LEXINGTON, Ohio (August 8, 2011) – The RealTime Acura team experienced the highs and lows of Pirelli World Challenge competition at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The doubleheader weekend provided the team with its first pole position of the season, but a run-in with the wall after a mechanical failure in Saturday’s race meant a long night of repairs before a rewarding second-place result on Sunday for Peter Cunningham. Teammate Nick Esayian endured two frustrating races with a tender back to score a pair of sixth-place finishes.
SATURDAY – Race One
Round Seven, the first part of the Mid-Ohio doubleheader, started on a positive note when Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, took his record 43rd career World Challenge pole position in the No. 1 Acura/HPD Acura TSX, the team’s first of 2011. Cunningham’s lap of 1:31.826 (88.524 mph) was a new GTS qualifying lap record.
Esayian, of San Diego, California, admitted he struggled a bit with a big setup change made to the No. 34 Acura/HPD Acura TSX in qualifying. Considering he was only 10 days out of surgery with fresh stiches and bruises on his back and side, a sixth place grid spot was a valiant effort.
"Ten days ago I had an operation on my Lat muscle to remove some scar tissue and then I ended up with a basketball-sized hematoma that needed to be removed," Esayian said.
As the cars lined up for World Challenge’s signature standing start on Saturday, the RealTime crew looked on, confident that their two Acuras would be on the podium, but lady luck had other plans. First a slow start by the GT Porsche that was gridded ahead of Cunningham caused the defending GTS Champion to lose two positions on the start. Thankfully, neither RealTime car was involved in a major incident on the starting grid that led to the first of many full-course yellows during Saturday’s 50-minute race. That’s where the team’s luck ended, however, as a mechanical failure on the left rear of Cunningham’s car, at speed in Thunder Valley, sent the No. 1 Acura spinning into the wall on lap nine. Cunningham escaped without injury, but the car would need extensive repairs before Sunday’s 8 AM qualifying session.
"We were looking forward to this weekend, because Mid-Ohio is certainly a good track for the Acura," said a disappointed Cunningham. "We proved that in qualifying. Whether that would have translated into a win we’ll never know, but certainly a podium was in the cards. The car felt great, but we didn’t get the chance to let things play out."
Finishing where he started, in sixth, Esayian also felt his car was not capable of showing its true potential during Saturday’s race, which had three lengthy full-course caution periods and ended under yellow.
"It was frustrating," Esayian said. "I picked off a couple of cars, but then there’s only two or three green laps and then there’s another yellow, then another two or three green laps. The lap times were great and the car was an absolute podium car at minimum, but I didn’t get the chance to show what the RealTime guys had done.
"The car, as it sits, even in race trim, if I went out and qualified now, it’s a top five car," Esayian concluded. "So I’m excited about starting a bit father up tomorrow than I did today and we’ll go from there."
SUNDAY – Race Two
The RealTime Racing crew burned the midnight oil late Saturday to make the necessary repairs to Cunningham’s car for Sunday. As a result of the team’s hard work, the No. 1 Acura earned fourth-place on the starting grid, with Esayian once again slotting into the sixth-place.
"I had some concerns about the car this morning, but after qualifying my fears were allayed," Cunningham said.
Though the powerful Ford Mustangs had the advantage on the standing start, it wasn’t long before the RealTime duo were picking their way back through the field. The two World Challenge veterans deftly avoided colliding Mustangs, keeping their Acuras dent free. By lap 12, Cunningham was back in fourth place and Esayian was in a tight battle with the fifth and sixth-place Mustangs.
With four laps to go, Cunningham took advantage of a three-wide GTS battle for the lead to move into third. Then, two laps later, he passed Jason von Kluge’s Mustang in the Carousel to claim second place. Even with the GT leaders racing through the GTS class in the closing moments of the 30-lap race, Cunningham held his position and captured his fifth podium of the season. It was his 102nd career top-three finish.
"I didn’t do a lot of passing today," Cunningham said. "Thankfully the Mustangs were hitting each other and not me. The race really came to us and patience paid off in the end. We couldn’t quite get the win, but it’s satisfying to come away with second considering the adversity of Saturday."
Esayian too benefitted from patience and the misfortune of others. After avoiding a big crash in the Keyhole, he turned in another sixth-place finish despite his dogged but unsuccessful efforts to get past the pair of Mustangs he was battling.
"It was a struggle," Esayian recalled. "I had a decent start, but unfortunately, the big horsepower cars just screamed by on the straight. People would go off and I’d think ‘oh great, here’s my chance,' but I would get by the guy in front of me and he’d pass me right back down the next straight. In 20 years of racing, that was probably one of my most frustrating experiences. I know that I probably ran one of the fastest race laps, but my results weren’t indicative of that."
With four rounds remaining, Cunningham is currently fourth in the GTS Drivers’ Championship with 752 points. Esayian is sixth with 588.
Acura is second in the GTS Manufacturers’ standings with 28 points to Ford’s 67.
The Pirelli World Challenge rounds Seven and Eight from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will air on VERSUS, Saturday, August 20 at 5:00 PM EST and re-air on September 1 at 3:30pm EST.
Rounds Nine and 10 of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships will take place at beautiful Infineon Raceway, in Sonoma, California on August 26-28. The doubleheader weekend will be streamed live on www.world-challengetv.com.
The 2011 season for RealTime Racing is brought to you by Acura, HPD, Redline Oil, Eibach Springs, Sparco, BOSCH, Brembo and Total Auto Body.