Kris Wilson, driver of the #07 Aston Martin Vantage GT4, won Friday afternoon’s round 5 of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge‘s GTS class, held at the Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham, Alabama.
From a rolling start, it was British driver Ben Clucas in the #36 Kia Optima who took the lead into the first corner from 2nd on the grid, having passed Jack Baldwin‘s #73 Porsche Cayman.
Behind Clucas and Baldwin was Wilson. Mark Wilkins was fourth, in the #38 Kia Optima, and fifth was Dean Martin (points leading heading into this round), driver of the #50 Ford Mustang Boss 302.
By lap 5, the top three were coming closer together, with Wilson setting his personal best lap time, and Baldwin was within touching distance of Clucas’s Kia. On the same lap, Spencer Pumpelly, winner at St. Petersburg round 4, retired due to mechanical problems with his #87 Ford Mustang Boss 302.
By lap 9, Wilson passed Baldwin on the outside of Turn 1, but this move was undone at Turn 5. Soon, Wilkins began to catch Baldwin, making a close four car battle at the front of the 24 car pack. Finally, on lap 13, Wilson passed Balwin and went into P2, once again at Turn 1, but this time on the inside.
A few laps later, on lap 16, leaders Clucas and Wilson drove off the track at Turns 8 and 9 whilst battling each other for top spot, but Clucas remained at the front.
Wilson’s opportunity came on lap 18, when Clucas ran wide at Turn 5, and the Colorado driver moved up into the lead, making a large gap back to Clucas, who was now being pressured by Baldwin.
After 19 laps, the gap between the leaders was 1.5 seconds, and soon after the top five were Wilson, Clucas, Baldwin, Wilkins and defending champion Lawson Aschenbach, in the #1 Chevrolet Camaro Z28. Aschenbach had moved past Dean Martin, who ultimately retired due to contact on this pass.
With Clucas and Baldwin constantly battling for P2, Kris Wilson continued to pull away from the pack, and was soon 6 seconds ahead.
By lap 24, Wilkins – in P4 – began to pressue Clucas and Baldwin. A few laps later, he passed Baldwin in Turn 8, but a lap later, Baldwin re-passed Wilkins in Turn 5 to re-take 3rd.
On lap 29, with the race nearing its end, the pack fighting for second soon included, in this order: Clucas, Baldwin, Wilkins, Aschenbach, Michael Cooper (#10 Chevrolet Camaro Z28) and Andrew Aquilante in the #32 Ford Mustang Boss 302. From seventh, Aquilante passed both Cooper and Aschenbach and made his way up to fifth.
On lap 32, Baldwin and Clucas were side-by-side for P2 at Turn 11, but made contact. Clucas spun off and finished the race eight. Baldwin dropped back to fourth, with Wilkins taking 2nd and Aquilante 3rd.
At the end of an entertaining 33 lap race, the top five stood at: Wilson, Wilkins, Aquilante, Baldwin and Cooper.
“We feel very lucky today to make it on the podium,” said Aquilante, 3rd place. “It was a pretty good race from our stand point for our Mustang. After we qualified 10th we just didn’t have the outright speed to be at the front. Once we made it through the interesting rolling start, we watched some guys getting three wide early. So we dropped back and watched the fireworks up front and at the end found ourselves in third at the finish. We were able to benefit for sure from the great battles taking place up front.”
“It has a little bit of a slower start to the season than I would have liked,” said Wilkins, 2nd place. “But the Kia Optima today was spectacular. Ben was up in front of me most of the day and drove the wheels off of the car. I took a little different approach with the idea of having some tires at the end of the race. And I think we did a good job of that. Obviously we capitalised on the contact between Ben and Jack. For us it is a great points finish in the manufacturers’ championship which is our number one priority. The Optima is built in Georgia and we had some employees from the plant with us today. We are pleased we were able to showcase the car and have such a positive day. It is a long season and you have to work hard to stay out of trouble so you can be there at the end. We will have a good place to start from tomorrow and we look to put on another fantastic race like we did today.”
“It was a great race,” said Wilson, winner. “It was fun to watch Ben the young gun and Jack the wily veteran battle it out. And at the same time I could see Mark lurking behind me, and thought he must be chuckling while he was saving his tires. I was trying to do the same thing and you know, it just worked where the battling up front just burned off Ben’s tires a little bit. After Ben went wide in the hairpin I ducked underneath him and basically just kind of drove away at that point.”
Wilson now leads the GTS Drivers’ Championship, with 517 points, ahead of Martin with 459.
The fastest lap of the race was set by Jack Baldwin, with a 1:32.128, and so he will start from pole for the GTS round 6 race, which will be held this afternoon at 13:40 local, 19:40 BST.
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