Automatic Racing Drivers Shine at Miller; Dane Cameron Debuts
TOOELE, Utah -- The KONI Challenge race at Miller Motorsports Park had some challenges and disappointment for Automatic Racing, but Sunday's race was a chance to show off how much talent is on the team.
Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub led the charge this weekend in the No. 91 Automatic Racing BMW M3. Putman qualified a solid seventh, the quickest of the Automatic drivers. He and Espenlaub kept the car near the front during the race, and with ten minutes remaining Espenlaub was in second place. The duo's hopes for a podium finish were dashed when contact from another car took the No. 91 M3 out of the race with the checkered flag just minutes away.
"The late-race yellow closed up the field, and the worst happened," said Putman. "Our car was super, and we knew we had a shot at doing well. It was really a good weekend; those racing things just happen. We have to judge the weekend by our performance, not by our results, and the performance was great this weekend, especially by the crew."
Championship defenders Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal had better luck in the No. 09 Imported Car Store/Rogue Engineering/LandAir/Engine Music Studios BMW M3. Thornton qualified 12th but quickly moved into the top 10 during the opening laps of the race, and after Segal took over he put down fast laps to cross the finish line in eighth.
The race at Miller was far better than the previous round at New Jersey, where Thornton and Segal slipped out of the championship lead after a crash. The other championship challengers finished well at Miller, also, and now the No. 09 drivers are in a tight battle for the title with four other drivers.
"In my stint at the beginning we were running almost identical to how the race ended," said Thornton. "All of us in contention for the championship finished near each other, so the points are even closer heading into our last race. This is the best championship race since 2004."
"I'm disappointed with the finish, and this is really going to make things interesting at the season finale in two weeks," said Segal, who headed for Las Vegas after the race in search of some better luck.
Rob Finlay had a new co-driver in the No. 99 Mobile-Shop.com BMW M3. Steve Cameron was under the weather this weekend, so his nephew Dane Cameron stepped in as a substitute. It marked the young talent's KONI Challenge debut, and he proved that racing runs in the family by turning competitive times despite having never driven the car before. Sadly, the team's day ended early because of mechanical woes.
"Dane had never driven the car and he did a great job," said Finlay, adding that Cameron is a part of the Finlay Motorsports Driver Development Program. "He put in some really fast laps and we got to showcase his performance. We had rotten luck again, and are hoping for better results at VIR."
The season finale will be a six-hour enduro at Virginia International Raceway on Saturday, October 4, where Thornton and Segal hope to give Automatic Racing another championship.