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Goikhberg expands championship lead

— Mikhail Goikhberg expanded his championship lead in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda series after winning Round 4 and finishing second in Round 3 on Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Goikhberg, from North Vancouver, British Columbia, has won three of the four races this season in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports car. He swept the season-opening rounds in March at Sebring International Raceway and leads the standings with 78 points.

“Overall, I’m happy with how the weekend went,” Goikhberg said. “We were a corner away from winning the first race, won the second race. I’m very happy with the car, very proud of JDC, and now all of our thoughts are on Watkins Glen.”

Tony Bullock and Craig Duerson shared the podium with Goikhberg after both races on the six-turn, 2.37-mile circuit at Kansas that includes nearly the entire 1.5-mile oval.

Bullock, from Las Vegas, earned his first career victory in the series in Round 3 in the No. 12 ONE Motorsports car, edging Goikhberg by .153 of a second after passing him on the final lap. Bullock climbed to third in Round 4 when Enzo Potolicchio suffered a mechanical problem on the final lap while running third in the No. 4 8Star Motorsports car.

Duerson, from Gulfport, Mississippi, continued his perfect podium record for the season by finishing third in Round 3 and second in Round 4 in the No. 27 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. He was the leading Masters (age 40 and over) finisher in both races.

This was a unique event because Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda cars shared the track with another category for the first time during both rounds, competing alongside the faster Prototype Challenge (PC) class from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

Duerson and Goikhberg engaged in a tight race for the lead in Round 4 after Duerson’s lead evaporated during a full-course caution period due to a mechanical failure in the rear of the No. 39 Performance Tech Motorsports car driven by Duerson’s son Hayden Duerson.

Goikhberg pulled from 1.2 seconds behind Duerson to just two-tenths of a second behind in the closing laps and dove under Duerson in Turn 1 to take the lead for good with five minutes remaining in the 45-minute race.

“It was a hard race,” Goikhberg said. “I didn’t have a very good start. I got shuffled back to fifth or sixth. So we slowly worked our way back up and then the yellow came out, and that gave us a chance to fight for the lead.”

Said Duerson: “I led the majority of the race. If it had not been for the yellow, the full-course yellow, I would have won. These things happen. Good race.”

John Falb, from Las Vegas, was the second-finishing Masters driver in the No. 77 ONE Motorsports entry after the team thrashed to change engines in his car between rounds. Don Yount, from Dallas, finished third among Masters competitors in the No. 28 Yount Motorsports car.

In the first race, Bullock earned his first career Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda victory in his third career start.

The victory was the first in the series for Las Vegas-based ONE Motorsports, which climbed to Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda this season after winning races and championships in SCCA and Radical competition as Factory48 Motorsports.

“I know going into the last lap trailing Mikhail, he had me in the infield,” Bullock said. “He just had the speed. But if I could just stay with him to the last turn onto the oval, if I was there I could take advantage of the draft, and I was able to. I was able to just sling-shot around to the outside and get a nose out in front of him and stay ahead for the victory. This is the first time I’ve done something like this. I’m loving it.”

The final-lap pass for victory capped an intense, lead-swapping, slipstreaming battle between Bullock, Goikhberg and pole sitter Duerson over the closing three laps. Duerson ended up third, .712 of a second behind Bullock.

Bullock, who started fifth, emerged as a contender for victory when he passed Goikhberg for second with four minutes to go in the 45-minute race.

Masters (age 40 and over) competitors produced a strong performance in Round 3, occupying third through seventh place. Duerson finished third, Richard Fant fourth in the No. 44 Ferrari of Houston entry, Don Yount fifth in the No. 28 Yount Motorsports entry, Lamont Harris sixth in the No. 65 8Star Motorsports entry and Jon Brownson seventh in the No. 34 Performance Tech Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires.

Rounds 5 and 6 of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda will take place June 27-28 at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York.