Auberlen, Alhadeff Give Turner Motorsport Second Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Win at Miller Motorsports Park; Auberlen passes Wilson in Turn 1 on the race's final restart for team's first 2008 victory
TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 21, 2008) - Bill Auberlen dived underneath Kris Wilson in Turn 1 on Lap 40 of Sunday's 44-lap Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series race and held on to give himself, co-driver Matthew Alhadeff and the Turner Motorsport its second straight Grand Sport (GS) victory at Miller Motorsports Park and the team's first victory of 2008.
Auberlen bunched up behind Wilson during the second and final caution period - brought out when Steve Kent and the No. 138 stopped on course after losing a wheel - then on the restart went right then left and past Wilson, who led the race in two different cars for 15 laps. From there, Auberlen pulled away, and was benefited even more when Wilson and Charles Espenlaub - battling for second - made heavy contact. Espenlaub's No. 91 Automatic Racing BMW M3 fell to the wayside, while Wilson's No. 26 C-MAX/Unitech Racing Porsche 997 soldiered on slowly until the checkered flag flew.
With Spencer Pumpelly and Billy Johnson chasing for second, Auberlen easily drove away, winning by 4.009 seconds. Auberlen had run third as late as Lap 36, before leader Andy Lally pulled off the track with a blown engine.
But it wasn't a completely trouble-free race for the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 of Auberlen and Alhadeff. While fighting for fourth, Alhadeff and incoming point co-leader Bret Seafuse in the No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shursave Ford Mustang GT nearly made contact. Seafuse spun off, with Alhadeff stayed out of trouble and continued on. After restarting 26th, Seafuse moved back through the field to a best of fourth before pitting, and he and co-driver James Gue finished sixth, losing the point lead. Meanwhile, Alhadeff - who qualified eighth - remained in the top five until he pitted.
Despite pitting at the completion of the race's pace lap due to a shredded engine belt, Duncan Ende moved into the top 10 during his stint, and co-driver Pumpelly, a former GS race winner at Miller, moved to second at the checkered flag in the No. 39 TRG Carlsen Porsche/The DigiTrust Group Porsche 997. The team fixed the problem and Ende was in danger of falling down a lap before the first of two full course cautions came out.
Third-place finisher Johnson earned his third straight podium finish and co-driver Ray Mason his second podium in three races in the No. 52 Rehagen Racing Columbus Truck & Equipment Ford Mustang GT, as Mustangs took the next five positions. Johnson also moved to within 19 points of the lead. Joe Foster and Scott Maxwell took over the point lead in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT with a fourth-place finish, one spot ahead of Mike Canney and Hugh Plumb in the No. 60 Rehagen Racing Sunset Hills Vineyard Ford Mustang GT.
Foster and Maxwell pulled out a one-point lead (222-221) over Seafuse and Gue, as the race failed to do much in deciding the championship. Defending series champion Jeff Segal led one lap as he and co-driver and fellow reigning champ Jep Thornton finished eighth in the No. 09 Automatic Racing Imported Car Store/Land Air BMW M3. Together, with ninth-place Miller finisher Craig Stanton in the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Performance Drink/Weeden Consultants Porsche 997, the trio is tied with 213 points. Stanton's co-driver Jon Miller owns 204 points.
Twelve drivers remain mathematically in contention for the championship with only the six-hour race next month at Virginia International Raceway.
Curran, Holtom win KONI Challenge ST race
Eric Curran returned to KONI Challenge Series Street Tuner (ST) class for the first time since July at Watkins Glen International, but showed no signs of rust in giving himself and point leader Jamie Holtom their second straight Miller victory in the No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
Curran took the lead when Matt Plumb pitted for fuel on Lap 33, then earned to a .872 second victory over Ian Baas in the No. 171 APR Motorsport APR/BBS Volkswagen GTI. It was the first-ever podium finish for APR Motorsport and Baas's co-driver Dion von Moltke.
Holtom, who now owns a season-high four ST victories, enters the season finale at VIR with a 29-point lead (252-223) over Kristian Skavnes and Kuno Wittmer, and needs only a 25th-place finish at the six-hour race. Skavnes, who had to pit for fuel late in the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy he shared with Andrew Aquilante. Skavnes and Aquilante finished 21st. Wittmer, co-driving the No. 32 i-MOTO Racing Cybernation/Alpinestar Acura TSX with Peter Cunningham, finished eighth. Only Holtom, Skavnes and Wittmer remain mathematically eligible for the ST driving title.
Georgian Bay's success wasn't limited to Curran and Holtom's triumph. The team's No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports T.T.L. Chevrolet Cobalt SS, co-driven by Kirk Spencer and Ashley McCalmont, finished third. McCalmont, in her first season on the KONI Challenge circuit, was running fifth when she turned the car over to Spencer during the team's final pit stop. Despite falling out of the top 10, Spencer took advantage of other drivers who hadn't stopped and the race's final caution period to take third.
Freedom Autosport drivers Rhett O'Doski and Tom Long finished fourth in the No. 146 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, while Matt Pritiko and Robert Boyer gave Chevrolet its third top five with a fifth in the No. 53 Predator Auto Sport Auto Tech Chevrolet Cobalt.
Two cautions slowed the race's pace to 77.467 mph.
The season finales for the KONI Challenge Series GS and ST classes, both six hours, are Oct. 4 and 5 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va.
