Auberlen Leads Team to VIR Finale Win as Segal, Thornton, Fresh From Florida/Automatic Racing and BMW Take Titles ALTON, Va. (October 7, 2007) -- Bill Auberlen and Chris Gleason won their third race of the year in the No. 96 Turner...
Auberlen Leads Team to VIR Finale Win as Segal, Thornton, Fresh From Florida/Automatic Racing and BMW Take Titles
ALTON, Va. (October 7, 2007) -- Bill Auberlen and Chris Gleason won their third race of the year in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 in the season-ending Grand-Am KONI Challenge GS Six Hour at Virginia International Raceway Sunday as Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal overcame a mechanical scare to take the 2007 Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series GS Driver and Team Championships in the No. 09 Fresh From Florida/Automatic Racing BMW M3.
Auberlen -- who also co-drove with Joey Hand who led 20 laps today and scored his second-straight Grand-Am KONI GS win -- took the lead for his first and only time with 20 minutes to go when the race-leading No. 99 Fresh From Florida/Automatic Racing BMW M3 of Tom Long made a final pit stop for a splash of fuel. Long continued in second and was later passed by the No. 38 BGB Porsche 997 of Craig Stanton on the last lap, but neither driver had anything for the leader.
"We came here to end the year with a win and take home a championship (for BMW)," Auberlen said. "I can't say enough about Turner Motorsport, they win wherever they go."
Auberlen crossed the finish line 23.891 seconds ahead of Stanton while Long and teammate David Russell scored their best finish of the season with a third-place showing. Stanton and teammate Hugh Plumb combined to lead a total of 19 laps while Long and Russell set the pace up front for 16 laps.
The race's lap leader, however, was not there at the finish. Polesitter Spencer Pumpelly, backed up by teammates Michael Auriemma and Darren Law, led a race-high 48 laps but the No. 49 Marcus Motorsports Porsche 997 retired with throttle linkage problems with 90 minutes to go. Another race-leader, the No. 42 TRG Porsche 997 of Bryan Sellers and Dan DiLeo also saw their day end just after the two-hour mark with transmission trouble after leading 22 laps. Their teammates Ted Ballou and Andy Lally also led 20 laps in the No. 41 TRG Porsche 997 only to retire with mechanical issues of their own with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Another race leader was the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang of Colin Braun, Jack Roush Jr. and Dean Martin that finished a strong fourth in the race after Braun led three different times for a total of six laps.
Racing competitively but not worrying about leading or winning the race, the No. 09 team was quietly running on pace with the leaders when near disaster struck. Nick Longhi -- who was brought in to help Thornton, Segal and Automatic win the championships -- was behind the wheel of the No. 09 when the shift linkage snapped 30 minutes past the halfway point. After actually being pushed back to the pits by his Automatic Racing teammate Jon Miller in the No. 90 BMW M3, the No. 09 team lost nearly 15 minutes and seven laps during repairs, and for a few moments it looked like Joe Foster and the No. 55 Hyper Sport/SuperCuts Mustang might have a championship chance. Soon after Segal drove the repaired No. 09 back on track, however, Foster's teammate Charles Espenlaub brought the No. 55 Mustang in the pits for a brake pad change, and the team went a lap down.
"It was a crazy day for us," Thornton said. "We knew that we needed to come here prepared after the mechanical issues that we faced at Miller, so we had a garage on hand that had every imaginable part ready. When the shift linkage broke, it only took the team 13 minutes to repair it and get us back on track. We really owe this to the team."
Although they finished a season's worst 23rd and 15 positions behind the No. 55 Mustang, it was enough to clinch both the Grand-Am KONI Challenge GS Driver and Team Championships for the No. 09 Fresh From Florida/Automatic Racing BMW M3 squad.
"This is just awesome, the crew did a great job," Segal said. "This really is a championship for the team. It took a lot of hard work but we were able to squeeze it out. We were hoping it wouldn't be this dramatic, but we'll take it any way we can get it."
Although they failed to win a race this year, Segal and Thornton led the series in consistency and finished in the top 10 in nine of 12 races, including seven top-fives and four top-three podium finishes. In the end, the Fresh From Florida/Automatic Racing No. 09 team clinched both the Driver and Team titles with 287 points, 10 ahead of Foster and the No. 55 Hyper Sport team that took Driver and Team Championship runner-up honors. Craig Stanton finished third in the Drivers Championship with 273 points while the No. 38 BGB Porsche team captured third in the Team Championship with the same point total.
The Grand-Am KONI Challenge Manufacturer Championship went to BMW that sealed the crown on the strength of Turner Motorsport's four wins and Automatic Racing/Fresh From Florida's consistency. BMW ended the year with 382 points, 22 points ahead of second-place finisher Ford.