Blackdog Speed Shop’s Michael Cooper took advantage of his pole position and held off Team Panoz Racing’s Ian James to lead flag-to-flag to take victory in Pirelli GT4 America Sprint Race No. 1 at Sonoma Raceway Saturday (June 8). It is Cooper’s first win of the 2019 season.
“The race with Ian [James]…he just waits until the last two laps, then goes for it,” Cooper said after the race. “He just saves his car and has a little more than he shows all the time. I knew that I needed a strategy for those last two laps. My car was a bit of a handful at that point, but I knew I was looking for a way to get [James] off-line into the marbles. That ultimately worked out.”
Cooper started from the pole and immediately opened up a one-second lead on James. The goal was to settle in and ride for a while. That didn’t happen.
A few laps into the race, Robinson Racing’s Gar Robinson and Stephen Cameron Racing’s Sean Quinlan collided while racing for 10th overall exiting turn 4. While Robinson spun to the inside of the track, Quinlan’s BMW speared off-course and hit the tires at turn 5. This crash brought out a full course caution. Robinson was able to continue, while Quinlan was able to extricate himself from the tires. He attempted to drive himself back to the pits, but realized quickly that there were bigger problems with his orange and blue BMW. He was out on the spot.
The green came back out with 30 minutes remaining and Cooper was able to get a big jump on James at first. However, much like in NASCAR races, tire wear is critical at Sonoma. James saved the tires on his Panoz and that allowed him to charge back to Cooper’s rear bumper. The two drivers ran away from The Racers Group’s Spencer Pumpelly to settle the race among themselves.
Further back, CRP Racing’s Matthew Brabham was the man on the move. He had qualified in fourth, but his team failed to get the No. 20 Porsche to the pre-grid before the time cutoff. As a result, he had to start at the rear of the field. From there, Brabham was a man on a mission. He quickly dispatched of some of the slower traffic. After the caution, he was able to get himself into the top 10 overall.
From there, Brabham made a methodical move up the field, passing Nicolai Elghanayan and Tony Gaples. A pass on Jarret Andretti at the turns 9a-9b chicane moved him all the way up to fifth overall. At a track where it is very difficult to pass, 21st to fifth is an accomplishment. Brabham was every bit as fast as Cooper and James, but took so long to get through the field that he was over 20 seconds behind by the time he got to fifth. Also, the early traffic hampered his chances to put down a fast lap, which hurts his starting spot for Sunday.
On the final lap, James looked to the inside at turn 4 and actually made some contact with Cooper. In turn 7, James tried to go to the outside and do an over-and-under move. Unfortunately, he went into the turn too fast and went wide into the marbles, just like Cooper wanted. That was all Cooper needed to take the win.
Cooper ended up winning by four-tenths of a second over James. Pumpelly was second, but nearly 18 seconds back after his tires went off. Brabham charged all the way to fourth in Pro from the back, while Andretti was fifth.
In the Am class, Brabham’s penalty left an empty spot on the second row. A good start allowed class pole sitter Drew Staveley to take his Ford Mustang GT4 past Shane Lewis into fourth overall. From there, Staveley simply drove away from the rest of the Am pack to take a sweet victory.
In fourth overall, Staveley was more than 22 seconds up the road from Park Place Motorsports’ Alan Brynjolfsson at the finish. Rearden Racing’s Jeff Burton was third, followed by Blackdog Speed Shop’s Tony Gaples. Gaples was good for a potential second-place finish in Am, but spun in the final laps exiting the chicane. Mark Klenin was fifth in Am with his McLaren.
During the race, Cooper turned in a lap at 84.643 mph. That lap was the quickest lap of the race and gives him the pole for Race No. 2 on Sunday. The race is scheduled to go green at 11:30 a.m. and will be streamed live at gt4-america.com.