Lucas Catania needed every corner of the 17-turn, 3.74-mile historic Sebring International Raceway and every second of the 45-minute race to earn his first Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama victory.
Catania, from Cazenovia, New York, won Round 2 in his No. 26 NGT Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, .290 of a second in front of Chris Green in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche.
“It’s indescribable, really,” Catania said. “But the amount of preparation we put in as a team, I think it was just a matter of time until we got the win. We just tried to stay consistent throughout the weekend.
“We had a strong car, and our crew guys have been flawless. We knew it could happen. We knew we had the car and the speed, and things just went our way.”
Series newcomer Ricardo Pérez de Lara, from Mexico City, took the final the Platinum Cup podium spot with a third-place finish in the No. 02 JDX Racing Porsche. Marco Cirone, from Toronto, finished fourth overall for the second straight race and again was the top Platinum Masters finisher in the No. 88 Mark Motors Racing Porsche.
Andrew Longe, from Naples, Florida, finished fifth in the No. 47 Wright Motorsports Porsche. It was his second top-five finish of the weekend.
Michael De Quesada, from Tampa, Florida, completed his sweep of the Gold Cup class with his second win of the week in his first dip into the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series in the No. 31 Alegra Motorsports Porsche. He finished second in the Gold Cup championship last season in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama.
Round 1 winner Jesse Lazare, from Montreal, led the field for the second straight race from the pole in the No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche. Much like Thursday, Lazare built his lead through the first 20 minutes while Green, Catania and Will Hardeman battled for second position.
Hardeman, from Austin, Texas, had a great start from fourth position in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche and took third from Catania through the first turn. He then set his sights on Green, who had settled into second. On the second lap, Hardeman made contact with Green on the inside coming out of Turn 1. Green went off track briefly but recovered in fourth position and set his sights immediately on Catania in third.
Green and Catania battled over the next five minutes, both slowly gaining on Hardeman. At the 20-minute mark, Hardeman went wide through Turn 17 and spun. That opened the door for Catania and Green, who took over second and third, respectively.
That’s when misfortune struck for Lazare. He had a 5.037-second lead with 23 minutes to go until his right rear tire was punctured. He limped around to the pits, eliminated from podium contention. He finished 13th.
Catania inherited the lead with the task off holding off a charging Green and Longe. The task was put on hold when a full-course yellow came out for multiple incidents.
The field went back to green flag racing with seven minutes to go, and it was a sprint to the finish. Pérez de Lara made the first change of position, taking third from Longe on the restart.
Green was in the mirrors of Catania for every turn over the next two laps. The top three, Catania, Green and Pérez de Lara, were all within .239 of a second with one lap to go. The trio went almost three-wide in Turn 17 on the final lap. Green got a nose in front of Catania, but Catania had enough speed on the front stretch to take the checkered flag a hair in front of Green and Pérez de Lara, respectively.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Jesse, going out with a flat like that, but sometimes that’s just how racing goes,” Catania said. “At that point, the caution wasn’t my friend, but I knew it was going to be a mad dash to the finish.
“The track was dirty in a lot of corners, but it was just a matter of holding on. Green was pressuring me like crazy, but I was able to hang on. I can’t thank NGT Motorsport enough and my sponsor, New York Spine & Wellness.”
The win was Catania’s first in the series and fifth podium finish in two years, including a second-place finish Thursday in Round 1.
Cirone added to his Sebring podium collection with his second Platinum Masters win and fourth podium in the last three years at the historic circuit.
“We stayed out of trouble, so from that aspect we were very happy with that,” Cirone said. “They gave me a fantastic car today. I think the car could have been a winning car, but unfortunately I made a few mistakes. But it’s OK. We go on; we go on to to the next race. We learn, and hopefully we’ll podium overall next time.”
2015 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Gold Cup and Gold Masters Champion Jeff Mosing, from Austin, Texas, earned his first podium of the year with a second-place finish in Masters in the No. 01 TOPP Racing Porsche.
Bill Peluchiwski, from Chicago, finished third in the No. 74 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche for his first podium finish of the young season.
De Quesada cruised to his second win of the year in just his second start in both the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and at Sebring. He started second behind Michael Levitas but used a good start to gain the advantage.
“At the start I got past the Platinum (Cup car) that was between us on the first turn, and in Turn 3 I got around (Levitas) on the outside,” De Quesada said. “So it was pretty good. After that, it was just smooth sailing. We slowly gained a lead and never lost it.”
Levitas, from Baltimore, finished second in the No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche. Series rookie Phillip Bloom, from New York, picked up his first podium finish with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Wright Motorsports Porsche.
Series newcomer Gerald Panneton, from Trois-Rivières, Quebec, earned the Yokohama Hard Charger Award, given to the driver who gained the most positions throughout the race. Panneton will be a regular in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama in the new Silver Class featuring the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
“It’s my first year, first month in the car,” Panneton said. “Patience helped today. Also learning, because I started at the back so I can learn the track. I don’t have to fight. I just have to be patient, learn the track and get better lap after lap after lap. And that’s what happened.”
