ASCHENBACH AND THILENIUS FINISH THIRD IN UTAH TO SECURE SECOND STRAIGHT GRAND-AM CHAMPIONSHIP FOR COMPASS360 RACING (Tooele, UT) -- Heading into Grand-Am's Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge final round, you'd have forgiven David Thilenius...
ASCHENBACH AND THILENIUS FINISH THIRD IN UTAH TO SECURE SECOND STRAIGHT GRAND-AM CHAMPIONSHIP FOR COMPASS360 RACING
(Tooele, UT) -- Heading into Grand-Am's Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge final round, you'd have forgiven David Thilenius and Lawson Aschenbach for being happy with their second-place position in the championship. With the series' leader 19 points ahead, the duo, who drive Compass360 Racing's #74 Skunk2/HPD Honda Civic Si, felt it unlikely that they could take the top spot. But in one of the most dramatic season finales in Grand-Am series' history, Aschenbach and Thilenius ended up standing atop the standings, capping off an exciting season of racing across North America.
C360R's four orange Hondas performed well during practice, notching fastest time in early sessions. The team's #76 car was involved in a massive shunt on the Thursday, and despite the valiant efforts of the crew, it was deemed to be impossible to repair and the entry was withdrawn, leaving the remaining three cars to battle on Saturday's race.
Thilenius qualified #74 in fifth, while Zach Lutz was 10th in #75 JC Concrete entry and Carlos Tesler-Mabe put the Exclusive Management / Carmen & Camille #77 in 17th.
On race day, all eyes were on the point-leading #81 BMW. The battle between them and the #74 and #75 C360R cars had been epic all season long, and the Bimmerworld entry was in the catbird seat for the finale. The race started, and almost immediately #81 was in the pits to replace a broken differential. After such a solidly reliable season, this was an unexpected turn of events, and the Compass360 crew, led by Technical Director Ray Lee, were ready. The team made perfect strategy calls in the early going which put closing drivers Aschenbach, Ryan Eversley in #75 and Greg Liefooghe in #77 into the top ten in the last half hour of the two-and-a-half-hour contest.
With #81 back out and quickly making up places it was clear that if #74 was to win the championship, Aschenbach would have to finish on the podium. Unfortunately, the VW of Ian Baas, the Mini of Owen Trinkler and the Mazda of Andrew Carbonell had better pace and #74 dropped to fourth place, with #75 right behind in fifth. With fifteen minutes to go, Carbonell's motor expired, giving #74 a one-point lead over the BMW.
And then, with two laps to go, #81 improved one position to 20th place, and the statisticians went utterly mad. As the checkered flag flew, with #74 on the podium in third, the championship battle was a tie: both teams had 274 points. With two wins and two second-place finishes each, it came down to third-place finishes, and the third at Miller was the tie-breaker. Incredibly, Compass360 Racing had won its second Driver and Team championship in a row. And for the third time in the last four seasons, C360R delivered Honda (or Acura) the Manufacturer's Championship.
"I'm speechless," exclaimed Thilenius. "It seems like I've been sitting here the last six hours waiting for Lawson to win this race for us. I came here this weekend and we were so far back in the points I didn't even go through and think of all the scenarios on how we could win or lose it. Our crew just pushed and pushed all year, and my co-driver is awesome. Right from the beginning, we were here for the championship and I can't believe we got this far."
Eversley brought the #75 car home in fourth place, securing third place in the Driver's and Team Championships for he and Lutz, who finished a close second in the Mesco Rookie of the Year standings. "This is my first year in Grand-Am after running Mustang Challenge, and these Compass guys are amazing," enthused Lutz. "Ray and Wheeler and the boys just do everything right, race after race. When the 81 went out, Ryan was ready to do what he could to support Dave and Lawson's championship, and they did it. To finish third in the championship my first time out is a dream come true."
Liefooghe crossed the line in 11th place, after having been up to seventh before contact with a back-marker GS car shuffled him down the order. "It's been a great season with the Compass360 team," he said. "They bring their best every weekend and I'm looking forward to going for a championship next year."
For Team Principal Karl Thomson, it's proof positive that the team philosophy works. "I believe if you bring the best people together and give them the opportunity to excel, they will deliver," he said. "Ray leads this amazing team and they've shown that they can be top dog year after year, against the best teams in the business. The level of competition in the Grand-Am paddock is so very, very high, and to be able to win is a real accomplishment. I'm so very proud of our guys, and of how we've managed to deliver once again for Honda!"
The celebration will continue for the next few weeks, with Grand-Am's Continental banquet being held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC on October 9th. The 2011 Grand-Am season begins in earnest with Test Days at Daytona in early January. Expect a full contingent of orange C360R Hondas to be there, ready to defend their championship...