Gleason and Auberlen Win Thrilling KONI Challenge GS Race At Trois-Rivieres Sunday TROIS-RIVIERES, Quebec, Aug. 19 - Calling it "one of the most magical experiences of my life," Chris Gleason and his co-driver, Bill Auberlen, won a thrilling...
Gleason and Auberlen Win Thrilling KONI Challenge GS Race At Trois-Rivieres Sunday
TROIS-RIVIERES, Quebec, Aug. 19 - Calling it "one of the most magical experiences of my life," Chris Gleason and his co-driver, Bill Auberlen, won a thrilling KONI Challenge GS race at the Grand Prix of Trois-Rivieries here Sunday afternoon at Le Circuit du Trois-Rivieres here.
As Gleason cheered from the Turner Motorsport pits, Auberlen and Andy Lally engaged in a torrid but clean battle in the last 12 minutes of the race before Auberlen took the checkered flag just 0.267 of a second before Lally did after two hours of fierce competition.
It was the second victory of the year for Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa., and Auberlen, of Redondo Beach, Calif., with their Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 96.
Gleason recorded an outstanding qualifying effort to earn the sixth starting spot in the 28-car field with a time of 1:12.922 (averaging 75.088 miles per hour) for the tight, 1.521-mile circuit. That was only 0.001 off fifth place and only 0.773 off the pole.
Gleason started the race. He was in ninth place on lap eight when he turned the car over to Auberlen under the first full-course caution flag 12 minutes into the race when Fraser Wellon's Porsche stopped in Turn 2. That put Auberlen in 24th spot with the BMW, which is sponsored in part by Gleason Financial, for the restart on lap 13, but the car was in good shape and Auberlen was ready to get to work.
Auberlen passed Romeo Kapudija for fifth on lap 24, quickly moved into fourth, and took third on lap 32 by passing Kevin Buckler. By lap 40 he was in second place, trailing local favorite Louis-Phillipe Dumounlin's No. 82 Porsche by 1.063 seconds.
He got the lead shortly thereafter. Lally, who had taken over his TRG Porsche from his co-driver, Ted Ballou, on that first yellow flag too, was trying to save his tires and brakes, but he was already up to fifth by that point.
On lap 66 with a half-hour left of the two-hour contest, Auberlen had a 5.290 seconds lead over Scott Maxwell's No. 55 while Lally was third, 7.31 seconds behind Maxwell.
All the leaders had to make one more stop for fuel, so Auberlen had to relinquish the lead to Maxwell shortly thereafter. Lally was on a mission at that point, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 70 with a 1:11.959.
Auberlen was back up to third on lap 75 with 19 minutes remaining, although a yellow on lap 76 with 17 minutes left for Travis Walker's stalled Mustang delayed things for a while. He regained the lead on the very next lap when some of his rivals pitted under that yellow. The top five heading into the restart on lap 80 were Auberlen, Craig Stanton, Lally, Don Salama and Jean-Francois Dumoulin.
Lally passed Stanton for second immediately on that restart with 12 minutes to go and began hounding Auberlen for the lead. They battled inches apart the rest of the way.
Lally's car was slightly faster than Auberlen's but Auberlen was playing defense like the Steelers do on their best days. He set the third-fastest lap of the race, a 1:12.209, in holding off Lally on lap 84 as they dueled lap after lap.
With 1 minute left the interval was just 0.162 of a second, but Lally's brakes were fading and Auberlen was still in front when he took the checkered flag on lap 90, just 0.267 of a second before Lally did. Stanton ended up third.
"It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. There's some history to this. I came here for the first time for a Formula Atlantic race in 1973. I brought along my 'significant other,' who ended up being my wife, to kind of sweep her off her feet that weekend. I threw all my charms at her that weekend. We stayed at the best hotel, ate at the best restaurants, and just had a great time. My teammate that weekend was a wonderful guy from England named Tom Pryce. He went on to be a Grand Prix driver for Shadow, but he was tragically killed in a stupid accident in the South African Grand Prix in 1977. But he was a wonderful guy and we really enjoyed that racing weekend all those years ago.
"I asked my wife to come back with me to Trois-Rivieres this weekend because it's special to me. The people are warm and friendly; the city has a major festival for the race with a great fireworks display, and it's a wonderful experience to come here. So I asked her to come here with me this weekend.
"I told Billy I don't care about the points; I don't care about the money we're spending; all I want to do is win. And he said "I'm with you 100 percent."
"So, that was the foundation of the weekend.
"I had to go qualify near the front of the field, because at this track it's hard to pass. One of our sponsors, Stop-Tech, gave us special brakes for this race, because this track is so hard on brakes. So I qualified sixth, which is pretty good.
"I didn't get a very good start in the race, but then it settled down and I was doing OK. Then it started to rain, and the track got really slippery. We were sideways, left and right; I had my hands full. I kept telling myself, 'You don't set the table for Billy by putting it in the wall.'
"The game plan was that as soon as the first yellow came out, we'd come in for the driver change. I don't know how long it was but about 10 or 12 laps in we had a full-course yellow, I came in, the team had a great pit stop, Billy got in and he did a terrific job. It was the most exciting race that I ever saw in my life.
"Bill Auberlen and Andy Lally are the two best sports car drivers in North America, and in the last 15 or 20 minutes of the race they went at it tooth and nail and never touched each other. Andy's car was a little better, but Billy held him off. I ordered DVDs of this race because it was so classic; you just won't believe it. Billy held him off and won by a nose, but it was clean and it was absolutely exciting.
"We had a great time with the victory circle celebration and the press conference afterwards. They gave us a proper bottle of French champagne in victory circle. My wife was in the pick-up truck that they took us around in afterwards to see the fans. It was the best win I've ever had in my life. I can't believe it!
"This is my 20th race with Turner Motorsport and we've won four; that's a very good ratio. But both Andy and Billy did a great job. Andy tried all kinds of tricks but they never touched, and that's what real pro racing is all about. Billy said Andy has a special talent; they both have a lot of mutual respect for each other. I'm just honored and pleased to be driving with Billy and against a guy like Andy; it's very special to be part of what happened here today. This is what auto racing is all about."
-credit: restart communications