High drama unfolds as O’Connell, Aschenbach win GT, GTS titles


The 2013 Pirelli World Challenge championships in the GT and GTS classes went down to the final laps of the season yesterday at Houston’s Reliant Park, but in the end, it was Johnny O’Connell (GT) and Lawson Aschenbach (GTS) that clinched the titles in their respective categories with race wins.

James Sofronas entered the race with a slim edge over O’Connell in GT points, but after leading early on, his Audi R8 faltered as the 1.7-mile street circuit began to dry out from earlier rains.

Randy Pobst and O’Connell would get past Sofronas for first and second on Lap 23, and then on Lap 25, things went from bad to worse for Sofronas when he suffered a left tire puncture and was forced to pit; one of the drivers he’d been racing with at the time, Andy Pilgrim, was tagged later with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

O’Connell would then take the lead from Pobst on Lap 26, and go on to claim the win in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R, marking a successful defense of the GT title he won in 2012. Sofronas finished fifth in the race.

“Coming down to the wire, I lost a lot of sleep over it,” said O’Connell, who had lost the GT points lead in the previous event at Sonoma Raceway. “That’s really the way a championship should be decided. When you have a great car, it makes things a lot easier. I’m emotionally tired just because your guys, they’re counting on you.”

In GTS, Jack Baldwin held the championship lead going into Houston. But Aschenbach (No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro) took the point from Baldwin on Lap 3 and would keep it for the remainder of the race.

However, he still needed Baldwin to finish outside the Top 2 to stand a chance at the title. Then, as the final minutes ticked away, Baldwin – who had been running in second – was passed by seven-time Pirelli World Challenge champ Peter Cunningham, as well as Mark Wilkins.

As a result, Aschenbach was able to claim the GTS crown by a mere 12 points over Baldwin, who finished fourth in the race.

“I have to say to everybody at Blackdog Speed Shop, ‘Job well done this year’ – they flat out worked their butts off from November last year, when this deal came together, to today and we’re champions,” Aschenbach said.

“That shows you how much hard work, patience, late nights – everything – that they did to make this happen.”

You can watch the 2013 PWC finale from Houston on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.