The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) once again picked Sebring as the site for the opening race of its busy SPEED World Challenge GT season. The one-hour event runs late Friday afternoon, the day before the annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. This year, nine Corvettes-including the race's top three qualifiers-filled the 30-car starting field.
Pole position was captured by Doug Peterson, who drove the No. 87 LG Motorsports C6 to a time of 2:07.679. SPEED GT newcomer Eric Curran was second fastest, wheeling the No. 30 Whelen-sponsored C6 to a 2:07.744. How's that for close?
Incredibly, Curran nearly missed the start altogether due to a practice fire that broke out earlier in the week. By pulling an all-nighter, Curran's crew managed to get the car back in competitive shape by the time the green flag fell.
Heavy rains soaked the speedway from noon Friday until 4 p.m., prompting the SCCA to delay the start for one hour to allow the track to dry. When the field finally took the green flag in a plume of spray, the first car to peek out of the mist was Curran's Vette, followed closely by pole-setter Peterson. Curran is no stranger to high-horsepower GT cars. During the 2000 season, he drove Reed Knight's C5 SpeedVision Corvette to many top-five finishes. He is an exceptional driver, especially in wet conditions.
We weren't surprised, then, to see Curran build a six-second lead by the end of the first lap. The rest of the field was bunched closely together, far behind the flying No. 30 Whelen Corvette. LG Motorsports paterfamilias Lou Gigliotti passed understudy Peterson on the first lap and held second for four laps before withdrawing with mechanical problems.
With Gigliotti out, Speed GT veteran Andy Pilgrim took over second in his No. 8 CTS-V Cadillac. He held this position for seven laps until a caution was waved on Lap Nine to allow for the removal of Brian Kubinski's broken C6 Corvette. This caution erased Curran's substantial 16.8-second lead.
At the restart, fellow Caddy driver Lawson Aschenbach passed Pilgrim to take over second place. Soon after, Pilgrim experienced transmission problems and began to fall steadily back from the leaders. Aschenbach, the reigning SPEED GT series champion, tried every trick in the book to close on Curran, but try as he might, he couldn't shrink the one-and-a-half second gap separating them.
As these two fought for the checkered flag, Tomy Drissi was making a name for himself in his own LG-backed C6. Drissi, a former Trans-Am Jaguar driver, started 10th in his Corvette, which wore paintwork promoting the Nicolas Cage film "Next." Driving cleanly, Drissi showed his enormous driving skill by passing car after car until he moved into third place.
When the checkered flag fell, the finishing order was Curran, Aschenbach, and Drissi. In victory circle, a happy Curran announced he would be driving for the Whelen team for the entire 2007 SPEED GT season. Curran told the crowd, "I wanted this win and wanted it for Whelen Engineering. Earlier in the week, I was bailing out of the car as flames were coming out from under the hood. The Whelen Engineering team worked so hard to get it back to where it was before."
We hope the SCCA's dreaded "performance adjustment" doesn't hurt the Corvettes' performance too badly in future races. As Eric Curran and Tomy Drissi showed at Sebring, there looks to be little else capable of standing in their way.