By Mark Robinson
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The second Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama race at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday was a complete contradiction to the caution-filled competition a day before.
It didn’t matter to points leader Jeff Kingsley, who calmly drove to a weekend victory sweep under demanding green-flag conditions for all 45 minutes under bright sunshine and sizzling hot conditions. In doing so, Kingsley put the No. 16 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car on the precipice of clinching the 2020 championship.
Kingsley was pressured by chief title nemesis Riley Dickinson through much of Sunday’s race on the tight 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course that includes a runway of Albert Whitted Airport. But while running less than a second behind Kingsley with just under 11 minutes to go, Dickinson pushed too hard in the No. 53 Moorespeed Porsche and slid into the runoff at Turn 10.
Kingsley coasted on to win by 8.606 seconds and pad his points lead to 31 over Dickinson, with only the doubleheader season finale at Sebring International Raceway from Nov. 12-14 remaining. Depending on the size of the Platinum Cup class field at Sebring, Kingsley could sew up the crown in the first race there.
“A perfect weekend for Kelly-Moss Road and Race, Children’s (Hospital) of Alabama and Medical Properties Trust,” Kingsley said. “Quickest in practice, qualifying and both races. I couldn’t be happier. Hats off to all my competitors for a caution-free race, it’s not easy to do that here.”
Kingsley called Sunday’s affair “probably the hottest race I’ve ever been in.” Having Dickinson in his mirrors much of the time didn’t make it any cooler.
“We were on pace with each other at the start there,” Kingsley said following his 10th win of the season. “I had a little bit more and pulled a bit of a gap, and then I was just catching traffic at the worst spots. … Nothing I could do and he closed that gap. From there, he kept the pressure on until he made a little mistake.”
In Platinum Masters for drivers 45 and older, Alan Metni reversed course on what had been a miserable weekend by taking the class win Sunday. It didn’t come easily. Metni had to recover from going into the Turn 1 runoff just five minutes into the race while avoiding a car stopped in the middle of the corner.
It dropped Metni to 11th place overall in the No. 99 Kelly-Moss/AM Motorsports Porsche, but he battled back to fifth by the checkered flag and first in Platinum Masters ahead of Frank Raso, who finished a season-best second in the No. 57 Topp Racing Porsche. It was Metni’s ninth class win in 14 races this season and ended a four-race winning streak for Charlie Luck.
Metni has a 27-point lead over Luck, who finished third on Sunday.
“I’m really proud of my team because we had a pretty big crash in (Friday) practice and hurt three of the four corners of the car pretty significantly,” said Metni. “My guys, and actually everybody under the tent at Kelly-Moss, jumped on the car, worked on it through the night and gave me a great car to start with. Hats off to them.”
The Gold Cup class for GT3 Cup cars built between 2014 and 2016 saw a fierce battle between Curt Swearingin and Efrin Castro for more than half the race. Points leader Swearingin (No. 17 ACI Motorsports Porsche) shadowed Castro (No. 65 TPC Racing Porsche) lap after lap until making the successful pass for the lead diving into the right-hand Turn 4 with 19 minutes remaining.
Swearingin, who also earned the Yokohama Hard Charger for passing the most cars under green-flag conditions, won by 2.281 seconds and extended his Gold Cup lead to 18 points over Castro.
“He got a great start; I’ve got to give it to Efrin. He’s driving great, driving like a true champion,” Swearingin said. “Our team put together a better car, I felt like. In certain sections of the track, we were a lot quicker. We knew it wasn’t over until the end. He got held up a little bit in (Turn) 1, we got a run on him up to (Turn) 4 and made a clean pass.
“It was a great victory; it was a great Hard Charger Award. You couldn’t ask for anything better today.”
A recap of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge weekend at St. Pete airs on NBCSN at 1 a.m. ET Sunday, Nov. 1.