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Mid-Ohio doubleheaders pivotal to title chase

Pirelli World Challenge drivers and teams are ready for the historic road course squarely in the middle of Ohio.

Johnny O'Connell, Cadillac CTS-V.R

Johnny O'Connell leads in the GT Drivers' Championship heading into Mid-Ohio.Lexington, OH - The Pirelli World Challenge heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by StopTech Brakes. The series returns to the historic road course squarely in the middle of Ohio, for a pivotal doubleheader weekend in the 2013 season. More than 70 cars are entered between the GT, GTS, Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec classes that make up the series.

It's the last doubleheader race weekend for the GT and GTS classes this year, and Rounds 11 and 12 of the 14-race season could swing the balance in the championship chases. Meanwhile, the TC and TCB title battles are also close as they will race Rounds 9 and 10 at Mid-Ohio this year.

The last two weekends in Lime Rock and Toronto were revived additions for Pirelli World Challenge this season, but Mid-Ohio is well known to teams and drivers. The series has competed at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile flowing road course in Lexington every year since 2002, and there hasn't been a single dominant force in any of GT, GTS or TC over the last several years. TCB is new to the circuit for 2013 but given the close competition it has produced thus far this year, there's no clear favorite there, either.

Pirelli World Challenge GT: O'Connell Seizes Upper Hand After Toronto

Johnny O'Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., has been on a roll of late. The driver of the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R scored his fourth win of 2013 in Toronto, from his sixth Motul pole position; both are tops in the GT class. He now leads the championship by 36 points and is on a hot streak of five consecutive podium finishes. O'Connell's history at Mid-Ohio is also impressive; he secured his first Pirelli World Challenge win at the track in 2011 and has five career wins there.

Incidentally, his teammate at Cadillac Racing, Andy Pilgrim of Boca Raton, FL, is the only driver of the top six in the GT class points who hasn't won a Pirelli World Challenge race at Mid-Ohio in the last three years. Pilgrim, driver of the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, has still been consistently solid in 2013 and enters the race third in points with three straight runner-up finishes. He hasn't won yet this year but has finished on the podium in seven of the last eight races.

Additional support for Cadillac Racing comes in the form of Jordan Taylor, of Apopka, FL, back for an encore after a great Pirelli World Challenge debut at Mid-Ohio in 2012. Taylor, who will drive the No. 5 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, finished second and fourth last year.

If O'Connell slips, James Sofronas, of Villa Park, CA, needs to be right there to capitalize. The driver of the No. 14 GMG/Swisher Racing/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS has only scored one podium finish in the last five races. But he's won at Mid-Ohio before (GT in 2010) and with three wins earlier this year, he knows his way to victory lane.

Sofronas can counter-balance the Cadillac attack with three teammates of his own. Duncan Ende, of Los Angeles, in the No. 24 Services Audi R8 LMS has been consistent and close to his first podium finish all season, and enters this race seventh in points. Bill Ziegler, of Ponte Verde, FL in the No. 95 Swisher Racing/GMG Audi R8 LMS and Alex Welch, of Englewood, CO in the No. 08 Spyder/Lasso/GMG Audi R8 LMS are slated to return after missing Toronto. Both finished in the top 10 their last starts at Lime Rock.

The Volvo contingent from K-PAX Racing might be strongest this weekend. Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, GA, in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, won both Mid-Ohio GT races in 2012 and seeks to overtake Pilgrim for third in points. He enters just 44 points behind. Teammate Alex Figge, of Denver, CO, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, has been fast but unlucky in 2013. He won the St. Petersburg opener and has the second most laps led this season (95 to O'Connell's 133), but is only sixth in points. Like his teammate, though, he knows how to win at Mid-Ohio having won at the road course in 2011.

Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, NC in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette, rounds out the recent run of Mid-Ohio winners (2010) in GT. Skeen enters Mid-Ohio fifth in points after a win at Lime Rock and third at Toronto in the last two race weekends. Tim Bell, of Los Altos, CA, in the No. 12 Hawk Performance Nissan GT-R completes CRP Racing's two-car lineup.

The remainder of the 15-car GT class field includes Tim Pappas, of Boston, MA in the rebuilt No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG C63 (the No. 54 car was unable to take the grid at Toronto because of hard contact with the concrete barrier during qualifying), Craig Stanton, of Long Beach, CA in the No. 85 Racing for our Heroes Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and Fred Roberts, of Toronto, in the No. 89 Direct Energy Home Services SRT Dodge Viper Comp Coupe. The projected field would be the largest in class since Circuit of the Americas in May (19 cars).

Pirelli World Challenge GTS: Baldwin Fighting Off Camaro Challenge

The story has stayed the same for Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, GA, most of this year in Pirelli World Challenge GTS. Baldwin, in the No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman S for GTSport Racing with Goldcrest, keeps racking up the podiums. With three wins and nine podium finishes in 10 races, Baldwin keeps pushing towards the class title. As ever in 2013, his teammate will be Buz McCall of Boca Raton, FL, in the No. 72 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman S.

