A tough lesson learned a year ago has helped drive Tim Sanderson to the brink of a championship this season.
Sanderson, from Pickering, Ontario, leads the Gold Cup class in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin entering the last two rounds of the season Aug. 30-31 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario. Series veteran Sanderson holds a two-point lead, 140-138, over rookie Jerimy Daniel in the class for 2010-13 model Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars.
Last season, Sanderson opened with four consecutive Gold Cup victories and appeared to be headed for his first championship in just his second year in the single-make Porsche series. But friendly rival Carlos de Quesada overcame early frustration with his car to surge to the title with six consecutive victories to close the season, edging Sanderson by four points.
"One thing I learned from last season is you can never underestimate anybody," Sanderson said. "I think Carlos, in fairness to him and his team last season, they had the car for two or three days literally before the first race. I know he was frustrated after the first race at Mosport that he wasn't more competitive. They turned it around. They brought it back hard for the rest of the season. We kept doing what we were doing, but at the end, they ended up with a few more points than we did.
"There's nobody I'd rather finish second to than Carlos de Quesada. That man is a pure gentleman and a great competitor and a great racer. I was proud to be second in the points behind him. But this season is a different season, and we're going into the final weekend on the other end of that equation. It's ours to lose, I guess."
The title chase dimension also is different for Sanderson in two other crucial ways in 2014.
First, the level of competitiveness has escalated considerably this season in Gold Cup. Last year De Quesada and Sanderson were the only drivers with a chance to win the title entering the final event of the season, and they were the only drivers to win a race in the class.
This year, all five Gold Cup drivers have a mathematical shot to wear the crown after Round 10 Sunday. And Sanderson, Daniel and 2011 Gold Cup champion Shaun McKaigue each have stood on the top step of the podium as a race winner this season.
"I think everyone has brought their A game to the series this season, which isn't a slight on anybody from last season, but I think the entire field, the game level has been raised, all the way from Platinum (Cup) right through," Sanderson said. "It's good. We've had a few little dustups as the season has unfolded, but I think everybody is driving to win, and I think everybody is driving as much as possible to bring it home in one piece."
This season's championship hunt also is different because of the addition of Daniel, from Candiac, Quebec.
Daniel, 21, is the only non-Masters (age 45 or older) competitor in the class this year. Sanderson, 52, admits Daniel's driving skill and youthful enthusiasm and vigor have forced him to elevate every aspect of his preparation for a race weekend.
"I've got a couple of kids of my own who are older than Jerimy," Sanderson said with a laugh. "When I look at him, I look at a young kid. He's got lots of energy; he's got lots of enthusiasm. I've got to try to contend with that in other ways: Show up at the racetrack ready to race, fit and with my head in the right place.
"Jerimy is a great competitor, and he's pushing the stink out of me. I hope I'm doing the same for him."
So far, Sanderson has responded to Daniel's challenge with successful aplomb.
Sanderson has finished on the Gold Cup podium in seven of eight starts this season in the No. 07 Alegra Motorsports/Northwest Atlantic Motorsports Porsche, with victories in Round 4 in June at Calabogie and Round 7 earlier this month at Trois-Rivières. He also races with a benevolent purpose, as his Racing for Joanne's House program has helped to raise awareness and funding in 2013 and 2014 for Joanne's House, the only shelter for homeless and at-risk youth in Durham, Ontario.
Plus Sanderson won the pole with a Gold Cup track record and set a Gold Cup race lap record while finishing second in Round 8 earlier this month at Trois-Rivières, so he enters the season finale this weekend at CTMP with confidence.
"We're looking forward to a great weekend of racing," Sanderson said. "I don't expect anything different with the car or the setup we have used before at Mosport. I think everything should be the same as before."
Much of that confidence is bred by the wisdom of experience. Sanderson has been around motorsports for most of his life as a fan or competitor. His initial experience behind the wheel came in open-wheel cars at driving schools, and he began racing in Porsche club competition about 14 years ago and also drove in Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC) events.
Sanderson, a successful commercial retail real estate executive, then made the jump to the IMSA Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin in 2012.
His experience dovetails nicely with his approach to the sport. He's a thinker behind the wheel, enjoying strategic planning over reactive muscling and hustling of the car. He studies competitors' lines. He ponders inside the helmet, sometimes laps ahead of time, the best spot and opportunity to make a crucial pass.
That mentality has bred the consistency that is vital to every championship path.
"I've been doing this a long time and am taking the approach of letting things unfold and sitting back," Sanderson said. "The races are rarely won in the first corner or the first two corners, so as long as you can keep your competitors in sight, you've got a shot at the end. That's the way I approach my races and try to get ahead of the field.
"There's nothing more frustrating than building up a big 15-second or 20-second lead and then there's a full-course yellow, and you say to yourself, 'Geez, all of that hard work, and we're going to have a sprint to the finish.' So I just like to sit back and let it come to me a little bit. And I feel really good going into Mosport with that approach. It's a track I've been racing on. I can't count how many laps I have at that place, and I'm looking forward to it."
For more information on the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin, visit www.imsa.com and @IMSA on Twitter with the hashtag #GT3CAN. Live commentary for both races at CTMP will be provided on Twitter at @IMSALive.