CENTENNIAL, Colo. (October 22, 2002)--The 2002 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car Championships enter their final Rounds of competition this weekend as part of the VIR SpeedFest Presented by the Justin Bell GT Motorsports ...
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (October 22, 2002)--The 2002 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car Championships enter their final Rounds of competition this weekend as part of the VIR SpeedFest Presented by the Justin Bell GT Motorsports Experience at VIRginia International Raceway, in Alton, Va. While the Rookie of the Year honors for both classes and the GT Manufacturers' Championship have been clinched prior to the weekend, several major awards, including the two Drivers' Champions, will be decided at the series' first-ever visit to the 3.27-mile circuit.
SPEED GT Drivers' Championship
Born in Italy and now residing in N. Olmstead, Ohio, Michael Galati can become the first-ever five-time World Challenge Drivers' Champion if he finishes seventh or better, no matter what his competition does. Peter Cunningham, of W. Bend, Wis., is the only driver who can take the title from Galati, similar to the scenario one year ago. A good result by Galati's No. 1 Champion Racing Audi S4 Competition is a good bet, considering the Galati/Audi combination hasn't been out of the top-10 since October 15, 2000. However, Galati thinks a win is likely out of the question.
"I believe the rules favor the other cars," said Galati. "When you look at things on paper, we have smaller tires and we weigh more than everyone else. If we win the Championship, this is entirely due to this team's effort.
"We're going to approach this race like any other. It's a long way to get to this Championship. Anything can happen though, so you have to take it one race at a time."
Galati's 246 points thus far have come from three wins, four poles and seven top fives in nine races. Cunningham's 231 points have come through consistency, taking only one win in his Acura NSX SC (at the most recent Road Atlanta Round) but five podium finishes to Galati's four.
Johannes van Overbeek, who runs with G&W Motorsports, based on the VIR campus, Randy Pobst, Jeff McMillin and John Young will settle third through sixth this weekend as well.
SPEED Touring Car Drivers' Championship
Driving in both the SPEED GT and Touring Car Championships, often back-to-back in very different cars, has not seemed to phase Peter Cunningham, who looks to win his first SPEED Touring Car Drivers' Championship since 1995. Like Galati in SPEED GT, Cunningham needs to finish seventh or better to clinch the title, no matter what teammate and two-time defending Champion Pierre Kleiniubing does.
Cunningham presently has 233 points accrued in his No. 42 RealTime Racing Acura Integra R, again with consistency and only one finish outside the top 10 (a 13th at Mid-Ohio after starting 47th. Kleinubing has one more win than his boss (two), but two mechanical failures resulting in back-to-back 34th-place finishes have hurt the young Brazilian's chances for a third-straight, and fourth overall, title. Kleinubing has 217 points heading into VIR.
"Our focus changes a little heading into VIR," said Cunningham. "The big thing for us is to add the Manufacturers' Championship for Acura. In that process, the Touring Car Drivers' Champion will be decided between us. Since our primary focus is to do everything to put Acura in a position to win, we've added VIR and Acura specialist Bob Endicott [No. 46 Integra R] and [former RealTime driver] Hugh Plumb [No. 43 RSX] to our usual lineup.
"I think that VIR will be a good track for the Acuras. There is a longer straight there than Atlanta, which might hurt us a little, but the cars should be very good on the remainder of the track."
The battle for third in the Championship is wide-open, with seven drivers--Chuck Hemmingson, Paul Bonaccorsi, Ken Dobson, Marc Kirberg, Will Turner, Taz Harvey and Mike Fitzgerald--each within striking distance. Hemmingson (191 points) and Bonaccorsi (184 points) can each catch Kleinubing for second place in the final standings.
Rookie of the Year
The 2002 Rookie of the Year honors have already been clinched for both the SPEED GT and Touring Car divisions.
John Young, of Woodside, Calif., clinched the SPEED GT Rookie of the Year at Road Atlanta October 11, despite finishing outside of the top 10 for the first time this season due to contact in the opening laps. Young piloted the No. 44 Contract Metal Products Saleen SR 351 to a best finish of fourth at Trois-Rivieres this year and currently sits sixth in overall Championship points.
In SPEED Touring Car, Marc Kirberg, of Corte Madera, Calif., also clinched Rookie of the Year honors with a 13th-place finish at Road Atlanta. Kirberg piloted the No. 37 SSF Imported Auto Parts BMW 325i to one win (Washington, D.C.) and two additional top-five finishes this season, and is also sixth in overall Championship points.
Porsche has already clinched the 2002 SPEED World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship with a 19-point advantage over its next closest competitor (Audi) and only nine points available at the final Round. Porsche has recorded a season-high four wins (all by Randy Pobst, who started with 3R Racing late in the season) and has only been off the podium one time this year, at the first Round in Sebring. Following Audi in points are Acura, BMW and Saleen.
The SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship is wide-open, with only five points separating BMW (53), Acura (50) and Mazda (48). BMW can clinch with a second-place finish or better, but each of the three has a legitimate shot at winning. BMW is the defending Champion.
The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car Championships are part of the VIR SpeedFest at Virginia International Raceway. Other series on the weekend include the SCCA Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, the Formula Ford 2000 Zetec Championship, the SCCA Pro Spec Racer series and the SCCA Pro Miata Challenge. A press function will be held at the track on Thursday, including media rides with Peter Cunningham in a SPEED Touring Car. For more information, contact John Gardner (email@example.com) or (888) 722-3099. For more information on the SPEED World Challenge, please visit www.world-challenge.com.
-scca pro racing-