For Pete’s Sake.......As Neal Wins in Florida!The Streets of St. Petersburg course is a street circuit connecting existing roads with one of the two landing strips of Albert Whitted Airport in St Petersburg Florida. It also dips into the parking lot at Progress Energy Park. It is certainly a circuit to test the best teams and drivers of both open wheel and GT drivers. The course itself has evolved and changed configuration only twice since 1985 Trans-Am course ran out to the pier, then made a 180 degree turn. The second course at Tropicana Field was located about a mile west of the waterfront location. The circuit used the roads around the perimeter of the parking lot of the stadium. When the course was reconfigured, the northbound segment turned at Central Avenue instead, and did not go as far as The Pier. The pits and main straight were moved to the airport, and a paddock area was paved next to the runway. The Albert Whitted park was reconfigured/relocated, and the entire course layout was repaved. Recently Indy Lights and American Le Mans Series have taken on the heat, and the Florida track which was always supported well by spectators at the venue, and by strong TV coverage.
For the past week the sounds of 5 Classes of cars have tested, and refined their set-ups as best they can. The administration team from CMS had checked and given detailed briefings to team managers and where satisfied the decision to bring the World Division was another step in the right direction. When the green light over the start line signalled the beginning of 75 minute examination, of both man and machine, 36 drivers who had accepted the test where braced for what they knew would a body jolting session of laps. Setting the fastest time and heading the P1 field was Ricardo Azevedo with a time of 58.718 who spent the entire session in a titanic struggle with Vinicius Goncalves posted a 58.965, the only other driver to dip below the 59 second mark! Paulo Martins with a 59.081 lined up in P3 on the grid which in itself showed the quality within the class. In P2 Steen Nielsen with a time of 1.01.209 took pole in the P2 class, with couple of P2 drivers having to sit out Qualifying he took advantage and it was a time which would have tested any and all. It proved to be quick with Tony Smith posting a 1.01.571 to line up second and Gabriel Zamponi 1.02.760 giving him P3. In GT1 Frank Sumfleth and CMS newcomer John Sportelli where engaged in a battle in which Frank’s time of 1.05.929 gave him pole. LMPC pole was taken with a time of 1.07.084 with Paul Hamilton falling just shy with a time of 1.07.231. In GT 2 saw a welcome return to Andre Kroenert, who immediately showed his quality’s with a pole-setting lap of 1.09.175 with J.J Kristensen with Jackie Barsby taking 2nd and 3rd spot.
As the race got under way poor get-way’s caused some damage before some driver’s race got underway, George Pol, David Anderson and Jackie Barbsby sustain enough damage that forces a pit stop! Up front the battle for the lead is strong with changes happening Vinicius makes a good move on Ricardo as does Neal Johnson. Soon after, Scott Clark puts himself in the frame with a good move into 3rd. In P2 Steen Nielsen is holding off Gabriel Zamponi with Tony Smith chasing hard to stay in touch. Traffic soon comes into play, gains made are quickly lost, and this is the pattern throughout the race. But with street circuits, its man and machine against the circuit, with walls inviting danger for any mistake, and as the laps where counting down, the retirements mounted. Lap by lap, battles raged, within GT 1 Frank and John where setting the pace and in GT 2 Andre settling back in his Porsche, with Peter Clausen trying to make ground on the class leader. In LMPC Wayne, Paul and David where pushing hard but in the end a little to hard as both Paul and David fell foul of the walls like many others during the race!
The Pit-lane was as busy as the race track with spare parts at a premium, teams already out through damage running down with spare panels to help fix damage sustained by the cars still running (just)! Throughout all of this upfront a Mr Johnson was determined to show that “To be first, first you must finish”. With every lap taking him to 75 minute counter he was able to ease slightly on the pace, with a 2 lap lead on 2nd spot caution and 20 points was the order of the day. It was after 71 gruelling laps that Neal claimed the victory, with Steen Nielsen only a lap down to finish 2nd overall and 1st in P2 class, a great drive, and back to back victory’s for the Team Espresso Acura. In LMPC first to cross the line was Wayne Fitzgerald, in GT 1 Frank Sumfleth brought home the victory, with John Sportelli finishing a strong 2nd to show his qualities. In GT2 CMS rookie driver Daron Hume got off to the best possible start with a win on his 2012 debut.
With many drivers and team managers pleased with there points haul, others are counting the pounds, dollars and indeed euro’s this race has cost. But not-withstanding many are moving onto Sebring where they will set their garages up and begin final preparations’ for CMS Gold event to raise money for one of their own, Val Hoggard. There they will meet up with the drivers from the N.A Division drivers in which a grid of 40+ drivers will line up. Saturday will be a special event in more ways than one, and certainly one all participating drivers are looking forward to.
(Race report and images provided by Nick Newcombe.)
The next event in the CMS World division will be at Portimao on 03/18/2012!