SONOMA, Calif. – After a tough Pirelli World Challenge weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the RealTime Racing team had a lot of work to accomplish in short order before sending the cars across the country to Infineon Raceway. The Wisconsin-based team was looking forward to World Challenge’s return to the picturesque track in Sonoma, Calif., where it has previously experienced great success, including a one-two finish in the Series’ last visit (2006).
Even with a four-year gap between races, RealTime continued its winning ways at Infineon as Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., captured his 41st career victory in Round Nine. The defending GTS Champion backed it up with a fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Round 10 race. Teammate Nick Esayian, from San Diego, Calif., exited the doubleheader weekend with a pair of sixth-place finishes.
SATURDAY – Race One
The painstaking preparations made by the RealTime crew paid dividends during Saturday’s qualifying session. Cunningham scored his second GTS pole of the year with a lap of 1:42.846 (78.584 mph) in the No. 1 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. Saturday’s pole extended Cunningham’s World Challenge record for fast qualifiers to 44.
"The conditions were perfect for the Acura this morning," Cunningham said after qualifying. "I think the Mustangs were sliding around a bit on the cool track, but we were dialed-in from the start. The RealTime crew, HPD, Red Line Oil and Eibach Springs have given me a great car for the race."
Cunningham held his ground off the line during World Challenge’s signature standing start, but the defending GTS champion was forced wide by the Mustang of Eric Foss in Turn 2 and fell to second. A lap later, PD was down to third after being passed by Paul Brown’s Mustang.
In the eighth lap, Cunningham was able to move past Foss in Turn 7 and set his sights on Brown, the GTS leader. Under heavy pressure from PD for the lead, Brown spun in Turn 7, opening the door for Cunningham’s TSX to slot into P1. The pass earned Cunningham the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award.
With a clear track ahead, Cunningham extended his lead with each lap, eventually crossing the finish line nearly five seconds ahead of Brown. The first win of 2011 for the RealTime Acura team, was Cunningham’s record-extending 41st.
"Hats off to the RealTime guys for this win today," Cunningham said. "It’s been a lot of hard work in the shop after the accident at Mid-Ohio, but they were up to the task. We’re not used to getting this far into the season without a win, which speaks to the high level of competition in the GTS class, but the team dug deep and put the No. 1 back on the top step today. Even after I dropped to third before the yellow, I knew the car was capable of a win and I’m glad we could do that for Acura and HPD today."
Starting ninth, Esayian had a great start, moving his No. 34 Acura/HPD Acura TSX into the seventh spot. With the GTS field one solid train in the opening laps, Esayian worked hard to hold his ground until the full-course caution provided a brief rest.
Taking advantage of the restart, Esayian advanced to sixth, where he would finish.
"The competition is really tight in the GTS field this season, so sixth is a strong result," Esayain said. "I’m happy for PD and the team to pick up their first win and I hope we can do it again tomorrow."
SUNDAY – Race Two
Determined to put Acura atop the podium for the second day in a row, Cunningham timed the standing start perfectly and immediately advanced to third place. Only two laps later, Cunningham appeared poised to make a move around the Mustang of Ben Crosland, but a GT car recovering from a spin interrupted the Acura’s momentum. Behind him, Esayian had advanced past Foss’ Mustang and into seventh.
No sooner would Cunningham enjoy his return to the top three than local ace Greg Liefooghe made his presence known. The Acura was nimble through Infineon’s fast corners, but Liefooghe’s Mustang powered past Cunningham down the front straight and into Turn One. Without a single full-course yellow in the 27-lap race, Cunningham was on his own in fourth, where he would finish.
"I had a lot of confidence today coming off of our win in race one," recalled Cunningham. "We had one of our better starts of the season and I was able to pick up a spot right away. I felt like I could have made up another one, but instead I had to start thinking about defending my position rather than chasing the leaders. It’s too bad we couldn’t sweep the weekend, but fourth is a good points finish for RealTime and I’m very happy with the effort the team put forth this weekend."
"The RealTime guys gave me another awesome car today," Esayian said. "I really wanted to give them a top-five finish, but the Mustangs have a lot of power and are tough to hold off. We’ll see what Laguna has to bring."
Esayian may have left Infineon Raceway longing for more, but it was still a poignant weekend for the Acura pilot, who found a unique way to honor the 30 U.S. servicemen killed when their Chinook CH-47 helicopter crashed in Afghanistan earlier this month. Esayian teamed with Brimtek, Inc., President Paul Tilton to create a special decal honoring the fallen soldiers’ memory, which was carried by all World Challenge cars racing at Infineon.
"I've been supporting the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) since 2004 and there is simply no better charity," Esayian said. "Over the years I've gotten to know a lot of the guys in the Special Forces community and this tragedy took some of the guys we've interacted with. There were guys from the Navy, Air Force, and Army on the Chinook. The wives, children and families left behind need to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on and the SOWF aids them with counseling and educational grants for the kids.
"The World Challenge community has been an ardent supporter of the SOWF, so to recognize the sacrifice of these 30 so close to 9/11 is something we need to do. I took one of the Seals to Nellis Air Force Base for a retirement a day or so after the tragedy. When I asked what I could do all he said was, ‘Please recognize the guys.’ We are doing that and going to raise some funds for the families. It's the absolute least we should do."