SCC: Mid-Ohio: Automatic Racing preview

Automatic Racing's Hillestad at Home in Ohio; Pinky Rides Again LEXINGTON, Oh.--This weekend's KONI Challenge Sports Car race at Mid-Ohio will be a homecoming for Ohio native Mark Hillestad. The driver of the No. 99 Automatic Racing/H&S Tools...

Automatic Racing's Hillestad at Home in Ohio; Pinky Rides Again

LEXINGTON, Oh.--This weekend's KONI Challenge Sports Car race at Mid-Ohio will be a homecoming for Ohio native Mark Hillestad. The driver of the No. 99 Automatic Racing/H&S Tools BMW M3 will have the home crowd cheering him on as he competes at his favorite track.

Hillestad and co-driver Barry Waddell have been consistent top-10 finishers in the past four races, and they know that Mid-Ohio could be the site of their first KONI Challenge podium. Success came early at the track for Hillestad, who lives just an hour from Mid-Ohio's front gates. He earned a win there in 1998 driving in the series that preceded KONI Challenge, and he's driven there in virtually every condition imaginable.

A wealth of experience and success at Mid-Ohio means that Hillestad has the upper hand when it comes to his home track. "I know every little nuance there," he says. "You pick up every little tenth of a second when you've been there so much. This is the track where we're going to do well."

Hillestad says he's fortunate that his home track is also his favorite place to race. "I think there's such a great flow to it, and it's so technical. If you get a good lap in, it's so much fun: Mid-Ohio has elevation changes, tight stuff and fast sweepers like turn one. It has everything."

That insider's knowledge is what Hillestad hopes to bring into this weekend's race. He'll have his own cheering section, thanks to the friends, family and employees who plan to attend. The day will be a corporate outing for H&S Tool (www.handstool.net), the company Hillestad and his father started in nearby Wadsworth, Ohio. In addition, Hillestad's 11-year-old daughter Julianna will be there, and it will mark the first time she has seen her dad race.

"Success at Mid-Ohio would be extra special since we'll have the support of so many fans there," commented Waddell. "It really adds to the event and makes it more fun. We're both feeling confident and really looking forward to it."

Meanwhile, Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub will be co-driving the No. 91 Automatic Racing BMW M3. A crash at Watkins Glen two weeks ago means that they will be in the team's backup car this weekend: Automatic's iconic pink M3.

"Joe (Varde) does such a good job on setups that I'm sure the car will already be great when it rolls off the truck," Putman said about driving "Pinky." "And we don't mind the pink!"

Putman added that he and Espenlaub both really enjoy Mid-Ohio. It was one of the first tracks Putman visited as a professional driver, and he has earned three podium finishes there. A fourth podium would be welcome. "We've had incredibly bad luck this year, and now we're just looking to have some fun, and to get a podium for ourselves and the crew--they deserve it," Putman noted.

The 2.5-hour KONI Challenge race begins on Saturday at 1:45 p.m.

-credit: ar

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Charles Espenlaub , Charlie Putman , Mark Hillestad , Barry Waddell
Teams Automatic Racing