By Mark Robinson
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The downtown streets of St. Peterburg took their toll on much of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama field in Saturday’s first race of the weekend, but not championship leader Jeff Kingsley.
Kingsley started from the pole and led the entire race, which was interrupted by three full-course cautions, had an eight-minute red-flag stoppage and finished under yellow. Regardless, it provided Kingsley his ninth win of the season in the No. 16 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car and allowed him to add three points on Riley Dickinson, his closest threat in the championship and the runner-up in Saturday’s race.
"It’s important to get the first one here this weekend to send a bit of a statement," said Kingsley, whose gap over Dickinson is 28 points with three races left in the season. "It’s super difficult out there, it’s a lot different than what we had yesterday."
Kingsley jumped to the lead at the wave of the green flag Saturday, with Dickinson (No. 53 Moorespeed Porsche) overtaking TJ Fischer (No. 58 Topp Racing Porsche) for second place heading into Turn 1 on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary circuit. Soon after, though, the cars of Sean McAlister and Sebastian Carazo made contact, sending Carazo’s No. 27 Kelly-Moss Porsche hard into the Turn 3 wall. It brought out the first full-course caution and necessitated a red flag to allow for wall repairs.
The green flag returned with 15 minutes remaining and stayed out for seven laps before Fischer and Topp Racing teammate Kenny Murillo (No. 56 Porsche) came together in Turn 4, forcing the second full-course caution. A final restart came with just under 11 minutes remaining but was short-lived as Vernon McClure (No. 10 TPC Racing Porsche) and Frank Raso (No. 57 Topp Racing Porsche) collided while diving into Turn 1. McClure couldn’t get his car restarted, the yellow waved again and the race concluded under caution.
McAlister recovered from his early incident to finish third in the No. 11 JDX Racing Porsche. Charlie Luck finished fourth overall in the No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche and won the Platinum Masters class for drivers 45 and older for the fourth straight race.
With only nine green-flag laps completed in the 24-lap race, Luck knew how important it was to remain focused.
"The laps you got, you’ve still got to push, push, push, and you’ve got to race smart," Luck said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a 45-minute race or a 25-minute race. From a driver’s standpoint, you’ve got to hit every mark that you can for that period of time. This is the first time I’ve been on a street course, so I’m super, super pumped about winning this thing."
In Gold Cup action for GT3 Cup cars built from 2014 to 2016, Efrin Castro led the entire way to earn his fifth win of the season and narrow the deficit to class leader Curt Swearingin to 15 points.
"I’m just very happy for the win," Castro said. "I’m glad we finished the race. There was a lot of carnage out there, a lot of incidents. We were very focused for this race, we felt really good at this track, and we proved it."
Making its Grand Prix of St. Petersburg debut this weekend, the GT3 Cup Challenge concludes with another 45-minute race at 12:40 p.m. ET Sunday, with live streaming available on IMSA.com. Kingsley hopes cooler heads prevail.
"I think everyone’s learned a lesson to stay calm," he said. "When you only get that many green laps, I don’t think anyone’s having fun."