Marks, Auberlen and BMW Take the Inaugural Miller Grand-Am Cup 200 in Santo Domingo SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (March 13, 2005) -- Justin Marks and Bill Auberlen capped a nearly perfect weekend for BMW with a convincing win in the No. 96...
Marks, Auberlen and BMW Take the Inaugural Miller Grand-Am Cup 200 in Santo Domingo
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (March 13, 2005) -- Justin Marks and Bill Auberlen capped a nearly perfect weekend for BMW with a convincing win in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 in Sunday's inaugural Miller Grand-Am Cup 200 at Las Americas Autodromo in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Auberlen crossed the finish line 6.448 seconds ahead of the similar BMW M3 machine of Michael McDowell in the No. 60 Finlay Motorsports BMW M3 that he co-drove with team owner and driver Rob Finlay.
In front of an enthusiastic and capacity crowd that enjoyed a third-straight day of perfect Caribbean weather with temperatures in the high 80s and sunny skies, polesitter Marks led the opening 51 laps before handing over to Auberlen who quickly retook the top position on a restart and was never seriously challenged on his way to the checkered flag.
"The heat was one of the big factors to deal with today," said Marks, who won his first Grand-Am Cup race in only his second series start. "The tires are so good so early in the race, but when your stint goes on and the tires start to go away a little, you really realize how hard your are working in the heat. When I got out of the car, I was ready for it."
Auberlen -- who won a pair of championships for BMW last season, including the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series GT title -- passed the No. 55 Mustang GT of race leader David Empringham in Turn 2 on a restart at the two-hour point of the three-hour timed race and held the lead to the finish.
"This was a tough race," said Auberlen. "My car got real hot for some reason right after I got in, and I ran out of water. It was real hard, but I just kept pushing, and the result was great. This was a great event and really unlike anything we have in America. I can't wait to come back next year. I bet we are going to have a way better victory party tonight in Santo Domingo than anywhere else we go."
Finlay started the race 12th and kept his BMW in striking distance of the leaders before handing off to McDowell who worked his way to the front. McDowell passed Empringham for second a couple of laps after Auberlen took the lead, closed to within a few seconds of the eventual winner near the end of the race, but was never able to challenge for the win.
"We knew we had an advantage in the heat with our car," said McDowell who finished third with Finlay in the season-opening race at Daytona last month. "Our cars are so good in the heat, and we do real well with the high temperatures and the tires and in the end it worked to our hand. This was a great race and the people of Santo Domingo are fantastic."
"Gracias, Santo Domingo," Finlay said. "The enthusiasm of the crowd was incredible, and the fans were better than any we have in America."
Scott Maxwell and David Empringham also claimed their second podium result of the season with their third-place finish in the No. 55 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang. The two finished second in last month's Grand-Am Cup 200 at Daytona where they also led the race.
"I had a pretty long stint during the yellow just after I took over the car," said Empringham. "I was feeling some pressure from the (No. 11 Powell Motorsport) Cadillac in the end, so I just tried real hard to bring it to the finish and not make any mistakes. Our Mustang is good, but some of the other cars had the advantage on this track."
Maxwell was fastest in Friday's opening day of practice at Las Americas Autodromo for the Miller 200 -- the only time all weekend a BMW did not top the time sheets -- and is already looking forward to racing again in Santo Domingo.
"We knew going in that our car was going to give away some things to the other cars," Maxwell said. "This is a brand new race car and this is a braking and handling track and we have made some real good progress in those areas but we just came in here looking for some points. I can't wait to come back here a year from now and then you will see the Mustang real strong on twisty circuits like this."
Ford had a strong showing as the No. 05 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT sister car of Gunnar Jeannette and James Gue finished fourth.
Cadillac also had a strong finish with No. 11 Powell Motorsport Cadillac CTS-V drivers Devon Powell and Don Knowles placing fifth.
Joe Varde teamed with Jordan and Mark Sandridge in the No. 9 Team Salad Racing BMW M3 to finish sixth, with Will Nonnamaker and regional favorite Victor Gonzalez, of Puerto Rico, finishing seventh in the No. 44 Team Sahlen Porsche 996.
The No. 09 Automatic Racing BMW M3 of David Russell and Jep Thornton started the race in second and were able to hold on to a top-10 finish with their eighth-place effort. The No. 6 Zoom Motorsports Porsche 996 drivers Mike McCalmont and Darren Law finished ninth.
After starting 35th out of a 36-car field, David Murry and Blake Rosser in the No. 43 Team Sahlen Porsche 996 steadily moved their way through the field and finished 10th.
The race was slowed in the second hour for a lengthy full course competition yellow flag period after a brief power failure at the Las Americas circuit. Grand American officials reverted to a back-up electrical system during the caution period to continue the timing and scoring of the race which resumed with one-hour remaining. Provisional results were issued Sunday and a full audit of the entire race will be run tonight.
Round 3 of the Grand-Am Cup Series will take place at California Speedway on Saturday, April 2.