Thompson scores second win and Cates becomes the sixth Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Winner of the season at New Jersey Motorsports Park
It’s been a weekend full of challenges for the 26 drivers competing in the SCCA Pro Racing Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup series races at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Today brought a new challenge - dry conditions.
The drivers hit the track yesterday, but all-day rain forced the cars to run on Pirelli rain tires. Today’s dry conditions turned the tables on the drivers, as the first of two races this weekend marked the first time that they navigated the 14-turn, 2.225-mile road course on racing slicks.
Polesitter, Andy Lee held on to his position early in the race and built nearly a four-second lead at one point. However, the trio of Jake Thompson, Timmy Megenbier and Juan Pablo Sierra Lendle became a growing presence in his mirrors as the race wore on, and three of the four drivers led laps in the closing moments of the race. On lap 17, Sierra Lendle passed Lee for the lead going into turn one, but Lee was able to regain his position one lap later. Then, it was Thompson’s turn on lap 18, as he dove underneath Lee in Turn 1 to move into the lead with one lap left. The Calgary, Alberta native never looked back before taking the checkered flag in the No. 19 Oakley car for the second time this season. Lee placed second, and Megenbier came in third for his seventh podium finish of the season.
“What a crazy race today,” Thompson said. “My strategy coming it was to be cautious since none of us had been able to run on a dry track this weekend. At first, it felt like I was starting to go backwards, but then guys ahead of me started going off track a lot, so my patience was rewarded. About halfway through the race, it felt like I was stuck in fourth place, but I was eventually able to find a few spots on the track where I was better than the guys in front of me, and I timed my passes really well. After winning during our first race weekend, it’s great to finally get back to the top of the podium, and I hope to make the same climb tomorrow.”
The race results didn’t have a major impact on the Championship points standings. With two races to go, Megenbier has 306 points, which represents a 31-point lead over second place Lee (275). Joey Atterbury (255), Thompson (251) and Pombo (214) round out the top five spots.
Less than 24 hours after one of the most exciting races of the season, the drivers returned for the second race of the weekend. The race started with Mark Pombo on the pole position in the No. 20 Volkswagen Parts & Accessories car, and was able to pull away from the rest of the field in the early stages. However, an accident between the No. 22 car of Andrew Novich and the No. 3 of Taylor Broekemeier caused a full-course caution on the second lap. Pombo led for a few more laps after racing resumed, but things started to heat up on lap 8 when Jake Thompson claimed the top spot going into turn 1. Pombo was able to battle back and resume the lead two laps later. Then, on lap 11, Devin Cates capitalized on a battle that saw several of the frontrunners venture off track. The Broad Run, Virginia native drove it to the front and never looked back before taking the checkered flag. The win marks Cates’ first series win, and he’s the sixth different driver to win this season.
“I’ve shown that I can be fast in this series this year, but I’ve not been able to back up my speed with solid finishes until now,” Cates said. “So, to be able to get a win before the end of the season is awesome. There were some great battles out there today. Once I was able to get around Mark (Pombo), I was determined not to give him the spot back. Thankfully, he raced me clean, and we both wound up on the podium. I know it’s too late for me to think about winning the Championship at this point, but I want to close out the season strong, and this is a great way to start.”
Pombo and Timmy Megenbier rounded out the podium with second and third place finishes. In nine races, Megenbier has been on the podium eight times, which is a series record. As a result of his consistency, Megenbier now has 346 points will carry a 39-point Championship lead into the final race of the season at Road Atlanta. He will take the title regardless of any other driver results if he can finish 15(th) or better. Andy Lee (307), Joey Atterbury (273), Thompson (271) and Pombo (262) are also among the top five drivers in the Championship. Perhaps the best battle heading into the final race will be for “Rookie of the Year” honors. Atterbury and Thompson are the two drivers in the hunt, and they’re only separated by two points.
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup series’ final race of the season will take place in two weeks on September 25-26 at Road Atlanta. Live timing and scoring is available at http://www.livetiming.net/SCCA/VW/livetiming.asp.