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Autobahn: Series round six preview

World Challenge Begins Second Half of Season at Autobahn JOLIET, Ill. (July 23, 2009) -- The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge begins the second half of the 2009 season this weekend with the first professional racing event held at the...

World Challenge Begins Second Half of Season at Autobahn

JOLIET, Ill. (July 23, 2009) -- The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge begins the second half of the 2009 season this weekend with the first professional racing event held at the Autobahn Country Club, in Joliet, Ill--the Harrah's Autobahn Grand Prix Presented by Mazda.

In SPEED World Challenge GT, all eyes are on point leader Brandon Davis and his No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/SunMicroSystems Ford Mustang to see if he can break through to victory lane for the first time this year in the SPEED World Challenge GT Autobahn Grand Prix Presented by the Blackdog Speed Shop. Davis is the only driver to qualify in the top five of every race and has a season-high two pole positions. However, both pole positions were lost in the post-qualifying coin flip, which Davis called incorrectly, inverting the top five positions on the grid.

It's been a rollercoaster season for James Sofronas, and despite a pair of start line stalls, he finds himself second in points, 34 behind Davis, entering Round Six. Sofronas drove to a hometown victory at Long Beach in his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, and added a podium finish at Watkins Glen on July 4 to make up for disappointing finishes at New Jersey and Mosport.

Former Champion Andy Pilgrim has transitioned nicely to a new team (K-PAX Racing) and new mount (Volvo S60) in 2009 and enters Autobahn third in points, 16 behind Sofronas. After a race of survival in the new Volvo at Sebring, Pilgrim ran off four-straight good runs, highlighted by a win at New Jersey in May.

Fourth in points, Tony Rivera is hoping the start of the second half of the season begins as the first half did. Rivera won in his series debut in the No. 97 Tax Masters/Mirage Group Porsche 911 GT3, but has struggled since with a new car the team introduced at Round Two. The team believes they have solved the handling issues that have plagued them since Long Beach, and hope that an Autobahn test last month will help them get back to the front.

Second only to Davis in qualifying points, Eric Curran is also looking to break into victory lane for the first time in 2009. Fifth in points, Curran also tested his No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette at the 3.56-mile, 18-turn course and should be a favorite to make the podium. Like Curran, defending series Champion Randy Pobst hopes Autobahn will be his chance to break into victory lane for the first time in his No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60.

Tony Gaples, of nearby Liberty, Ill., dropped from sixth to 10th in the standings when he missed the Watkins Glen Round, but returns in his No. 34 Kleinschmidt/Blackdog Racing Chevrolet Corvette this weekend in hopes of continuing what has been a career-best season thus far. In continuing with its season-long tradition of supporting local charities, Blackdog Racing will be raising awareness and funding for the Northern Illinois Foodbank at Round Six.

While the aforementioned drivers have a Championship to chase, two new faces could play spoiler on the new circuit.

Autobahn will mark the much-anticipated debut of the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Mercedes-Benz SLR 722 GT with Grand-Am Rolex ace Spencer Pumpelly behind the wheel. Additionally, former Trans-Am standout Mike Borkowski will pilot the second car out of Gunter Schaldach's Lala Motorsports camp--the No. 23 Dodge Viper.

While Davis has a nice cushion in the Drivers' Championship, strength in numbers has helped Porsche sit atop the World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine, with 35 points. Ford is second, with 24, followed by Chevrolet (21), Volvo (18) and Dodge (15).

Mazda was the main force behind the development of the race weekend and it would only be fitting for a MAZDA6 to be out front when the checkered flag falls on the SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Autobahn Grand Prix Presented by Mazda.

Last year's Rookie of the Year, Jason Saini, leads the World Challenge Touring Car point standings in his No. 74 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6, but the lead that was once sizeable has been reduced to just three (478 to 475) over four-time Champion Pierre Kleinubing. What's more, Kleinubing hasn't won a race in 14 events--one shy of his longest drought, meaning it's just a matter of time before the Brazilian-born star wheels his No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX into victory lane.

The only driver to win more than one World Challenge race this year is Seth Thomas. The driver of the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i started the season with a win at Sebring and became the first repeat winner of the season at Watkins Glen to help propel him to third in the points, just three behind Kleinubing.

But when it comes to the first visit to a race track in World Challenge competition, the smart money at Harrah's is on five-time and defending series Champion Peter Cunningham. No driver this weekend has won more races at the first visit to a venue than Cunningham, with 10. Cunningham has already stood atop the podium once this year, winning the second race at Mosport in his No. 1 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX. Cunningham is just 23 points out of the lead.

The drivers fifth through seventh in the Championship hope the second half of the season brings more consistency. Kuno Wittmer (No. 44 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX) won at Mosport but has only one other top five finish to date. Charles Espenlaub (No. 73 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6) appears to be righting the ship that was off course early with a pair of runner-up finishes in the last two races. Finally, top rookie Eric Foss (No. 75 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6) has shown that he has the speed, with a pair of poles at Mosport, but has only cracked the top five once this year, at Sebring.

Other drivers to keep an eye on include Nick Esayian (BMW 328i), who had a career-best finish of fourth at Watkins Glen and was fast all weekend, and Andrew Aquilante (Subaru WRX), who has a pair of third-place finishes in just three 2009 starts.

The Drivers' Championship isn't the only tight race in Touring Car, as the Manufacturers' Championship presented by RACER Magazine is tightening up as well, with Acura holding a three-point lead over Mazda 36 to 33. BMW is third, with 22.

Official SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge practice at Autobahn Country Club begins Friday at 8:40 a.m. Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday, with Touring Car making its standing start at 10:25 a.m. (CDT) and the GT race beginning at 3:10 p.m. (CDT). Live timing, session notes and streaming audio is available at www.world-challenge.com. Both races will air on SPEED Tuesday, August 18 at 2 p.m. (EDT). Follow World Challenge on Twitter at twitter.com/SPEEDWC.

-credit: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Andy Pilgrim , Randy Pobst , Pierre Kleinubing , Peter Cunningham , Eric Curran , Charles Espenlaub , Tony Rivera , Nick Esayian , Kuno Wittmer , James Sofronas , Tony Gaples , Seth Thomas , Brandon Davis , Jason Saini , Gunter Schaldach , Andrew Aquilante , Eric Foss
Teams Blackdog Speed Shop , Global Motorsports Group