Gleason and Auberlen Win Grand-Am Cup Race at Lime Rock
LAKEVILLE, Conn., May 29 - Memorial Day 2006 will always be memorable for Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. and his co-driver, Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif., as they were victorious in Monday's Grand-Am Cup Grand Sport 200 at Lime Rock Park with their Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 96.
Gleason qualified the car, which is sponsored by Gleason Financial, H&R Springs and StopTech Brakes, in the 18th position in the 40-car field on Saturday.
When the green flag dropped to start Monday's 130-lap race he quickly moved up in the running order during his stint. He then turned the car over to Auberlen during the race's first full-course caution period after 18 trips around the challenging 1.53-mile road course.
Auberlen moved into second by passing the BGB Motorsports Porsche of Mark Plummer and Craig Stanton on lap 45. Seven laps later he got the lead by passing the Marcus Motorsports Porsche 997 No. 49 of point leaders Andy Lally and Spencer Pumpelly in Turn 2.
He lost the lead when he pitted under another full-course yellow, but he retook the top spot on lap 65 by passing the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche Carrera. He was never again headed, although two more full-course cautions waved. The last one, on lap 105, allowed a team car, the Turner Motorsport No. 97 BMW M3 driven by Californians Boris Said and Anders Hainer, to close up for a 16-lap shootout. Auberlen prevailed, taking the checkered just 0.748 of a second before Said, with Lally and Pumpelly's Porsche third.
Gleason was delighted to be on the top of the podium.
"In the last 33 races I've been on the podium 11 times but with nary a win, and it was starting to get to me," he said while driving back to Johnstown with the winning trophy strapped into his car's passenger seat. "This feels really good."
"Billy did an incredible job, as usual," he added. "In my opinion he's the finest GT driver in the country, and I really enjoy racing with him."
In addition to the late-race charge by Said, the weekend had other challenges too.
Gleason missed the Friday practice sessions due to a commitment to attend a family graduation. When he got into the BMW on Saturday he discovered that it was understeering a lot, and for some reason the engine was cutting off.
"We tried to dial out the understeer but we went the wrong way, and the engine continued to cut out too," Gleason related. "The engine problem persisted in the race itself, but we got around that by lowering the shifting point. We guessed on the set-up for the race, and actually that turned out pretty good."
Like all races, strategy was important.
"We had an incredible discussion on what the strategy was going to be between the drivers and the crew chief and [team owner] Will Turner," Gleason related. "They convinced me that the best thing to do was to look for the first full-course yellow to get Bill in the car. Obviously they were right and Bill did an incredible job; the whole Turner Motorsport team did a great job.
"At the start of the race there was a lot of bumping going on, and I got p ushed off once," he continued. "Then there was a full-course yellow so I came in. The crew had a great pit stop and I turned the car over to Bill, and he's just a magician. We were 14th or something like that after the pit stop, but he brought us back up the standings.
"Once we were in the top three, we decided that we would pit with the leaders," he continued. "We thought we were faster than they were, and that we would be O.K. if we matched them. Boris put a lot of pressure on Bill at the end, but it's wonderful to be on the top of the podium. I've been casting my eyes longingly on the top spot for awhile and this feels great!"
Gleason said that the team hopes to do some testing before its next race, which is scheduled for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio June 23-25.
"This victory gives me renewed energy," Gleason added. "Bill and I are both very focused. This win will move us up in the points, too!"