SALINAS, Calif. – Patrick Gallagher, Joey Bickers and Will Rodgers led a Mazda clean sweep Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Touring Car divisions in the Pirelli World Challenge Championship presented by Nissan.
Gallagher, the 24-year-old Ohio State University student from Thornville, Ohio, drove his No. 54 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 to his second TC class win of the weekend with a 3.839-second victory over fellow Mazda racer Adam Poland of Fort Worth, Tex., in the No. 33 Doghouse Performance Mazda MX-5 and Toby Grahovec of Little Elm, Texas, in the No. 26 Classic BMW Motorsports BMW M235iR in the 40-minute sprint event at the famed 2.238-mile, 11-turn road circuit near Monterey Bay.
The third place finish for Grahovec unofficially clinched the Touring Car Driver’s championship, while Mazda unofficially captured the Manufacturers’ crown. In TCA, Elivan Goulart has provisionally clinched the Driver’s championship, while TCB’s Driver’s Championship is provisionally awarded to O’Gorman.
Gallagher took his Mazda to the lead quickly for a second consecutive day after back-to-back pole position starts and led off Poland in the early portion of the race. After a full course caution period, Gallagher was able to open his margin and recorded his second win of the 2016 PWC campaign.
Rounding out the top-five in the TC division were Nick Wittmer of Montreal, Que., Canada in the No. 91 Honda Ste-Rose Racing Honda Accord and Kevin Krauss of Fishers, Ind., in the No. 88 Outlier/Scion Group Porsche Cayman.
“Leading the pre-grid, I felt a bent wheel on the car,” said Gallagher. “It was in the staging area and the team debated to change the wheel or not. But we would have had to start from the back of the field. That made it difficult to see throughout the race. I couldn’t see in the mirror which was probably a good thing at the time. I just kept running qualifying laps and no one was close in the first race. But today (Sunday) Poland stayed right with me in the early portions. He kept us honest. He was on new tires and we elected to run used tires because they were fast on Saturday. Then in traffic, I was able to get an advantage over (Poland) and I was able to time the slower cars a little better. It feels great to win both races this weekend in a Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.”
Bickers, 24, scored his third win of the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge in the TCA category in a good fight with point leader Elivan Goulart of Shelton, Conn., in the No. 70 S.A.C. Racing Mazda MX-5 and Eric Powell of Orlando, Fla., in the No. 23 TechSport Racing Mazda MX-5. Both Goulart and Powell led the race in the early stages before Bickers took advantage and led his margin to the checkered flag.
Fourth and fifth in TCA went to Paul Whiting of Las Vegas, Nev., in the No. 51 PWR/LDL Speed Shop Honda Civic Si and Mason Filippi of Alamo, Calif., in the No. 48 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5.
“Starting on the pole position, I thought it would be easy but Elivan (Goulart) and Eric Powell slid by me early,” said Bickers. “I knew we had a fast car so I wanted to run a smooth race throughout the 40 minutes. Then I fought my way back up to the front and had to make two passes to gain the lead. There wasn’t much of a fight once I got up in front. I want to thank the Atlanta Motorsports Group for its support all year long. With three wins, it’s been a good season.”
Rodgers, 22, in the No. 65 Hale Motorsports Mazda Mazda2, came from behind the TCB class to win his fourth race of the 2016 PWC season in a wild finish with four-time race winner Tom O’Gorman of Mason, Ohio, in the No. 94 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit. Rodgers passed O’Gorman at the checkered flag by 0.121-seconds (just a few inches). Following Rodgers and O’Gorman on the podium in TCB Sunday was 16-year-old Henry Morse of Redondo Beach, Calif, in the No. 14 MorseGPS/Hale Motorsports Mazda 2. Rounding out the top-five in TCB were Michael Johnson of Austin, Tex., in the No. 24 TechSport Racing Chevrolet Sonic and Nic Lougee of Minneapolis, Minn., in the No. 20 4R Motorsports MINI Cooper.
“The race was a little up and down at the beginning for me,” Rodgers explained. “I got shuffled back but I stayed in the top three. I raced with my teammate, Henry Morse, in the middle of the race before I could make a charge towards Tom (O’Gorman) in the lead. I got up to Tom on the final lap and I thought there were only one or two places to make a pass. Coming out of the last turn on the last lap, I was able to draft him and pull off a win by a few inches. This is a special day for me as I lost my grandmother this week and she was able to watch her last race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca awhile ago. So winning today means a lot to me.”
Additional awards and recognition for Round 12 TC / TCA / TCB competition were determined as follows:
The Optima Batteries Best Start was awarded to TC No. 19 Aristotle Balogh in the Stephen Cameron Racing LLC BMW M235iR for his 11-position gain at the start of the race. Balogh also captured the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger award for his overall 15-position gain throughout the race.
The KIA Turning Point of the race was determined to be the late caution flag that equalized the fields.
Cadillac Best Move of the race was given to TCB race-winner No. 65 Will Rodgers for his pass for the lead.
With the championship provisionally decided, be sure to catch the premiere broadcast of this weekend’s Touring Car race action on CBS Sports Network, on Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Check your local listings for channel information and encore presentations of Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car action, and catch up on the season’s race archives at MotorTrendOnDemand.com.