LEXINGTON, Ohio, Aug. 4 - Veteran Nick Esayian has 99 starts in SCCA Pirelli World Challenge competition and Kevin Gleason was only making his second start in the series, but the 25-year-old driver from Johnstown, Pa. hounded the veteran every step of the way and made sure everyone knew he was there when he finished third in the GTS class Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Esayian's teammate on the RealTime Acura team, Peter Cunningham, won the class. It featured 26 cars in a field of 56, the biggest of the year.
The top five drivers in the GTS class finished in the same order they started the 50-minute event, but Gleason was the driver to watch as he tried everything to pass Esayian. He got right on Esayian's Acura's back bumper many times and in many different places around the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course, but at the end Gleason was pleased to be on the lowest step of the podium against such strong competition.
Gleason drove the No. 60 Porsche Cayman S fielded by Napleton Porsche, the performance and competition division of the Chicago-area auto dealership Napleton Porsche of Westmont, Ill. The team gave him the opportunity to compete in the Mid-Ohio World Challenge doubleheader after they were impressed with his performances in some Pirelli Cayman Interseries races earlier this year. Gleason and his father, Chris Gleason, co-drove a similar Porsche Cayman to victory in an Interseries enduro last month at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
The World Challenge version has more powerful Brakes and more grip thanks to bigger Pirelli tires, and Gleason had a lot of fun trying to catch Esayian while holding off the driver who finished fourth, Al Carter, who was in a BMW. Michael Galati finished fifth in a Kia.
There was only one full-course yellow, which was displayed on lap seven and ran through lap 11 in what turned out to be a 29-lap race. Gleason was only 0.2 or 0.3 of a second behind Esayian numerous times, but he couldn't quite make a pass stick.
"Six years ago I stood on the podium at Mid-Ohio and my son watched from the crowd," Chris Gleason said. "Today our roles were reversed. I couldn't be more proud. What a wonderful experience!"
Kevin Gleason qualified third with a lap in 1:30.097 (90.223 miles per hour), and he set his fastest lap of the race on lap 26 with a 1:30.697 (89.626 mph). That was the third-fastest lap of the race, so he'll start behind Cunningham and Esayian in third spot for the second half of the doubleheader Sunday morning at 9:55 a.m.