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Whincup, Lowndes Dominate V8 Supercars’ American Debut

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2013

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – It was Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes all Saturday long at Circuit of The Americas, mate, as the Red Bull Racing Australia drivers swept both ends of the Texas 400 doubleheader marking the historic North American debut of the Australian V8 Supercars Championship.

Whincup, who started second in the first 27-lap race and on-pole in the second, posted his 68th and 69th career wins in Rounds 13 and 14 of the globetrotting 2013 schedule. A four-time/reigning series champion, Whincup also extended his point lead over runnerup Will Davison from 65 to 113 heading into qualifying Sunday morning for Races 15 and 16. Davison, driver of the No. 6 Pepsi Max Crew FPR Ford Falcon, finished fourth and ninth, respectively, under blistering hot conditions.

“I’m sorry the podium is the same for the two races,” Whincup chirped after exiting his No. 1 Holden Commodore VF tin-top for the afternoon. “We would’ve liked to have spiced-it-up, but that’s the way it goes. We had to work out there. Crazy hot! Seriously hot inside the car. All the other guys will no doubt step-up tomorrow.”

Chief among the challengers again figures to be Lowndes, whose back-to-back runnerup results around the 2.4-mile/17-turn short-course pulled him to within 14 points of Davison. A grinning Lowndes even issued kudos to Whincup after his teammate exited the post-race news conference.

“The cars are pretty much identical and really he’s extracting a little more out of it,” said Lowndes, who trails Whincup by a considerable 127 points. “I’m quicker through (Turns) 3-4-5-6-7 and he’s better through 8-and-9, so each of us has strengths-and-weaknesses. So really it’s track position, especially at a place like this, because it is quite difficult to pass. But it will come down to tires.”

Fabian Coulthard, driver of the No. 14 Lockwood Racing Holden, earned the final podium spot in both races, emerging from a battle involving the Holdens of Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb in Race 14. Webb finished fourth in the No. 19 Tekno Autosports Commodore while Van Gisbergen placed fifth in the No. 97 TEKNO Team VIP Commodore.

Meanwhile, fledgling manufacturer Nissan celebrated Rick Kelly’s sixth-place, Race 13 finish in his No. 15 Jack Daniel’s Racing Altima. It was Nissan’s highest V8 Series finish since returning to touring car competition this season.

Whincup powered past pole-sitter Coulthard by the end of the opening turn of Race 13, then kept teammate Lowndes in-check following their mandatory pit stops. Jason Bright, driver of the Team BOC Holden, reluctantly surrendered the lead to Whincup on Lap 25 of Race 13 when he made his mandatory stop for tires.

Lowndes had been under investigation by series stewards for spinning his Holden’s wheels during his pit stop in the opener. But Lowndes subsequently was cleared of violating any safety issues.

SPEED’s initial broadcast of the Supercars races from COTA will be Sunday at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (EDT).

Reigning series champion Johnny O’Connell started on-pole and scored a methodical, flag-to-flag GT victory for Cadillac Racing in the opening Pirelli World Challenge Series Sports Car Challenge at COTA.

O’Connell’s first Pirelli World Challenge GT Motul Pole of 2013 resulted in his first victory in the series’ fourth event, easing the disappointment of a deflating finish on the Streets of Long Beach on April 21. O’Connell was leading the race under caution on the last lap when the engine in his No. 3 CTS-V.R blew, the result of a puncture in the cooling system. O’Connell was relegated to an eighth-place finish as Californian James Sofronas inherited the victory.

Ironically, Sofronas – who qualified his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1/Audi R8 LMS second on Friday afternoon –finished second here, 1.107-seconds behind O’Connell. Andy Pilgrim, O’Connell’s teammate, finished third despite stalling his No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V.R at the standing start.

“I really had a good start,” said O’Connell, positioned ahead of No. 3-qualifier and nemesis Randy Pobst and his K-PAK Racing Volvo S60 on the 48-car grid. “We usually lose out to the Volvos on the starts with their four-wheel drive. My objective was to just keep him behind me or to the outside going into Turn 1. When I got that launch and I saw that the Volvo was not going to be able to get me into Turn 1 – that was the defining moment of the race.”

The day’s first of two caution flags flew only two corners into the 25-lap event around COTA’s 2.4-mile/ 17-turn short-course. O’Connell already had bolted up the track’s long uphill run into the Turn 1 left-hander when the fender-banging began.

“After the start I had to just hit my marks,” said O’Connell, who controlled both restarts. “I wanted to push hard early. I brought my front tires in early and wanted to get a gap in the first couple of laps. When the Audi (of Sofronas) got by the Volvo (of Pobst) I had to push, because he was coming fast.”

The series’ inaugural race at COTA included a field of 30 GTS cars. Similarly to O’Connell, Lawson Aschenbach, of Jupiter, Fla., grabbed the Motul Pole in GTS on Friday and capitalized with the class victory. Aschenbach finished 20th overall in his flat black No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro but just 0.348-seconds ahead of GTS runnerup Andy Lee in his No. 20 Best IT Camaro. Veteran road-racer Jack Baldwin rounded out the podium in his No. 73 Motul/Stop Tech/Faometix Porsche Cayman, one lap down.

“The restarts helped keep the GTS cars back,” said O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga. “I didn’t have too much traffic. I had a good race car from the Team Cadillac guys. They’ve worked hard to get these cars to handle in this heat. It was good to get the victory after my near-win at Long Beach a couple of weeks ago. It’s also special to get the first World Challenge Series GT win at a new track. I’m looking forward to the second race tomorrow.”

Round 5/Race 2 for the GT/GTS cars is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday. All races will be streamed live at www.world-challengetv.com and aired on the NBC Sports Network on June 16 at 5 p.m. (EDT).

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2013
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