But hot on his heels are a pair of Chevrolet Camaro drivers. Lawson Aschenbach, of Jupiter, FL, in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, took his fourth win of 2013 in Toronto from his third pole position. Meanwhile Andy Lee of Colorado Springs, CO, has one win, five podium finishes and a class-high five pole positions in the No. 20 Best IT/Bondurant/Crown Seven Chevrolet Camaro. Although the Camaro has not won at Mid-Ohio in GTS, it would be foolish to count either of these two out of the running. Their teammates, Tony Gaples of Libertyville, IL in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro and Harry Curtin of Buffalo, NY in the No. 29 Best IT Racing Chevrolet Camaro, will look to support the third and fourth-place drivers in points.

Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, WI, has been king of Mid-Ohio in GTS. Cunningham, driver of the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Acura TSX, has three GTS and one T1 class win at Mid-Ohio; this would be a good place for the driver fifth in points to score his first win of the year. Nick Esayian, of San Diego, CA, in the No. 34 Acura/HPD/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, has also done well at Mid-Ohio, with three second-place finishes in GTS.

The fastest car last race at Toronto was the Kia Optima, although both drivers piloting the platform were saddled with bad luck. Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, fell to fourth place on the last lap in the No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima. Wilkins is still second in the championship entering Mid-Ohio. Teammate Nic Jonsson, of Sweden, set his first fastest race lap of 2013 at Toronto and he should be strong this weekend as well in the No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima.

fThe Ford Mustang contingent will be looking to duplicate the success that Paul Brown had in 2011 when he won back-to-back races at the track.

Alec Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas, in the No. 17 Motorsports Development Ford Mustang Boss 302R is a former fastest qualifier at Mid-Ohio (2011) and has a podium in hand this year at Detroit. Rookie Roger Rodas, of El Salvador, in the No. 52 Always Evolving Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302S, starred at Toronto with a fifth place finish and two awards won. Rodas won the Sunoco Hard Charger Award and the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award . His teammate is rookie Erik Davis of Burbank, CA in the No. 75 Always Evolving Autotopia Ford Mustang Boss 302S.

Other Fords entered include Ardee Toppe, of The Woodlands, Texas, in the No. 21 Capaldi Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302, Craig Capaldi, of Richmond, MI in the No. 69 Wolverine Bronze Company Ford Mustang Boss 302, Brad Adams, of New Orleans, La., in the No. 96 Voodoo/DatDog/Yo MTV Raps! Ford Mustang Boss 302S, and Mitch Landry, of Lake Charles, La., in the No. 97 VersaCrane Ford Mustang Boss 302S.

Besides the GTSport Caymans, there will be two additional Porsches entered this weekend. Rookies Lucas and Joseph Catania, both of Cazenovia, NY in the Nos. 81 and 82 NY Spine/Heritage One Day/SOS Porsche Caymans, make their first starts since Austin in May.

There are four Nissan 370Zs entered. Full-season entrants Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., in the No. 51 Nissan/Motul/OSGiken/SPL/Sparco Nissan 370Z and Brian Kleeman, of Towson, Md., in the No. 07 DXD Clutches/DWW Motorsports Nissan 370Z, are joined by two series newcomers this race.

NISMO's new Global Exchange Driver Program will see two additional 370Zs. Lucas Ordóñez, of Spain, will drive the No. 53 Nissan GT Academy/Motul/SPL Nissan 370Z with SFR Enterprises, while Steve Doherty, of Plainfield, IL, will drive the No. 09 Nissan GT Academy Nissan 370Z for DWW.

The five remaining cars in the 28-car class are Jim Taggart, of Raleigh, NC, in the No. 61 LotusUSA/Taggart Autosport/LRR Lotus Exige, Mark Klenin, of Lonetree, CO, in the No. 62 AssociationVoice/Premier Copier/KaR Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Drew Regitz, of Denver, Co., driving the No. 63 AssociationVoice/Premier Copier/KaR Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Robert Stout, of Brownsburg, Ind., in the No. 86 Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil/E3 Spark Plug Scion FR-S and Don Istook, of River Oaks, Texas, in the No. 01 Milltek Exhaust/STaSIS/REVO Audi TT RS.

Pirelli World Challenge TC: Honda Versus Mazda Battle Intensifies

Karl Thomson's Compass360 Racing Honda team came out swinging with six wins in the first six Touring Car races of 2013, but the solitary Mazda in the field has made it interesting in the last two weekends.

Indeed defending TC class champion Michael Cooper, of Syosset, NY, swept the weekend at Toronto in the No. 1 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 to end the C360R winning streak. Cooper won one of the two TC races at Mid-Ohio last year and while he's not in the battle for Touring Car Drivers' Championship, he'll definitely play a factor in the overall outcome and further wins would not be a surprise.

Class points leader Ryan Winchester, of Mason City, Iowa in the No. 72 C360R/Ligion Industries/HPD Honda Civic Si, is well on his way to taking over Cooper's crown. The model of consistency in 2013, Winchester has three wins and eight podium finishes in eight starts this year, and leads the points standings by 221 markers over Brett Sandberg.

