The stage was set for great day of practice at Firebird International Raceway, located just south of Phoenix, Arizona. However, Mother Nature had other plans. Racers and teams awoke to steady rain that made for a very soggy morning and a very slippery track. By the time the rain stopped and the clouds began to part, the schedule was well into the afternoon. This left only a couple of practice sessions for all of the racers to get in some valuable track time.
The fastest sessions of the day were the last sessions for each group. In the Redline Pro Time Attack Series practice, the top time was Paul Brown in the K&N Motorsports G35 SUP-RWD with a 1:04.851.
Sunday’s action started off with Qualifying. With only one relatively dry session on Saturday afternoon, the teams had very little time to prepare their cars for this circuit. Lou Gigliotti in the #28 LG Motorsports Corvette snagged P1 early in the session on only his 9th lap, at 1:01.234. However, P1 would eventually fall to Mike Cronin Jr. in the #29 Fontana Nissan 350z, who set a time of 1:01.206 on his 15th lap.
Both Joey Scarallo and Dez Ballard had experience mechanical issues earlier in the event, and opted to sit out Qualifying. Paul Brown missed the Qualifying session as he was busy competing in the Redline Pro Time Attack competition, pulling double duty for the second event in a row.
This set the stage for the 5-lap Super Session seeding-race. Gigliotti was able to take the lead from Cronin Jr. on lap one of the race, however the race had to be black-flagged shortly after the completion of the first lap, due to an engine fire in Joey Scarallo’s #06 GTO. Thankfully Joey was unharmed in the incident; however, he was forced to retire from the event.
In the first round of the Championship Bracket, Gigliotti, the #1 seed, would advance past Ballard. Paul Brown, seeded 4th, advanced past Tarzan Yamada. Cort Wagner handled Lars Wolfe to advance. The only drama in the opening round played out in the battle of Mike Cronin Jr. and Andrei Tsaran. Andrei was able to take the lead from Mike on the first lap with a very aggressive move. Andrei did the same thing to Gary Sheehan at Willow Springs as well. However, the upset was not meant to be, with Cronin Jr. taking the lead back from Tsaran down the long front straight.
The first round of the Losers Bracket would see Ballard Vs. Yamada and Wolfe Vs. Tsaran. Yamada, as the higher seed, would have his choice of position. We’re not sure if it was a mistake or simple confusion, as Yamada yielded the inside position to Ballard. This would allow Ballard a clean shot into Turn 1, where he was able to take the lead on Lap #1. Yamada was never able to make a serious challenge for the lead, as the superior power/weight ratio of the Tech Division MINI, allowed Ballard to pull out a considerable lead down the front straight. The surprising victory for Ballard would have him advance to face the loser of the Wagner/Cronin Jr. battle.
In a rematch from Willow Springs, Tsaran Vs. Wolfe played out much the same. Tsaran snagged the lead from Wolfe at the drop of the green flag and never relinquished. This set up a battle between Tsaran and the loser of the Gigliotti/Brown battle.
Back in the Winners Bracket Semi Finals, the battles would be Gigliotti Vs. Brown and Wagner Vs. Cronin. In the first Semi-Final matchup, Gigliotti held off Brown into T1, maintaining his position through the back half of the track. Brown made an aggressive move out of the last corner, closing the lead to half a car length at the line, for the start of lap 2. Brown simply could not make a pass stick on the second lap. One final attempt out of Turn 12 simply couldn’t make it happen. Brown would be knocked down to the losers bracket to do battle with Andrew Tsaran in the THMotorsports Subaru. Gigliotti would move on to battle in the Championship Finals with the winner of the Wagner/Cronin Jr. battle.
