Three drivers. Seven points. One race.
That’s the championship equation with 45 minutes of competition remaining this season in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama after Angel Benitez Jr. won Round 15 on Thursday, Oct. 2 at Road Atlanta.
Benitez, from Valencia, Venezuela, kept his title hopes alive with his series-leading fifth victory of the season in the No. 05 Formula Motorsport/Avid Motorsport Porsche. He made a breathtaking late-race pass of new championship leader Michael Lewis and pulled away from Lewis’ No. 98 Competition Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian 911 GT3 Cup car to win by .961 of a second.
The other remaining title challenger, Colin Thompson, finished third in the No. 14 Kelly-Moss/Porsche of Bucks County entry.
|Platinum Cup podium finishers (from left): Michael Lewis, Angel Benitez Jr., Colin Thompson
Lewis leads Thompson by one point, 235-234, in the Platinum Cup championship. Benitez is third, seven points back with 228.
“I took a chance, made a pass before Turn 11, and we have the victory,” Benitez said. “We really work hard for this. I know everyone is working hard to be here, but we really wanted to be here to continue winning and making people proud. I would like to dedicate this to my grandfather, who passed away two weeks ago, and thanks to my father, my uncle and all my family who have been here.
The season-ending Round 16 will start at 11:25 a.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 3. Live streaming video and live timing will be provided at gt3cupchallenge.com. Live text commentary will be provided on Twitter at @IMSALive.
While the Platinum Cup championship will come down to the final laps Friday, Patrick-Otto Madsen clinched the Gold Cup title with a second-place finish in the class Thursday in the No. 99 ANSA Motorsports Porsche.
In Platinum Cup, Lewis passed pole sitter Thompson with an aggressive, clean power move climbing the hill into Turn 2 on the first lap.
Lewis, from Laguna Beach, California, then raced in lockstep with Benitez for the next 40 minutes as the two quickest drivers on the track. Lewis turned a race-record lap of 1 minute, 25.082 seconds in the early minutes, with Benitez right behind with a top lap of 1:25.120.
The duo rarely was separated by more than a second as they raced around the 12-turn, 2.54-mile circuit, with Benitez pulling as close as two car lengths on some laps. Both drivers navigated lapped traffic with precision, and Benitez used one of those maneuvers for his winning pass.
Lewis and Benitez approached the No. 35 TPC Racing Porsche of Gold Cup and Gold Masters standout Michael Levitas in Turn 11 with approximately three minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the race. Benitez dove under Lewis as they drove around Levitas, making the decisive pass for the lead and the victory just before the bridge and the hair-raising plunge into the fast, fearsome Turn 12.
“It’s a bummer not to win, but we got points, so that’s the most positive thing,” Lewis said. “I’m just going to work hard for tomorrow. It might be raining, but whatever I have to do to take the win, that’s what I’m going to do.”
|Yokohama Hard Charger Award winner Angel Benitez Jr.
Benitez then drove away over the next two laps for the victory. He earned the Yokohama Hard Charger Award for climbing from the fourth starting spot to the top of the podium.
Thompson, from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was able to close within 1.739 seconds of winner Benitez to finish third.
“It’s tough to say that a podium is frustrating, but this weekend it is,” Thompson said. “The guys worked really hard on the car. We just never totally had a neutral scenario. Nobody could really predict how hot it did get out there. It got really hot, so it was just preservation about halfway through with third place. (To win championship), I have to win.”
Thompson will start from the pole again in the decisive Round 16. Lewis will start second and Benitez fourth.
|Platinum Masters podium finishers (from left): Kasey Kuhlman, David Calvert-Jones, Jay Patel
David Calvert-Jones was the top Platinum Masters qualifier and kept that spot throughout the race in the No. 12 Competition Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian Porsche to earn his second class victory of the season.
Calvert-Jones, from Los Angeles, held off 2014 Platinum Masters champion Kasey Kuhlman over the closing laps. Kuhlman, from Cincinnati, finished .288 of a second behind Calvert-Jones in the No. 15 Wright Motorsports Porsche.
Kuhlman has finished on the Platinum Masters podium in 13 of his 15 starts this season, with 12 victories. Kuhlman’s incredible streak of no second- or third-place finishes this season – just victories among his podium results – finally ended after a flawless drive by Calvert-Jones.
“It was the first race I have won against Kasey when we were really battling toe-to-toe,” Calvert-Jones said. “Earlier in the season I won after he had a spin, so it was kind of by default. So it was really great to have a nice battle with him and stay out front.”
|Gold Cup podium finishers (from left): Patrick-Otto Madsen, David Ducote
Mosing, from Austin, Texas, beat Madsen to the finish by 2.009 seconds after a tense duel between both drivers. Mosing built the gap to larger than a second only over the closing laps, as Madsen applied relentless pressure and closed to within a length of Mosing on some laps.
“I had one little bobble in Turn 7 that let Madsen get up to me,” Mosing said. “Hats off to him, he kept good pressure on me the whole time. Just a lot of fun.”
Madsen, from Boca Raton, Florida, earned his 10th podium finish in 15 starts. But more importantly, he sealed his first series championship.
“Today it was all about first finishing, but when I saw I had a little bit of pace, I went after Mosing a little bit and tried to get him, but he made very few mistakes,” Madsen said. “It was getting hot out there, and the tires were getting very squirrely, so we brought it home in second. That did it for the championship, so we’re really happy about that.”
David Ducote, from Houston, finished third in the class in the No. 6 Kelly-Moss/Porsche of Bucks County entry.
|Gold Masters podium finishers (from left): David Ducote, Michael Levitas
The race in Gold Masters is even tighter than in Platinum Cup, as just five points separate the top three drivers.
Mosing leads with 220 points after his fourth Gold Masters victory of the season. Levitas and Fred Poordad are tied for second with 215.
“The car was working great,” Mosing said. “Todd Opperman again did a great job with the car. Thanks to Yokohama, Porsche and IMSA for putting on such a great series.”
Ducote finished second in Gold Masters for his fourth podium in five starts since joining the class in mid-August at Road America. Levitas, from Baltimore, placed third after starting 10th in class. It was Levitas’ 11th podium finish this season in Gold Masters.
Poordad, from San Antonio, Texas, led the standings entering this event but finished sixth in the No. 02 Competition Motorsports Porsche.
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