ALTON, VA. - CORE autosport’s 2012 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) domination continued at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) today with a substantial win for Jon Bennett and Colin Braun and teammate Alex Popow clinching the Prototype Challenge (PC) driver’s championship.
With a third-place finish at today’s four-hour VIR 240, Popow, lead driver of the #06 Soloson Import ORECA FLM09, clinched the PC driver’s championship in his first year of ALMS competition - with nine out of the 10 races complete this season. In those nine races, Popow and his co-drivers have racked up four wins and nine podium finishes.
This title marks CORE autosport’s second consecutive driver’s championship in two years of ALMS PC competition, adding to the team’s two ALMS PC team championships during the same period.
The difference between 2011 and 2012 is timing – in 2011 the team won both championships after the final race with only one point separating the team title and a tie for drivers, while in 2012 the team championship was won after race seven and the driver championship tonight, both in a dominating fashion.
At today’s race it was the #05 Composite Resources ORECA FLM09, co-driven by team owner / founder Bennett and Braun, that was the class of the field. After topping two of three practice sessions and winning the pole position by one of the closest margins in ALMS history (.001 second / .002 mph), Bennett and Braun were able to trounce the competition by more than one lap around the 17-turn, 3.27-mile circuit for a first-place finish.
The VIR 240 began with drama from the first turn of the first lap, when most of the field piled into each other after the start. Popow, who had started in third spot (eighth overall), was able to get the #06 by the incident with some damage to the rear of the car, but Bennett was forced off the track and found himself mired in GT-class traffic.
After getting back on track, Bennett was able to wheel the #05 past most of the slower traffic and began to catch up to the leaders, but only 40 minutes into the race was hit from behind by a spinning GTC-class Porsche and was forced off yet again. Meanwhile, Popow was addressing an electrical issue in the #06 caused from the first lap incident.
Both first-shift drivers brought their respective cars into the pits at approximately the 1:20 mark, the crews went to work and Braun replaced Bennett in the #05 while Tom Kimber-Smith took the wheel from Popow in the #06.
In less than 40 minutes after taking the wheel of the #05, Braun took over the first spot in PC and did not let it go for the remainder of the race – more than two hours. He was so far ahead of the second-place entrant that when the white flag waved, Braun was able to bring the #05 into the pit for a quick splash of fuel – and he still finished one lap ahead of the competition.
This win marks the third of the season for the #05 car and the first time Bennett and Braun have won from PC-class pole position.
It was not quite as easy for Kimber-Smith and the #06 crew as the race wore on, as the team continued to address electrical issues and traffic problems. The team was able to recover from these issues and Kimber-Smith was able to move up from fifth to firmly grasp the third spot, insuring a solid finish for CORE autosport and the championship for Popow.
This latest championship crowns an incredible year for Venezuela-native Popow. With CORE autosport and co-drivers that included Kimber-Smith, Ryan Dalziel, E.J. Viso and Burt Frisselle, the #06 won in the PC class at Sebring, Long Beach, Road America and Baltimore.
In GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition, Popow won the inaugural Brickyard Grand Prix and won the driver’s title in the North American Endurance Championship.
Next for the dual-championship-winning CORE autosport team is the grand finale of the 2012 ALMS season, the Petit Le Mans. This 10-hour or 1000-mile event takes place at Road Atlanta on Saturday, October 20th.
Source: CORE autosport