Thomson and Johnson Win Second Race of the Season in Grand-Am KONI Challenge ST Monterey 200 MONTEREY, Calif. (May 19, 2007) -- Karl Thomson and Billy Johnson co-drove to their second 2007 win in four races this season and retook the...
Thomson and Johnson Win Second Race of the Season in Grand-Am KONI Challenge ST Monterey 200
MONTEREY, Calif. (May 19, 2007) -- Karl Thomson and Billy Johnson co-drove to their second 2007 win in four races this season and retook the championship lead with a victory in the No. 76 Kensai Racing/Compass360.com Acura TSX in Saturday's Grand-Am KONI Challenge (ST) Street Tuner Monterey 200 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The duo also combined to win the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway in January.
Johnson took the lead for the second and final time on Lap 55 when the leading No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy of Kristian Skavnes pitted and the winners crossed the finish line 2.171 seconds ahead of a fast closing Guy Cosmo in the No. 127 Fountain Motorsports BMW 330i. Roger Foo in the No. 32 i-MOTO Racing/Cobalt Friction/Alpine Stars Acura TSX finished third after co-driver Christian Miller started the race.
"It's not just the drivers," Thomson said. "This really is a team effort, and the guys at Kensai prepare really great cars. We've got three really even cars and good driver lineups in each of those cars. Everybody did a really great job today. Thanks to the team, they're fabulous guys, and of course, Billy, because he brought it home."
After starting 10th on the grid, Thomson stayed in sight of the leaders during the opening stint while his teammates and other challengers battled with the pole-winning No. 01 Scada Pack/Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt of Kenny Wilden. Wilden led all but three of the race's first 30 laps and gave up the point only briefly to an impressive Leo Maia in the No. 86 Classic BMW Z4, who led twice, and Taz Harvey in Kensai Racing/Compass360.com's sister No. 75 Acura TSX.
Wilden and the majority of the race's other early leaders pitted on Lap 31 which allowed Johnson, who took over from Thomson during an early pit stop on Lap 22, to quickly cycle back to the front of the pack. Johnson closely trailed in second place behind the No. 63 Roar Racing Mazda RX-8 of Joe Scarborough -- who also impressed by leading laps 32 through 47 -- before moving the winning Acura into the lead for the first time on Lap 48. Johnson led a race-high total of 32 laps.
"We decided to do an early pit strategy so it put us in the middle of the pack," Johnson said. "Through all the pit stops we were closer towards the front. After a few really good battles, we were able to get into first place and just try to maintain the lead from there. Because we pitted so early, fuel strategy was pretty critical and it was down to the line on how much fuel we had left. Thankfully, we calculated right. We probably only have a few drops of gas left in the tank. Kensai did an awesome job and Karl gave me a great car. He gave me a lot of car left. He did a great job moving up the field during his stint as well."
Cosmo, who won the previous Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series ST race last month at Iowa Speedway with then co-driver David Tuaty, challenged for his second consecutive win after taking over the No. 127 BMW from new co-driver VJ Mirzayan, who is from nearby Fresno, Calif.
"VJ is a new teammate for me this weekend," Cosmo said. "He's never been with the team and never been in our car before. He really did an outstanding job to get himself up to speed. He handed me the car in a great spot. He had a little boo-boo at the beginning, we got a stop-and-go penalty, and he went from dead last and got it all the way up to 10th and handed it off to me. I was able to get to work from there. The big thing with these cars is they're momentum cars. They don't have a lot of horsepower, but they handle really well and it's really close racing. You just have to chip away at it lap after lap. I was able to inch my way up to the front. Man, I needed two more laps and I would have had him."
"I just got a little bit greedy in the beginning," Mirzayan said. "I pulled out of line, so we got a stop-and-go penalty. I just kind of kept cool and worked my way back to 10th. This is closest racing I've ever done. This is like a dream day for me. T he first time I got in a car ever was four years ago. I'm not talking about racing, just got in a car on the track. So, for me, to be here in four years on the podium, it is absolutely a dream come true. I can't thank Cosmo enough for being such an incredible teammate and instructor. He really helped me get up to pace really fast, and all my sponsors. This is the most unbelievable day of my life next to my kids being born. I want to thank the KONI Challenge for putting on such a great show."
Foo and Miller ran as high as second and earned their first podium finish of the season with the third-place showing. Dave Rosenblum and returning sports car racing star Davy Jones finished fourth in the No. 141 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru while the No. 58 BSI Racing/Team Garcia Mazda MX-5 of Justin Hall and Magnus Karlsson completed the top five for their best finish of the season after starting 18th. The duo improved a race-high 13 positions.
After coming to Laguna Seca leading the points championship, Trevor Hopwood and Adam Burrows finished sixth in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i and now trail Thomson and Johnson in the ST driver championship by seven points, 118 -- 111.
The No. 56 BSI Racing/Team Garcia Mazda MX-5 of Todd Buras and Carlos Garcia joined their No. 58 teammates for an overall good day for the team after improving 10 spots to finish seventh. Fountain Motorsports also posted some strong team results with the group's No. 126 BMW 330i coming home eighth with Sam Schultz and Tuaty driving. Kensai/Compass360.com also garnered a pair of top 10 finishes with the team's No. 74 Acura RSX-S finishing ninth with co-drivers Matt Pritiko and Eric Powell. The No. 48 Team Cobalt California Chevrolet Cobalt of Phil Malgren and Tom Lepper completed the top 10.
Skavnes led two laps after passing Johnson for the lead on lap 53 and ended up finishing 11th with co-driver Chuck Hemmingson.
Of the early contenders, Jamie Holtom took over the No. 01 Cobalt from Wilden on the lap 31 pit stop and was running second behind Johnson late in the race when he was hit from behind by the No. 75 Acura that was then being driven by Beau Buisson. Holtom later retired the Cobalt with damage and Buisson also dropped from contention due to his own damage and an avoidable contact drive-through penalty for the incident with Holtom. Maia's BMW faded with mechanical problems shortly after his early run up front and he finished 18th with co-driver Toby Grahovec, while Scarborough and teammate Andy Brumbaugh ended up 15th, six laps down.