Champions! Automatic Racing Wins KONI Challenge Team and Driver Titles ALTON, Va. -- Automatic Racing's Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal are the 2007 KONI Challenge Grand Sport driver champions after a dramatic end to the season during Sunday's ...
Champions! Automatic Racing Wins KONI Challenge Team and Driver Titles
ALTON, Va. -- Automatic Racing's Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal are the 2007 KONI Challenge Grand Sport driver champions after a dramatic end to the season during Sunday's six-hour race at Virginia International Raceway. Automatic Racing also clinched the GS team championship and helped BMW earn the manufacturer title once again with the success of the No. 09 Fresh from Florida/Automatic Racing BMW M3.
In addition, Tom Long and David Russell earned their first podium of the season, finishing third in the No. 99 Fresh from Florida BMW M3. They led much of the race, and Long was at the front as the endurance race wound down, but a late pit stop for a splash of fuel resulted in a finish of third.
Thornton and Segal only had to finish 20th in order to secure Automatic Racing's first championship if contender Joe Foster won the race, and things were going according to plan for the first three hours. Shortly after the halfway mark, though, the transmission linkage on the No. 09 broke, leaving the car stranded on the track.
Nick Longhi, who joined Thornton and Segal for the race, got an extra hand from Jon Miller, who was behind the wheel of the No. 90 Automatic Racing BMW. Miller put his own racing effort on hold to pull over behind Longhi, then slowly pushed his sister car back to the pits.
From there, the team got to work on the linkage, and in just 13 minutes the No. 09 BMW was back in the race. At the checkered flag, the team's 23rd-place finish was enough to give them the team championship, and Thornton and Segal the driver title.
"We've had two mechanical problems in the last two races of the year, and the team got us back out so we could stay in the points," said Thornton. "We only lost seven laps under green. Needless to say I'm over the moon, and really relieved.
"Joe Varde told us when he came on as team manager that we could win a championship in two years. He followed through and here we are. It was an honor to compete at the end with Joe Foster. He's a gentleman and a friend."
"It's awesome to get the championship, though of course when we broke we thought we'd thrown it away," said Segal. "The team really came through. Winning it like that really made it a team effort."
Russell and Long were elated to get their long-deserved podium, which comes after six top-ten finishes this season and three poles. "It was the perfect way to end the season, and we finally got our podium, which is what we wanted for the weekend," said Russell. "Our podium and the championship really belong to the team: they really were committed to this fight."
"The crew really prevailed," agreed Long. "The team is so important in a six-hour race. Matt and Joe had great calls and the crew really came through to keep us at the front. David did a great job in the middle of the race; he took us from the top ten to the top three. We put on our last set of tires and I just drove my heart out."
Miller and Owen Trinkler drove to a finish of 16th in the No. 90 BMW after their assistance to the No. 09 BMW. "I saw the 09 car pull off and I thought I was seeing things," said Miller. "Luckily I didn't have to push him far, and I was there right when he broke."
Tim George, Jr. and Conrad Grunewald drove to a finish of 17th in the No. 91 Automatic Racing M3. George was running in eighth when a punctured tire forced him to limp the BMW to the pits, losing a lap. "Performance-wise, our weekend went well," commented George. "It's unfortunate about the tire, but we kept clicking off laps and we did all right."
-credit: automatic racing