Gleason, Auberlen and Hand Win Six-Hour KONI Challenge GS Season Finale Sunday at VIR ALTON, Va., Oct. 7 - Chris Gleason, Bill Auberlen, Joey Hand and the crew of the Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 96 battled back from early adversity to win the...
Gleason, Auberlen and Hand Win Six-Hour KONI Challenge GS Season Finale Sunday at VIR
ALTON, Va., Oct. 7 - Chris Gleason, Bill Auberlen, Joey Hand and the crew of the Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 96 battled back from early adversity to win the six-hour KONI Challenge GS season finale Sunday at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR).
Although the entry's drivers weren't in contention for the championship, they put in a championship performance to win the grueling contest. They turned the challenging, 3.27-mile road course 162 times in the course of the six hours, with Auberlen taking the checkered flag 23.891 seconds before Craig Stanton did the same with his Porsche. The top five entries in the 32-car race finished on the lead lap.
Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa.; Auberlen, of Redondo Beach, Calif.; and Hand, of Sacramento, Calif., finished third in this race last year.
Auberlen and Hand both competed in the Petit Le Mans American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., on Saturday, leaving Gleason to handle the preliminary work at VIR. The team struggled to find a good set-up and Gleason did not qualify as high as he'd hope to, running some 2 seconds off polesitter Stanton's time to qualify 26th.
Gleason got off to a great start in the race though, passing an incredible seven cars on the first lap to move into 22nd place. He got one more driver, Eric Lux, on the second lap. He took 20th on lap three by passing his team owner, Will Turner. He got one more car on lap four to be timed in 19th spot on that lap, running between Owen Trinkler's BMW and Bret Seafuse's Mustang GT.
Unfortunately Gleason and Seafuse made side-to-side contact at Turn 14 on lap six, just 11 minutes into the race, with Gleason's BMW suffering right-front fender damage. He dropped back to 25th spot and then fell two more spots before he pitted on lap 11 so the Turner Motorsport crew could make emergency repairs with about a half-hour gone.
Auberlen started his first stint in 30th place, one lap down. Instead of throwing up his hands, he firmly took control of the steering wheel and focused on his work. Hand did the same thing as he and Auberlen took turns driving the rest of the race.
With some smart pit strategy they got back on the lead lap about a third of the way through the race. Hand put the car into the lead for the first time on lap 117, four hours and 26 minutes into the race, when David Russell pitted. Hand led 20 laps in all with the BMW, which is sponsored in part by Gleason Fianancial.
Auberlen took the lead for his first and only time with 20 minutes to go under a similar situation when Tom Long pitted his BMW for a splash of fuel. Long continued in second and was later passed by Stanton on the last lap, but Auberlen was too far ahead for either of them to catch him.
Hand joins the entry for the series' longest races. It was Auberlen and Gleason's third victory of the year.
"We chased the car all weekend, and didn't qualify well," Gleason explained afterwards. "Will Turner had a difficult time too and neither Turner car qualified in the top 10, which was very unusual. The format of this race worked in our favor, because in a six-hour race it doesn't really matter where you start.
"This morning we sent Bill out to due the reconnaissance laps to see if he could find out what we were missing with the set-up," Gleason said. "He discovered that we had a brake problem; it was binding on the rotor or something. We changed brake pads before the race. If we hadn't, we would have been out right away.
"I got a pretty good start; I passed a lot of cars on the outside in the first turn," Gleason continued. "Then at the end of the straightaway another driver and I both went for the same piece of pavement and there was contact. I thought 'Oh no! Here I am, trying to keep the car in one piece for Bill and Joey, and this happens!'
"I took it around a couple more laps, and discovered an issue with one of the tires. We had a slow leak. I came in and we changed the tires, did some bodywork repairs, and I turned it over to Bill.
"I have to compliment the entire Turner Motorsport crew," Gleason continued. "All the pit stops were within 35 seconds. When you consider on some of them we were doing driver changes and getting fuel and tires, that's really saying some. One of our other advantages was that we had Don Salama calling the race for us. He did all the pitstop strategy, and he also did a fabulous job.
"The first thing we needed to accomplish was to make up that lost lap," Gleason explained. "It took a good hour and a half to two hours before we had enough full-course cautions where we could get back on the lead lap. Don's strategy came into play there. Some teams had some bad luck and both Bill and Joey drove great, and it all worked out in the end.
"I didn't contribute much to this particular victory, but it's an honor to be part of this team and to be able to drive with Bill and Joey," Gleason added. "The Turner Motorsport team has a record of excellence over the years. Will Turner provides a lot of leadership, and everybody likes each other. I'm just privileged that I can participate in this culture and have this success.
"It was a wonderful way to end the season," he concluded. "Turner Motorsport clinched its second consecutive ST championship on Saturday, and two of its drivers, Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood, won the drivers' title. They remind me of what it was like when I was that young. It was a big accomplishment, and that's what life is all about.
"Then we won today, which was my third win this year; you can't complain about that," he added. "Now we look forward to the Daytona season opener in 2008."
-credit: restart communications