Jesse Lazare, the top returning driver from the 2015 championship, led from flag to flag to win Round 1 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama on Friday at Sebring International Raceway.
Lazare, from Montreal, led the field from pole position and never looked back, taking an eventual 7.034-second victory in the No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche over Lucas Catania in the No. 26 NGT Motorsport entry. It was Lazare’s third straight win at Sebring, after sweeping the opening two rounds last season before finishing second in the overall championship.
“Everything was working today,” Lazare said. “If I wouldn’t have had this team with me today, I wouldn’t have been as dominant as I was able to be. The car was fantastic.
“I was fortunate that the guys in second, third and fourth were fighting hard, so I just had to keep it on track and keep going. The engineers set up my car so perfectly that it just kept getting better and better, and in this heat, that’s impressive.”
Chris Green, the 2015 Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Platinum Cup champion, finished third in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche.
Three-time reigning Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada by Yokohama Platinum Masters champion Marco Cirone, from Toronto, finished fourth overall and claimed the top step on the Platinum Masters podium. Rounding out the top five was Andrew Longe, from Naples, Florida, in the No. 47 Wright Motorsports Porsche.
While Lazare, one of the latest Porsche Young Driver Academy participants, cruised to victory, an intense battle raged for the final two Platinum Cup podium positions. Green, Ricardo Pérez de Lara and Catania were locked into a tight race through almost every turn of every lap through the first 27 minutes of the 45-minute race.
Pérez de Lara, from Mexico City, held second position through the yellow flag 10 minutes into the 45-minute race, caused by McKay Snow making contact with the wall in Turn 6.
At the restart, Montreal native Green took the inside line of Turn 7 to capture second from Pérez de Lara. Four laps later with 19 minutes to go, Pérez de Lara retook the position with Green and Catania following by less than half of a second.
On the same lap, Pérez de Lara went off in Turn 7. He continued, but the off-course excursion took him out of podium contention.
At that point, Green and Catania continued their back-and-forth battle for second place. Catania pulled up even with Green in Turn 13. The two went side by side through Turn 13 and 14 before Catania took the inside line in Turn 15 to claim second for the first time in the race.
Catania then pulled away from Green over the last five minutes to finish second. It was his fourth podium finish in his two years in the series. Green settled for third for a podium finish in his first U.S. start.
Cirone has become a Sebring expert of sorts. He has competed at the historic North American circuit in the past, placing third overall in 2014 and fourth overall in 2015 with Mark Motors Racing, based in Ottawa.
“I had a great start,” Cirone said. “Then the three guys in front of me, Chris (Green), Lucas (Catania) and Ricardo (Perez de Lara) were fighting really hard, and I was waiting for an opportunity. Once Lucas got by Chris, I just tried to hunt Chris down.
“Chris is a fantastic driver, a fellow Canadian. We’re really, really good friends, but I tried hard. We were side by side a couple of times, but he’s just a fantastic driver. He got it back from me. I’m happy to finish fourth and be here at Sebring.”
Fred Poordad, from San Antonio, returned to the podium after a year away from the series. He finished second in Platinum Masters competition in the No. 20 Wright Motorsports entry.
Oscar Arroyo, from Mexico City, rounded out the Platinum Masters’ podium with a third place finish in the No. 89 JDX Racing Porsche.
Fred Kaimer earned the Yokohama Hard Charger Award, presented to the driver who advances the most positions throughout the race. Kaimer qualified 21st overall and ended the race in 13th position in the No. 23 NGT Motorsport entry.
Another Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama regular took the Gold Cup win. Michael De Quesada, 16, from Tampa, Florida, triumphed in his first race at Sebring.
“In the beginning, I got off to a slow start,” De Quesada said. “Some Platinum tried to pass me down the middle and spun out, so I had to go wide. I got a lot on my tires in the dirt. Coming through Turn 13, I went off a little bit into the clay. That kind of set me back a little bit, back to third, behind Mike Levitas and Mark Llano. Then something happened to Mike, and he went off. I caught Mark, and I passed Mark and then I lost my splitter.
“So until the end it was just trying not to crash and get the car to turn at high speed. It’s great, but I’ve just got to focus on winning tomorrow.”
De Quesada battled with multiple Gold Cup competitors but drove a clean race to claim the victory over series veteran Michael Levitas in the No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche.
Levitas is back in the series after taking part of the 2015 season off to be with his daughter, who was battling cancer. He dedicated this race to her memory.
“It’s great to be back,” Levitas said. “It was such a fun race with great competitors and wheel to wheel racing. But I owe this to my daughter, Erin. She told me to come out and kick some ass, so I’m out here doing it.”
Levitas’ TPC Racing teammate, Sebastian Landy, took the final step on the Gold Cup podium after finishing third in the No. 49 Porsche after qualifying sixth in class.
Round 2 will start at 9:10 a.m. (ET) Friday. The race is 45 minutes.
ROUND 1 POST-RACE QUOTES
JESSE LAZARE (No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race, winner): “Everything was working today. If I wouldn’t have had this team with me today, I wouldn’t have been as dominant as I was able to be. The car was fantastic. I was fortunate that the guys in second, third and fourth were fighting hard, so I just had to keep it on track and keep going. The engineers set up my car so perfectly that it just kept getting better and better, and in this heat, that’s impressive. If you were off line just 1 centimeter, you were just going to wash out and you have to find the sweet spot out there.”
