Wilden, Martin Post First KONI Challenge GS Victory of the Season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 23, 2007) -- Ken Wilden took the No. 52 Rehagen Racing Piloti Ford Mustang GT to victory lane Saturday for the team's first ...
Wilden, Martin Post First KONI Challenge GS Victory of the Season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 23, 2007) -- Ken Wilden took the No. 52 Rehagen Racing Piloti Ford Mustang GT to victory lane Saturday for the team's first Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport (GS) division victory of the season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as he held off Andy Lally over the final 35 laps to hoist the winner's trophy with co-driver Dean Martin.
With strong pit strategy, Wilden led twice for a race-high 38 laps, although Lally frequently tried to nose ahead at the entrance of Turn 1 during the waning laps. The final margin at the end of two and a half hours, or 83 laps, stood at .863 seconds. Wilden, who entered the race winless in Grand-Am competition, and Martin, whose only prior Grand-Am victory was a GS II event at Daytona International Speedway in 2003, were excited with his first career overall victory.
The win didn't come without some excitement in the final 10 laps, however. Martin, driving the team No. 59 Rehagen Racing Roush Performance Products Ford Mustang GT during the second half of the race, spun on Lap 77, bringing out the fifth and final caution for three laps. For the final three laps of green, Lally tried to get by Wilden, and there was even contact between the two before the checkered flag fell.
"Everything was great up until the final yellow, when I saw that Porsche (Lally) just out of nowhere," Wilden said. "I thought maybe he was a lap down, but my team said on the radio, 'No, no, no, he's coming.' He managed to use my rear bumper about three times on the last couple of laps pretty hard, and then came right inside me and broadsided me on the last lap. I managed to keep the car straight and keep the traction going, and we got ahead of him. Great race. Dean did an awesome job. I just got in the car and drove as hard as I could."
Martin's said his role in the No. 52 was to play it conservatively.
"The plan for me was to tuck in behind Nic Jonsson and put it on cruise control, follow him around and keep the car safe," Martin said. "That's what I did. I stayed tight with those guys. We had a bit of an overheating problem early on, so I had to back off to keep the car cool. That caution came at a great time for us. I came in right away, Kenny jumped in and did all the hard work."
When asked about his spin in the No. 59, Martin said he wasn't sure what happened.
"I don't know what the problem was a brake failure or a ball joint, but I put it off backwards at the end of the straightaway real hard, went all the way across the sand trap and up onto the wall, looking down," Martin said. "It was a big one. I went off full bore and into the wall."
After running near the top 10 during his stint, Ted Ballou turned the No. 41 TRG Carlsen Porsche/Mitchell Global Porsche 997 over to teammate Lally, who quickly worked his way through the field. Lally made his way into the top five by Lap 70, and passed Jeff Segal on Lap 76. He tried desperately to make a pass on the inside of Wilden, but simply ran out of laps.
"We had a real good car," Lally said. "TRG gave me the best car in the field today. We were able to do the fastest lap coming through the field. I was able to get to Kenny, and to tell you the truth, I have been a fan of Kenny since he was doing Formula Atlantics back in '98 when he finished second in the championship there. It was neat to go head-to-head with him for the first time. I saw one spot on the track where he was weak, and it was the only place I could stick my nose in. I jammed it in there. We had contact, but he was clean. We stayed side-by-side through the corner and held our lines. He did a good job of holding me off. We came home second, and we need one more step up the podium to get TRG their first KONI Challenge victory. I had a great race with Don Salama, and with Jeff Segal. Ted did an awesome job at the beginning of the race to keep the car clean, and we're here on the podium again."
With their second straight podium finish and third of the season, Segal and Jep Thornton in the No. 09 Automatic Racing Fresh From Florida/Imported Car Store BMW M3 inched closer to the point lead with a third-place finish and are now only five points behind Joe Foster in the overall standings. Thornton was part of the four-car lead pack during the opening stages of the race, and Segal was running in second before Lally made his run.
"In a fair fight, I don't think we had anything, but Lally and the Mustang got together on the last lap," Segal said. "I saw the hole, sort of went for it, Andy defended. It was the last lap and I had to think championship. We might have gone for it, but I'd rather just take the points and come out of here clean. The race was good. We had a really strong car. I don't think the yellows helped us, I would have liked to have seen a longer run. But the Fresh From Florida team gave me a strong car and we came from the back all the way to the front."
Thornton, who started the race, was happy to be able to turn the car over to Segal in one piece.
"In the beginning of my shift, the car was great," Thornton said. "When the No. 37 car (the Mustang of Bret Seafuse) got sideways in the carrousel, I had to go right or left. Another car went right so I went left, and it got me into the marbles and I spun out. A bunch of cars freight trained by me. I worked as hard as I could to get as high as I could, and I gave it over to Jeff and he did the rest."
Finishing fourth were co-drivers Jonsson and Bryan Ortiz in the No. 79 Kinetic Motorsports Savvion/Said Head Performance BMW M3. Starting third, Jonsson passed Will Turner for the lead on the 23rd circuit and led 10 laps, and Ortiz finished the race with a solid top-five appearance, running as high as second for the team's first top 10 of 2007.
No. 99 Automatic Racing Fresh From Florida/Imported Car Store BMW M3 drivers Tom Long and David Russell also ran near the front all afternoon and were rewarded with a fifth-place finish in the second of four Automatic Racing BMWs. Russell battled with Turner and Jonsson during his stint and Long looked to have finished sixth before a spin by Salama put him into the top-five at the race's conclusion.
The Mid-Ohio round was not kind to incoming race point leader Foster and former series leader Tom Nastasi. Foster and Scott Maxwell ran near the front early in the event, and Maxwell -- driving the No. 55 Hyper Sport Supercuts Ford Mustang GT -- was running third before contact with another car sent him spinning into the wall. The car also lost power steering and the team finished 14th. Foster is now only five points ahead leaders Segal and Thornton.
No. 5 Blackforest Motorsports USG Sheetrock/Ramset Tools Ford Mustang GT co-driver Nastasi, who led the championship point standings earlier this season, struggled as well. Nastasi was a top-five performer during his stint, and Ian James moved up through the field before he was spun around on Lap 62, making hard contact with a barrier. After bringing the Mustang GT into the pits, the car returned to the track briefly before suspension damage forced him to bring the car back in, where it retired in 27th.
Bad luck also struck the Turner Motorsport team more than once. Turner, who led the 83-lapper for the first 22 laps, turned the car over to Salama for the second half of the event. Salama ran fourth as late as Lap 81 before spinning in Turn 12. He finished 13th. The 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 of Chris Gleason and Bill Auberlen had a loose rear bumper cover that forced the car to drop back early, and the team eventually dropped out, finishing 29th.
The GS series will return to action July 5-7 at Watkins Glen International. The KONI Challenge ST division will conclude the Mid-Ohio race weekend with a two-hour, 30-minute race at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.