Benitez Jr. Moves Up to GT3 Platinum Cup in Impressive Fashion with a Win at Sebring

March 18th, 2013

Article sourced from here.

Sebring, Fla. – (March 14, 2013)  The IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama 2013 season officially began today as part of the 61st Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida. Conditions for the opener at the 3.74-mile circuit were cool and sunny giving the Porsche 911 drivers prime opportunities for Qualifying and Round 1 of GT3 Cup racing. 

Qualifying resulted in a new qualifying lap record by NGT Motorsport’s Angel Benitez Jr. with the top-22 cars separated by less than three seconds. The near-record starting field of 38 replicated took advantage of the cooler weather with their GT3 Cup cars to lay down fast times.

BBS Pole Award winner Angel Benitez Jr. pulled away from the field at the drop of the green flag and took control of the 17-turn circuit for the first half of competition. Madison Snow of Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports was close behind in his second-place starting position and never lost sight of Benitez Jr. Snow made his move on the Venezuelan driver entering Turn 7 on Lap 13, but minor nose-to-tail contact would force Snow to pit on Lap 14, ending his day.

Race 1 was shortened due to a full-course caution late in the race, but Benitez Jr. had no other challengers en route to his first Platinum Cup win after commanding the 2012 Gold Cup Championship.

“It was very hot inside the car, but I survived,” exclaimed Benitez Jr. “It was an amazing weekend. We had the pole position and the new qualifying record, and led flag-to-flag. I think we have a good shot at success this season. We have to keep working hard and pushing for more.”

Snow’s misfortune opened the door for Michael Mills of Effort Racing to make a run at Benitez Jr., but Mills couldn’t find the speed to track down the leader.

“Everyone did a great job on the start with giving each other room,” said Mills. “It’s great to see that just starting out this year. Angel and Madison checked out and I didn’t have the pace to keep up. It was a great race. The guys working on my car did a fantastic job. It was a great day and I’m so glad to be on the podium.”

Not far behind Mills, Brett Sandberg of TruSpeed Motorsports found some speed and managed to get around Daniel Duerson of NGT Motorsport to land himself on the final podium spot.

“We started out well today,” said Sandberg. “We made some great changes to the car entering the race. We’ve had a tough time fighting with oversteer all weekend but our changes really helped for the first quarter of the race. As the race progressed and the tires started to go away, my car started getting loose again. I was fighting entry and oversteer. But we didn’t do any testing, so I’ll definitely take a third today.”

Kasey Kuhlman did not post an official qualifying time and had to start from the back of the Platinum Cup class. Kuhlman hustled his Wright Motorsports Cup car through the field to finish 16th overall and take home The Yokohama Hard Charger Award.

“I had to start last in the field because I didn’t log a qualifying time thanks to my transponder not working,” said Kuhlman. “I knew I had my work cut out for me with the entire field in front of me. I just put my head down and was really aggressive on braking. I picked them off one at a time and ended up passing 22 cars to get to 16th position before the yellow came out that ended the race.”

In Gold Cup competition, TPC Racing worked hard overnight to find nearly four-seconds worth of speed for driver Michael Levitas, which resulted in a BBS Pole Award for the Baltimore resident. Levitas defended his starting position to take the class win while his classmates dueled for position behind him.

“It was a great run, I had a great time, I mean TPC really pulled it off in the final hours,” said the class-winning Levitas. “Even from the practice day we had a great car but for some reason we couldn’t find it and the guys worked hard and pulled it off in the final hours last night. We weren’t too sure what we had going into the qualifying but once we got to qualifying I knew I had a great car, it was a great feeling going into the race.”

TPC Racing was busy all winter with Levitas’ teammate David Williams, as they prepared Williams and his GT3 Cup car for their Series debut. Williams has been away from competition for a while, but responded to his teams’ hard work by qualifying second. Like Levitas, Williams would hold his spot on the way to the second step on the Gold podium.

“It was all about redemption this weekend,” Williams said. “We did well in qualifying as well as the race, so overall this was a great weekend in my first race. If it wasn’t for the hard work and determination of our team and sponsors, we wouldn’t have been able to pull this off.”

RJ Lopez of Ansa Motorsports rounded out the Gold Cup podium after getting around John Goetz from MGM Racing and Ary Krau of NGT Motorsport. Lopez, Goetz, and Krau are enjoying a first season of IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama competition.

The GT3 Cup Challenge battle resumes Friday, March 15 at Sebring International Raceway. The second 45-minute feature begins at 2:55 pm ET.

The Master Class
 
Fans at today’s 45-minute race feature witnessed competitive racing from the veterans in the Masters Class as they attacked the course in the first race of the season. Daniel Duerson took the top honors in Platinum Cup for his NGT Motorsport team, but not without a little excitement along the way.

“The race went very well,” said Duerson. “I started well and got to the inside by Turn 3, which is what I was hoping to do. We were running a good pace and just happened to catch lapped traffic. I tried to push it, but ended up spinning. I managed to keep it going and won my class so overall it’s a good day.”

Following Duerson to the podium to collect Masters Class medals were Amadeo Quiros of NGT Motorsport and Kelly-Moss Motorsports driver Paul Barnhart. Quiros and Barnhart both improved their positions in class after the day ended early for Phil Fogg, Jr. and TruSpeed Motorsports.

“Everybody behaved themselves on the start,” said Barnhart who began in the tenth position. “I was having a hard time passing but we did a good job of keeping people behind us as I was trying to manage my tires until the finish.”

Barnhart was able to keep most of the field behind him as he managed his tires. He ended with a third place finish while chasing Duerson along with Quiros, who finished second on the Masters Platinum Cup podium.

The Qualifying Report

Qualifying for Race 1 at Sebring International Raceway was the first time IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama competitors qualified under modified rules implemented by IMSA. As in 2012, competitors’ fastest lap times determined starting positions for Race 1. New for 2013, the competitors’ second-fastest qualifying laps set the field for Race 2.

From the start of today’s session, driver Madison Snow from Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports set the pace early with a provisional fastest lap after just four laps around the legendary 17-turn course. Snow then took a chance and parked his 911 leaving the door open to the competition.

NGT Motorsport launched a shot at Snow’s lap of 2:06.842 after making some late adjustments to Angel Benitez Jr.’s car. Benitez, who was last year’s Gold Cup Champion, had requested a change to improve the handling of his GT3 Cup car.
He headed back on course near the end of the qualifying session with a fresh suspension setup that helped the Venezuelan stake his claim to a qualifying lap record of 2:06.709, a scant 0.133 seconds under Snow’s best lap. Benitez Jr. also established a new qualifying lap record.

Snow was left without time to challenge the efforts of Benitez and his juggernaut NGT Motorsport crew, but managed to hold onto the second starting spot for the day. Effort Racing’s Michael Mills rounded out the top three for the qualifying session. 

Equally impressive team efforts were on display in the Gold Cup category where TPC Racing found significant speed overnight, enabling Michael Levitas to grab the pole. Levitas found himself running in fifth and sixth positions in class during the previous day’s practice sessions. The Baltimore-based driver improved by nearly four seconds to a 2:10.571 fastest lap.

Newcomer David Williams recently acclimated himself to the 911 GT3 Cup car during the offseason after thorough preparation by his own TPC Racing crew. The advance prep work paid significant dividends as Williams showed he was quite comfortable in qualifying with the second fastest time in class.

Another newcomer, Ary Krau lined up in the third position in Race 1 by earning the spot with a 2:11.970 lap in his NGT Motorsport machine.

The top 22 positions in qualifying were separated by less than three seconds – one of the tightest fields in IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge history.

 

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