LUCAS CATANIA (No. 24 NGT Motorsport, second): “I think I had a pretty good start. I was able to slot in the inside. I was watching the 02 car (Ricardo Pérez de Lara) and Chris Green in front of me, and every corner they were locking their tires up and running wide at apexes. So I figured it was only a matter of time. I was going to let them run their tires off. Then the 02 went off, and I was just able to capitalize on a mistake by Green. I had a pretty hair-raising pass around Bishop’s, but I was able to make it work. I just put my head down and kept going forward.”
CHRIS GREEN (No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports, third): “I was off to not so great of a start. I was kind of sleeping a little bit at the start. Jesse (Lazare) and the other car had a better jump than me, and I fell back to third and was held up a little bit. There was a bit of a tangle up in Turn 1 where I ended up locking my left front and just completely fried the tire, to the point I thought I was going to have to come in. From that point, it was just a matter of nursing the car and bringing it home. It was just a dumb mistake on my behalf, getting used to these Yokohama tires, which, in fact, are phenomenal. The Pfaff Motorsports/Castrol car has been out of this world. We’re getting better and better every session, and I think we’re going to have something to hunt with in Round 2.”
MARCO CIRONE (No. 88 Mark Motors Racing, winner, Platinum Masters): That was really eventful. We started in seventh place and managed to make our way to fifth. I had a great start. Then the three guys in front of me, Chris (Green), Lucas (Catania) and Ricardo (Perez de Lara) were fighting really hard, and I was waiting for an opportunity. Once Lucas got by Chris, I just tried to hunt Chris down. Chris is a fantastic driver, a fellow Canadian. We’re really, really good friends, but I tried hard. We were side by side a couple of times, but he’s just a fantastic driver. He got it back from me. I’m happy to finish fourth and be here at Sebring. It’s amazing. I want to thank my team for giving me an absolutely outstanding car. Everyone worked so hard. A special thank you to Mark Motors for letting me race their car and represent them. They’re wonderful people, and I’m so proud to be part of their organization.
FRED POORDAD (No. 20 Wright Motorsports, second, Platinum Masters): “You don’t realize how grueling a race is until you do one. It was hot out here, but I have some work to do on conditioning. But Wright Motorsports put a great car underneath me, so they made that part easy. Otherwise, it was a good showing for the team overall. You obviously always want higher podiums, but to be here in the first race is great.”
OSCAR ARROYO (No. 89 JDX Racing, third, Platinum Masters): “The conditions were very hot. The track is not fast, but the race was great. Very competitive, very nice. It was very fun. We did a good job. It’s a very good start to the season.”
MICHAEL DE QUESADA (No. 31 Alegra Motorsports, winner, Gold Cup): “In the beginning, I got off to a slow start. Some Platinum tried to pass me down the middle and spun out, so I had to go wide. I got a lot on my tires in the dirt. Coming through Turn 13, I went off a little bit into the clay. That kind of set me back a little bit, back to third, behind Mike Levitas and Mark Llano. Then something happened to Mike, and he went off. I caught Mark, and I passed Mark and then I lost my splitter. So until the end it was just trying not to crash and get the car to turn at high speed. It’s great, but I’ve just got to focus on winning tomorrow.”
MICHAEL LEVITAS (No. 36 TPC Racing, second, Gold Cup): “It’s great to be back. It was such a fun race with great competitors and wheel-to-wheel racing. But I owe this to my daughter, Erin. She told me to come out and kick some ass, so I’m out here doing it.”
SEBASTIAN LANDY (No. 49 TPC Racing, third, Gold Cup): “There was a lot happening out there. It was a pretty crazy race. It was long and hot, like Sebring always is. It’s been a tough weekend here so far. We’ve had a lot of issues so far. I knew it was always going to be work to try and catch up to the podium. Thankfully all of the guys at TPC did a great job today. They’ve been working on the car up until we were ready to go to the grid. Thankfully it all ran smoothly, and I was able to keep it clean out there, run a good race, keep the tires under me and get a podium, which is great.”
FRED KAIMER (No. 23 NGT Motorsport, Yokohama Hard Charger Award winner): “It was fun. Good, clean race. A good way to start the season. I just tried to stay calm and pick people off one by one. I’m up here for the Yokohama Hard Charger Award, so that’s a good sign: It means I got by some people. It was fun.”
About Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama enters its 12th season in 2016 as one of Porsche’s 20 single-make Cup Challenge series in the world. The series produces intense, exciting competition for semi-professional and aspiring professional drivers in the world’s most produced and iconic race car, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
Racing is divided into two classes – Platinum Cup, featuring the 2014-2016 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, which is based on the current seventh, and current, generation of the street car, and Gold Cup, which is comprised of the previous iteration (model years 2010-2013) of the race car. A Masters Championship also is conducted in the Platinum class. Each class is awarded with its own podium at the end of every race and individual champion at the end of every season. Points are awarded by finish in class.
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