TC America: Sally McNulty grabs pair of top five finishes at Road America
Returning to Road America for the second time this month, Sally McNulty continued her very positive TC America campaign with a pair of top five finishes in the TC class that highlighted her consistency.
Returning to Road America for the second time this month, Sally McNulty continued her very positive TC America campaign with a pair of top five finishes in the TC class, following her breakthrough weekend at VIRginia International Raceway in June, where the first generation racer claimed her first ever podium finish of her pro racing career.
Two weeks ago, McNulty had made her IMSA debut, competing for the first time in a TCR vehicle. Sally enjoyed a clean and promising debut in Michelin Pilot Challenge, making great improvements throughout the weekend at the newly repaved Road America circuit.
Returning behind the wheel of the #780 Genracer / Ricca Autosport Hyundai Veloster N TC at Elkhart Lake, McNulty was aiming to build on the progression made both in TC America and IMSA Pilot Challenge, in a season that is proving to be a real step forward for the American touring car racer.
With six top five finishes under her belt in her rookie TC class campaign, Sally showed good pace in the practice sessions, while at the same time it was soon evident that the Hyundai cars would be suffering from a particularly unfavourable BoP of the weekend. The two Mini JCW Pro TC cars of Clayton Williams and Cristian Perocarpi locked the front row in qualifying, as Jeff Ricca had to settle for third. Sally McNulty was fifth fastest in class, and lined up behind the Skip Barber Racing School's Honda Civic Type-R of Brazilian driver Celso Neto.
A big crash among the TCX class on the first lap soon brought out the red flag: overall pole sitter Matthew Pombo had battled for the lead in a three-wide fight that ended in disaster, with Maddie Aust being turned around and into the path of Gleason and then Pombo, before all three made heavy contact with the concrete wall on the way to turn 4. Luckily, drivers were unharmed.
In the TC category, a brilliant start for Jeff Ricca had propelled the Hyundai driver into second place, while Sally McNulty held position and sat fifth at the neutralization.
After the red flag, the race resumed with 24 minutes to go, with Colin Garrett running away with the overall lead. Cristian Perocarpi battled with Jeff Ricca for first place in TC - and the latter managed to get ahead on lap 5, as McNulty followed Celso Neto closely for fourth.
At the same time, Clayton Williams was placed under investigation for a pass under caution.
A second safety car was deployed with 15 minutes to go, when Clifton Lipple went off at the Kink and made impact with the inside wall.
At the restart, Williams received and served the drive through that dropped him down the order, promoting Sally McNulty to fourth just behind Neto. Sally recorded her personal best lap time on lap 11 and closed in on the third-placed Skip Barber Racing Honda Civic Type R; despite a late charge, though Sally crossed the finish line in fourth place, 4 tenth away from a podium finish in a still hugely positive contest for the GenRacer/Ricca Autosport driver.
Ricca and Perocarpi, continued to trade positions at the top - with the former taking victory by 91 thousandths of a second after a drag race to the finish.
With yet another podium finish at arm's length, McNulty had another chance to keep scoring important points for the championship on Sunday's second race.
From fifth on the grid, the Shift Up Now athlete had a clean start and kept position, as Clayton Williams retained the top spot from Cristian Perocarpi and Jeff Ricca - in a calmer first few laps throughout the field.
The top three in the TC class caught the last cars of the TCX class and, while trying to navigate traffic, Ricca managed to find a way past Perocarpi for second. McNulty soon pulled away from Jeremiah Burton and followed Celso Neto closely, in almost a replay from Saturday's race.
Sally was initially faster than the Brazilian driver, but struggled to get under the one second gap. They would both gain a position in class when Perocarpi lost a couple of positions with 25 minutes to go. Perocarpi, though, recovered and passed both McNulty and Neto to claim back a podium position. Having spent most of the two Road America races right in Celso Neto's slipstream, McNulty got closer with 15 minutes to go, but Neto was able to gain a few more tenths on the following laps.
Perocarpi's effort to return to the podium was under threat with 4 minutes to go, when his #37 Mini JCW Pro TC slowed down by over 10 seconds - and was almost caught by Neto and McNulty. On the final lap, though, Perocarpi was back up to speed and he could hang on to third place.
With another very solid effort, Sally McNulty brought home the eighth top five finish of the season in the TC class, to round out a positive fifth race meeting of the season in TC America that highlighted her consistency. She now sits fifth in the drivers' championship standings, having collected 105 points in the TC class.
While TC America will return to the track at Sebring International Raceway on 22-24 September for the penultimate double-header of the 2023 season, there will be no rest for McNulty, who heads back to VIRginia International Raceway - the venue where she stood twice on the podium - for her second ever appearance in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, on 25-27 August.