Poor luck has hit his teammates. Sandberg, of Allendale, N.J., has three wins in the No. 70 C360R/ Honda Civic Si but was taken out of both races in Toronto. Rookie Remo Ruscitti, of Vancouver, Canada, ranks third in points in the No. 71 C360R/Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si and is in search of his elusive first victory. Local support will come from Ray Mason of Columbus, in a fourth C360R Honda, the No. 76 C360R/Columbus Truck/HPD Honda Civic Si.

Like Ruscitti, Jon Miller, of Orlando, FL also seeks his first win. Miller has been exciting to watch thus far in 2013 in the Shea Racing No. 68 Titan Motorsports/Loudbasstard Honda Civic Si, and will no doubt keep up the intensity this weekend.

After missing Toronto, Fred Emich of Denver, CO, is expected to return in the No. 30 Emich VW/HPA Motorsports Volkswagen Jetta. Fellow Volkswagen team Brimtek Motorsports should have Tristan Herbert, of Reston, VA, back in the No. 33 Revo/Germanautoparts/Brimtek VW Jetta GLI. Herbert ceded to Bryce Miller at Lime Rock.

Another driver slated for a return is Sarah Cattaneo, of Scottsdale, AZ, in the No. 43 Honda Civic Si. She last raced at Austin in May. Another Honda, the No. 64 Gear Tie Racing/Fortune Auto Honda Civic driven by Branden Peterson of Breckenridge, CO and Bob Roth, of La Crosse, WI, is expected to round out the 11-car class.

Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car B-Spec – Tightest Title Battle Out There

The closest championship battle in all four of the Pirelli World Challenge classes is in Touring Car B-Spec. Robbie Davis held the lead after Lime Rock by 31 points, while Ernie Francis Jr. now leads Davis by 32 after Toronto.

Francis Jr., of Davie, FL, in the No. 98 Breathless Performance Mazda 2, has four wins this season while Davis, of Dallas, Texas has a pair of victories in the No. 37 MINI of Charleston Racing MINI Cooper.

The hottest driver in class though has to be Joel Lipperini, of Pittston, PA, in the No. 81 RaceLabz Honda Fit. Lipperini has a pair of wins and a third in the last three races, and enters Mid-Ohio just 85 points behind Francis Jr. He's also very experienced at Mid-Ohio with a pair of SSC National Championships won at Mid-Ohio in the SCCA Runoffs (2002 and 2004).

These three have claimed all eight wins this year but a driver is back this weekend that could get on the scoreboard for the first time. Rookie Tyler Palmer, of Oceanside, CA, starred in his Pirelli World Challenge debut at Lime Rock. Driving the No. 24 Blackforest Porsche/Mobil 1 MINI Cooper, Palmer finished on the podium in all three Lime Rock races.

Some of the other potential winners for TCB's first race at Mid-Ohio in Pirelli World Challenge? Peter Schwartzott Sr., of White Plains, NY, in the No. 4 Peter Schwartzott Racing Chevy Sonic is one, with four prior Mid-Ohio class wins on his resume. Dave Rosenblum, of Langhorn, Pa., in the No. 18 Leo's &Tommy Mens Shop/VAC Ford Fiesta, has decades worth of experience at Mid-Ohio and two top-five finishes scored at Lime Rock earlier this year. Johan Schwartz, of Denmark, in the No. 01 MINI Cooper, scored a pole at Lime Rock and like Rosenblum, also has a pair of top-fives scored in TCB in 2013.

Lipperini is the headlining Honda Fit but there are others in the field. Shea Racing again brings its two full-season Fits to Mid-Ohio with P.J. Groenke, of Toronto, in the No. 66 MulliganGold/Tundra/ Honda Fit and teammate Shea Holbrook, of Groveland, FL, in the No. 67 TrueCar/Hendrick Honda/Lucas Oil Honda Fit, who has six prior Mid-Ohio Pirelli World Challenge starts.

Two teams will have two drivers in their Fits; Chase Pelletier and Jon Krolewitz will split the No. 12 AnimasCorp/Honda/AmerDiabetes Honda Fit while Jonathan Baker and Dave Ade are entered in the No. 32 32 Racing Honda Fit.

Francis Jr.'s father Ernie Sr. and Schwartzott Sr.'s son Peter Jr. are running once again, with Francis Sr. in the No. 2 Breathless Performance Mazda 2 and Schwartzott Jr. in the No. 04 Chevy Sonic. Breathless also has David Alejandro, of Pembrook Pines, Fla., in the No. 99 Claims Support Mazda 2 and Fernando Seferlis, of Panama, in the No. 77 Compulab Mazda 2.

J.G. Pasterjak, of Palm Coast, FL, makes his first start of 2013 in the No. 23 Grassroots Motorsports Ford Fiesta. Meanwhile, the remainder of the 21-car field includes the two Fiat by Executive Fiat 500s (Jack Murray, of Montgomery, TX, No. 11 and Jim Cleveland, of Australia, No. 78), Chris Capaldi, of Armada, MI, in the No. 22 Wolverine Bronze Company Ford Fiesta, Brian Fowler, of Weston, FL, in the No. 65 Shea Racing Ford Fiesta and Ed Magner, of Portage, MI, in the No. 48 WTF Engineering MINI Cooper.

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