turns, the gap becomes almost unreachable again. I just had to conserve for a few more laps and finish. We’re still trying to keep the big picture in mind and remember that there are 15 events to this championship, and we’re going for the long run. Second place is a success.”
Michael Mills, Effort Racing (3rd Platinum Cup/Overall)
“I’ve got to tell you, as our team owner would say, we’re truly blessed. As some of you guys know, we put something together in Atlanta, and Chuck stepped up and gave us the funding we needed and ended up pulling off a win in the second race (in 2011). From that, we kind of rode the wave of momentum into this year. We have a full season commitment and a Platinum car to run all year, and we’re just going to go as hard as we can the whole time and not let up. Our engineer did a great job giving me a car that was good in the middle of the race. It was super strong, and once I quit worrying about the traffic and focused on the task at hand I was able to put up a flyer. Once we got into traffic and dealing with some of the lappers, it was tough to get through. You’re driving as hard as you can and so are they, and you just try to get through them as quickly as possible. It ended being as good as I could hope. I’m real happy to be on the podium and real happy to be here.”
Angel Benitez, Jr., Ansa Motorsports (1st Gold Cup/15th Overall)
“It was a perfect day. It was my first ever race in a GT car, so I’m happy. Like, really happy! I couldn’t be happier, first race in a GT, in a Porsche, which is a really great car but a really difficult car to get used to. All the guys here are really, really quick, so it wasn’t easy. It was really hot out there from the start, and I had to push hard every single lap. If you calm down for a single lap, everyone could pass you. Thanks to my Dad, my Mom, and my sister and also to my friends and my team. I used to race open wheel cars, F2000. I raced F2000 last year, but this is quite a big change. But to be honest with you, the first time I got into the car it was like, I don’t know, I thought it was going to be like a street car, but it’s not. It’s like an open wheel car but bigger. It’s quicker on the straight line and has a lot more horsepower.”
Scott Tucker, Level 5 Motorsports (2nd Gold Cup/16th Overall)
“You learn something almost every session you go out about this track. It’s iconic, which is why they aren’t changing it. Unfortunately, I had a spin that was just driver error. Once you spin and get stuck and the car won’t start, it really becomes a workday. The traffic in these Cup races, especially us guys running in the pack in the Gold Cup, the first three or four laps are tough, especially between three and five. There’s a pretty big gang there, and you just have to be patient even though you don’t want to be. It will be tough race tomorrow.”
David Calvert-Jones (3rd Gold Cup/18th Overall)
“It was hard racing, and I was lucky enough to get up to third place. I was excited to get to third place, and I just kept on pushing as hard as I could without doing anything silly. About mid-race, I had an oil light come on, so I was worried about the car for a while. It went off, and then I saw Scott charging in the mirror so he came past pretty quickly. As it turned out, we were able to catch up to the second-place car, and we got around him at one point. Third is a fantastic result. I started racing two years ago in vintage racing, and last year I did a couple of Pirelli cup events on the West Coast. I was lucky enough to convince PC Tools to come on board and sponsor me for this year. There’s nothing better than racing in a one-make series because it comes down to driver and skill, and that’s what I love.”