POST-RACE DRIVER QUOTES
Bill Auberlen (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3; GS race winner): "It was necessary (to win). The team needed it. Turner is like a fish out of water when they don't get to the top spot in victory lane, and we needed to be there a few times this year. We didn't quick make it, and now we got it today. At the end, after the last restart, I had a plan in my mind on where I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it sooner rather than later, because I didn't want to expose myself to other people. So I committed and jammed it in there. We went wheel to wheel, and I think it pushed Kris a little wide. Then a BMW got under him, those two guys got together, and I had a nice clean trip from there on."
Matthew Alhadeff (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3; GS race winner): "It's pretty cool, winning this race two straight year. Turner Motorsports made an awesome car once again. We went straight to the front at the start and never looked back from there. It was a lot of fun. Bill made a great pass at the end of the race, and I couldn't ask for anything else from a teamamte. It's great to drive with this guy and this team. We're loving it, man."
Spencer Pumpelly (No. 39 TRG Porsche 997; GS second place): "I don't think I had anything with Bill Auberlen. He did a good job out there at the end. We had a great car, everything was working right with it near the end, but by the time I got through the traffic -- Kris Wilson and Charles Espenlaub, there was too much of a gap."
Duncan Ende (No. 39 TRG Porsche 997; GS second place): "On the pre-grid, we found we shredded part of our belt on the engine. We had 85 percent of it left, and they debated if they should replace it. We couldn't get it done there, so I peeled off at the start and went from third to dead, dead, dead last. So I had my work cut out. But the guys gave me a great car. The field was cooperative letting me pass them. There were a few interesting moments, but the car held up and I got it up to fourth when I turned it over to Spencer. We didn't go down a lap (at the start) but we did go down three minutes. That's about as close (to getting lapped) as you could get. So we needed that yellow. On the driver change, we had a problem with the air gun on the right rear and lost at least 15-20 seconds there."
Billy Johnson (No. 52 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT; GS third place): "I'm pretty happy - that's our third straight podium."
Ray Mason (No. 52 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT; GS third place): "I had a great start and kept it there. We just kept banging away. Some of the big pros got past me, and it worked out just great. Once again, Billy Johnson brought it to the front."
Joe Foster (No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT; GS fourth place, new GS point leader): "This was a different race for us than normal. We started farther back. We've been struggling with setup all through qualifying. All we could do was rely on strategy and not making mistakes on getting the car up there as far as we can. I got it up to third after starting 12th. Not too bad."
Bret Seafuse (No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shursave Ford Mustang GT; GS sixth place): "I messed up early in the race. I was trying to get around the Turner car, and I didn't want to hit him, so I got on the brakes a little harder than I anticipated, and we just went around. Mistake on my part. The car was really good. It's too bad that happened, because we probably would have been in better shape. But we'll take it. Hopefully, I made a good enough recovery from that mistake."
James Gue (No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shursave Ford Mustang GT; GS sixth place): "It was an okay race. We beat three of the four guys we were chasing, but something went off with our handling near the end. We should have been a little farther up, so I'm not thrilled with the result."
Eric Curran (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt; ST race winner): "It was a good day. Just like last year here, Georgian Bay Motorsports put together an awesome Chevy Cobalt SS. I couldn't be happier. Jamie Holtom, my teammate, is leading the championship. He's done a great job. It's been a tough three years trying to get to this point. We still haven't won it, but we're in real good shape. I think we're leading all three of the championships. There were some strong cars today. The Volkswagens are coming on strong. I didn't know if I had enough for them at the end, but GS lapped traffic helped me get away. Near the end, Matt Plumb did a great job. That Acura is super fast. It was good to run with him. He's a good friend of mine and a great driver to battle with."
Jamie Holtom (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt; ST race winner): "It couldn't have gotten any better. We knew we had a bit of an advantage with the turbocharged car, because the turbocharger doesn't lose too much power. When you have an advantage, you have to make good on it. I'm happy for Eric, and glad Georgian Bay Motorsports was able to bring home a win today."
Ian Baas (No. 171 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GTI; ST second place): "Initially, I got out there and I was under the impression we had to pit again. So I was going to push as hard as I can to try to close the gap on Curran. I ended up closing the gap to 11 seconds and then it went double yellow. We had about 25 minutes to go, so we decided to pit if the 01 pitted. They didn't, so we conserved fuel the rest of the way. It felt like the end of a 24-hour race. I was conserving, short shifting, doing everything I could to conserve - and I knew Curran was doing the same thing. We were playing on each other's speed and trying to read each other. The last six corners I made a run for it and closed up the gap, but there wasn't enough time. I'm happy with second to bring the team its first podium. It's been a long time coming."
Dion von Moltke (No. 171 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GTI; ST second place): "It was amazing. This was a long time coming. I'm speechless right now. I was first through my whole stint. Through the whole season, Ian's been doing a great job, the crew did an awesome job. Wow, finally, a podium. It's amazing."
Kirk Spencer (No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt; ST third place): "It feels great. Ashley did a great job all weekend. We came in early to get a little track time, and she kept getting faster and faster. She did a good job during the first part and we just brought it home. A great day for Georgian Bay Motorsports."
Ashley McCalmont (No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt; ST third place): "We had a good start and I was trying to keep it clean. The restart was a little hairy. At the end, I brought it in fifth and Kirk brought it back in third. I'm real happy."