ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 28, 2011) – Defending Pirelli World Challenge GTS Champions RealTime Racing got its 2011 season off to a solid start, taking home two podium finishes on the streets of St. Petersburg. Peter Cunningham brought the No. 1 Acura/HPD Acura TSX across the line in third on Saturday and did one better with a second-place performance on Sunday, while Nick Esayian captured a pair of sixth-place finishes in his No. 34 Acura/HPD Acura TSX.
The Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg weekend began with a full schedule on Friday that included two practice sessions and qualifications for Round 1. Cunningham topped the GTS times in both practice sessions, serving notice that the Acuras would to be a force to be reckoned with.
In qualifying, the Acuras faced an impressive contingent of GTS machinery including a bevy of powerful V8 muscle cars. Diversity was the order of the day as a Ford Mustang FR500S took the pole, a Ford Mustang Boss 302S was second and a Chevrolet Camaro turned the third quickest time around the 1.8-mile temporary circuit. Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., and Esayian, from San Diego, Calif., were able to capitalize on the TSX’s nimbleness to qualify fourth and seventh, respectfully, in the 15-car GTS field.
Cunningham’s veteran World Challenge experience showed on the start, as the No. 1 TSX surged through the GTS field and came through the lap one chaos in second behind the Mustang of Paul Brown. The Mustang of Cunningham’s former Touring Car foe Eric Foss was able to briefly make his way ahead of the TSX, but the defending GTS Champion re-took the runner-up spot on lap five. Esayian too picked up a spot on the start and crept into the top five by lap four.
On lap seven, the RealTime duo’s charge to the front was interrupted by a full-course caution brought out for an incident involving three Touring Cars. The lengthy yellow was finally lifted on lap 18 with eight minutes (five laps) remaining. Cunningham fell to fourth on the restart when the Boss 302S of Jason von Kluge catapulted into the GTS lead, taking Brown and Foss with him around the No. 1 TSX.
Determined to put Acura on the podium for the first race of the season, Cunningham immediately put the pressure on Foss for the third-place. He chose his spot wisely, successfully making his move under braking into Turn One on the final lap. Slipping one spot on the restart, Esayian brought his No. 34 TSX home safely in sixth.
Meanwhile in the second race of the weekend, Cunningham set his sights on GTS leader Foss for the closing laps. With a nearly five-second gap to overcome and thick traffic to contend with, Cunningham was able to reel in Foss but couldn’t get past, finishing a close second. After two of 12 rounds in the 2011 Pirelli World Challenge GTS Championship, Cunningham sits third in the Drivers’ Championship with 214 points. Esayian ranks seventh with 152. In the Manufacturers’ Championship, Acura is second, eight points behind Ford after its two poles and two race victories.
Round Three of the championship will take place at the crowd-favorite Long Beach street circuit on April 15-17. North America’s oldest and most successful temporary road course is also a popular event among the competitors, with its long straights and challenging twisty sections.
For the first time ever, both Pirelli World Challenge races were broadcast live on the Internet. Fans from around the world were able to watch the excitement unfold on their computer monitors at www.world-challengetv.com. If you missed the action as it happened, you can still see the races from St. Pete in raw form on demand at the same web address.
The post-produced 90-minute version of the races will air on VERSUS on Saturday, April 9 at 4:30pm EST. Just like each of the broadcasts this year on VERSUS, commentators Greg Creamer and Calvin Fish will call the action along with enhanced coverage including in-car camera action, behind-the-scenes interviews and a whole lot more!