Winners Bracket Semi Final number 2 would be a re-match of cars from Willow Springs, however, this time it was Mike Cronin Jr. behind the wheel of the Fontana Nissan 350z. Wagner beat Cronin Jr. to the entrance of Turn 1 with a very aggressive move, and was able to hold the #29 Fontana Nissan off through the back half of the circuit. Cronin Jr. was finally able to get around Wagner with an equally impressive move into T1 on the second lap. Coming out of the last corner, Wagner attempted to use his superior power, but it simply wasn’t enough. Cronin would move on to see Gigliotti in the Championship Finals, with Wagner moving down to the loser’s bracket to battle with Dez Ballard.
Cort Wagner was given only a few minutes of preparation time following his loss to Cronin Jr, before he had to battle with Ballard in the Tech Division MINI. Wagner simply had too much for Ballard right at the drop of the green, and stormed to a relatively easy victory.
Next up would be Andrei Tsaran in the #46 THMotorsports Subaru and Paul Brown in the #32 K&N Filters G35. Living up to his reputation for aggressive moves into Turn 1, Tsaran was able to take the lead through T1 and hold the lead the entirety of the first lap. Brown took advantage of his superior power to pass Tsaran on the front straight. It then appeared as though Tsaran experienced mechanical difficulties exiting Turn 2, dropping him back. Brown would move on to the Losers Bracket Semi-Finals, with Tsaran eliminated from the competition.
The Winners Bracket Finals saw the #1 Seed, Gigliotti, battle with the #2 seed, Cronin Jr. The LG Motorsports Corvette and Fontana Nissan 350z were very equally prepped, having been within one tenth of a second in qualifying. Gigliotti took the lead into T1, maintaining for the first lap. Cronin Jr. pressured right on the bumper exiting T12, but just could not get a good run on the #28 Corvette. Gigliotti held the lead again into T1, with Cronin Jr. never really having a great opportunity to force a pass on the back side of the track. Opting for a wide line through T12, and more momentum onto the front straight, Cronin took to the OUTSIDE of the exit, inches from the wall! Taking the lead for a split second, before the grunt of the Corvette’s V8 engine came to life. At the line it was almost too close to call, with Gigliotti just edging out the victory by only 8/100ths of a second!
In the loser’s bracket semifinals, Paul Brown would battle with Cort Wagner. It would be Infiniti Vs. Nissan! Wagner took the lead at the green, and was never seriously challenged over the two laps. Wagner held on for the victory and the right to battle in the loser’s bracket finals.
Yet again, Wagner would have very little rest between rounds, having to quickly face Mike Cronin Jr. in a rematch from the winner’s bracket semifinals. Once again, Wagner moved aggressively into Turn 1, taking the lead away from Cronin Jr. Both cars were tight through the entire first lap, with Wagner leading as they crossed the line for the white flag. Cronin dove to the inside of T1 on lap two for the lead and made it stick. Wagner pressured very closely for the tight sections of T3 through T8. Wagner ran the car wide through 11 and 12 in an attempt to increase his momentum coming onto the straight, and it nearly worked! Wagner would almost catch Cronin Jr. before the line, losing by only 5/100ths of a second!
In the Championship Finals, Cronin Jr would face Gigliotti once again. It would take two victories for Cronin to secure the event championship, as Gigliotti was undefeated heading into this battle. Gigliotti once again grabbed the lead at the drop of the green flag, and made it stick through the back half of the track. Having learned his lesson from the first battle, Gigliotti took the wide exit out of T12, effectively blocking Cronin Jr. from using the same attempt at a wide pass. Gigliotti increased his lead down the long 5/8ths of a mile front straight, and maintained his lead through the technical section. Cronin Jr. was never able to make a serious attempt at a pass before the final two corners. With one last attempt to get a run on Gigliotti out of T12, Cronin took the tighter exit, but just didn’t have enough, giving Gigliotti the event victory!
We want to congratulate all of our competitors on another fantastic event! The Pro Track Challenge is living up to the hype of extremely entertaining and very close racing! The series will now move to the high speed banks of Auto Club Speedway. The teams have 6 weeks to prep their cars and bring more to fight to their next Circuit Battle! Join us at Auto Club Speedway on Memorial Day Weekend, May 28th & 29th!