Rounds 3 and 4 of the championship will be April 29-May 1 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in scenic Monterey, California.
ROUND 2 POST-RACE QUOTES
LUCAS CATANIA (No. 26 NGT Motorsport, winner): “It’s indescribable, really. But the amount of preparation we put in as a team, I think it was just a matter of time until we got the win. We just tried to stay consistent throughout the weekend. We had a strong car, and our crew guys have been flawless. We knew it could happen. We knew we had the car and the speed, and things just went our way. It’s unfortunate what happened to Jesse, going out with a flat like that, but sometimes that’s just how racing goes. At that point the caution wasn’t my friend, but I knew it was going to be a mad dash to the finish. The track was dirty in a lot of corners, but it was just a matter of holding on. Green was pressuring me like crazy, but I was able to hang on. I can’t thank NGT Motorsport enough and my sponsor, New York Spine & Wellness.”
CHRIS GREEN (No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports, second): “Crazy race. The car came in. My car was pretty good. I think another lap or two, we definitely could have got him (Lucas Catania). We started putting the pressure on him. Catania drove a really flawless race. Even though I was putting the pressure on him, he didn’t make any mistakes. So kudos to him. Unfortunate for Jesse (Lazare) because he was kind of checking out from us. But our car was coming back in, coming back together. The Pfaff guys have done a fantastic job with my Castrol Porsche. I’m really, really happy to come home with second place today. To be honest, if we’re to do it again, we’ll go one step further. Step by step, right?”
RICARDO PEREZ DE LARA (No. 02 JDX Racing, third): “I was very happy because we started in eighth position. Yesterday, we had some problems. It’s very difficult, this track, also to know the car for the first time, to know the track. But finally we got a podium. We are very happy to go back home to prepare for Laguna. Thanks to all the guys from Porsche. It’s a very nice series. I was very happy to be here. Thanks to JDX.”
MARCO CIRONE (No. 88 Mark Motors Racing, winner, Platinum Masters): “We stayed out of trouble, so from that aspect we were very happy with that. They gave me a fantastic car today. I think the car could have been a winning car, but unfortunately I made a few mistakes. I got passed in the beginning there and got a little bit razzled and fought hard to get the position back, and that kind of slowed me down a little bit. I wasn’t concentrating as much as I should. So the team did a great job, but I made a few mistakes today. But it’s OK. We go on; we go on to to the next race. We learn, and hopefully we’ll podium overall next time.”
JEFF MOSING (No. 01 TOPP Racing, second, Platinum Masters): “Today was definitely better for me than yesterday. No excuses with the car, the new Trixie that we’ve got. Todd Opperman really did a great job giving me a fantastic car both days. Where it really showed was yesterday when I was riding around in seventh and we were there in the hunt. I made a mistake into the braking zone in Turn 17 and had a huge, dramatic spin. I salvaged what I could for the next round today. Went back at it, tried to put my head down and let the race come to me. I saw people using their tires up, which showed me I was conserving well, and it came through with a seventh-place finish. Hats off again to Opperman and the crew. And thanks to Porsche, IMSA and Yokohama.”
BILL PELUCHIWSKI (No. 74 Kelly-Moss Road and Race, third, Platinum Masters): “Today was a much better race than yesterday, where I got taken out in the first lap. It was a good race. Kelly-Moss really prepared the car well, and I was able to go out and make up some places. It was a really fun race for me.”
MICHAEL DE QUESADA (No. 31 Alegra Motorsports, winner, Gold Cup): “We started second because Michael (Levitas) got a faster time than us in qualifying. But at the start, I got past the Platinum (Cup car) that was between us on the first turn, and in Turn 3 I got around him on the outside. So it was pretty good. After that, it was just smooth sailing. We slowly gained a lead and never lost it.” (About momentum from two wins this season): “You’ve just got to focus on being fast and not letting it get to your head.”
MICHAEL LEVITAS (No. 36 TPC Racing, second, Gold Cup): “What a great race. Great competitors. My team did a great job with the setup. Team TPC Racing, can’t thank them enough. My family has given me so much support. And I have to thank the competitors for being so strong in the field now. It’s amazing to see. It’s refreshing to see the talent level of some of these young guys. It is just an absolute pleasure and honor to race with these guys.”
PHILIP BLOOM (No. 11 Wright Motorsports, third, Gold Cup): “I’d like to thank Wright Motorsports. The Yokohama tires were freaking awesome. This is my first race in the series, and it’s really competitive, and I can’t wait to finish out the rest of the year. I got third place in Turn 17 on the last lap, so that was a scary one.”
GERALD PANNETON (No. 57 Mark Motors/Best Line, Yokohama Hard Charger Award winner): “Patience and learning the track, learning the car. It’s my first year, first month in the car.” (Did patience help you today?): “Yes. Also learning, because I started at the back so I can learn the track. I don’t have to fight. I just have to be patient, learn the track and get better lap after lap after lap. And that’s what happened.”
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