Sally McNulty opens TC America season with top-5 in Sonoma
Sally McNulty had a very promising start of her TC America season - her first in the TC class - with a top five finish in race 1 at Sonoma Raceway.
American touring car driver Sally McNulty had a positive start to her fifth TC America season, as she stepped up for the first time to the TC class at the wheel of the #780 Borla Exhaust Liqui Moly Hyundai Veloster N operated by GenRacer / Ricca Autosport.
First generation racer McNulty had a remarkable progression through the last couple of seasons in the TCA category, where she had four top-five finishes in class and finished eighth in the driver's standings in 2022, after moving to the eleventh generation Honda Civic Si HPD race chassis mid-way through the season.
With the new partnership with GenRacer and Ricca Autosport - in the teams' points standings in the TC class last year - McNulty is starting to get comfortable behind the wheel of the Hyundai machine and had a very promising season opener at Sonoma Raceway, where she showed great speed straight from the practice sessions.
The Shift Up Now athlete, in fact, was third in class and sixth overall in FP1, then seventh in both FP2 and qualifying - as she aimed for a top-five at her class debut, on the track where she already had strong results in the past season.
From 16th overall on the grid, McNulty immediately moved up to 12th, gaining a position in class over the course of the first lap. From pole position, Jeff Ricca (GenRacer Ricca Autosport Hyundai Elantra) comfortably kept the class lead in the opening stages, while Clayton Williams (#60 Mini JCW Team) had a big moment at the start and ran wide into the grass at Turn 2, losing a couple of positions.
Daijiro Yoshihara pulled away from overall pole position in the #99 VGRT Honda Civic Type-R TCX, as Colin Garrett (Rooster Hall Racing BMW M2 CS) battled for second with Lucas Catania (Rigid Speed Company BMW M2 CS). Yoshihara, though, hit trouble with 24 minutes to go and dropped out of contention after a broken axle which handed the overall lead to the two TCX BMWs.
While action-packed across the field - especially for the top class - the race remained incident-free. Sally McNulty ran consistent lap times, a few tenths of a second from the class leaders. With a few minutes to go, McNulty moved ahead of Celso Neto (Skip Barber Racing School Honda Civic Type R) for fifth place in TC, after the latter received a drive through penalty for passing under yellow. Jeff Ricca crossed the line unchallenged and took class victory by over 10 seconds to kick off the season, ahead of Clayton Williams - protagonist of a good recovery after the first lap off-track moment - and Cristian Perocarpi.
With a fifth place finish, Sally McNulty's season was off to a positive start.
"Really pumped on this result considering I had never driven or even seen this car until 3 days ago", McNulty said. "I have a lot to learn with this new race car, and it is a pretty steep learning curve compared to what I’m used to driving. But I will not give up. I learned a lot today and will be working hard to improve in tomorrow's race!"
A tight three-car battle for overall win went in favor of Colin Garrett, while Devin Anderson won in TCA.
After a strong start in race 1, McNulty lined up in 12th place overall and sixth in TC class for Sunday's race 2.
Rookie Kyle Loh (LA Honda Racing) had a great start and led overall from pole, while Ricca kept first place in TC; unfortunately, there was early drama in TC, when Sally McNulty was hit by Kris Valdez and sent into the tire barriers at turn 6. With damage to both front and rear end of the #780 Hyundai Elantra N, McNulty's second race of the season was over before it started.
Loh soon opened a three second gap to Catania and Schmied - just like Ricca was looking for a repeat of his Saturday's dominant win in TC.
The TCA class was much more tightly contested, as Devin Anderson fought with Spencer Bucknum for the top spot. Bucknum attempted a pass with 20 minutes to go at the chicane, but had to give up track position after cutting through the grass.
Colin Garrett completed a clean pass for third in TCX over Kenny Schmied - but he had 5 more seconds to make up for in order to reach second-placed Lucas Catania.
A contact between Schmied and #64, though, ended in a 1-minute stop and go penalty for the former, who therefore dropped out of contention.
The final step of the podium for TCA saw a spectacular duel between Shaoyi Che and PJ Groenke - and it would be the driver of the #23 Subaru BRZ to finish ahead after a few position changes. Kyle Loh took a clean victory by 14.8 seconds, followed by Catania and Garrett. Fifth overall, Jeff Ricca was unbeaten in TC.
While it was an unfortunate end of the weekend for Shift Up Now athlete Sally McNulty, she proved good speed at her class debut, securing a top five in race 1 which laid the foundations for a promising remainder of the TC America's season.
The series will return to the track at NOLA Motorsports Park, on 28-30 April.