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Mid-Ohio: GT round 5, TC round 7 preview

SPEED World Challenge Back on Track: Mid-Ohio Preview LEXINGTON, Ohio (July 17, 2008) -- The teams of SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge had better be well rested after a six-week break in action, because the unpredictable Mid-Ohio Sports...

SPEED World Challenge Back on Track: Mid-Ohio Preview

LEXINGTON, Ohio (July 17, 2008) -- The teams of SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge had better be well rested after a six-week break in action, because the unpredictable Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the next stop on the schedule. This weekend brings Round Seven of the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Championship as well as the Mid-Ohio SPEED GT Presented by Remington to the scenic central Ohio circuit.

Who could forget last year's spectacular SCCA SPEED Touring Car race at Mid-Ohio? While Chip Herr's all-wheel drive Audi A4 rocketed past polesitter Altenburg on the start, Joey Hand, in his debut with BimmerWorld, fell from fourth to fifth. Hand put on some miraculous driving to put himself in second with five laps to go. With a mirror-full of Hand's BMW, Herr locked up the Audi entering the Keyhole on the final lap and ran wide, allowing Hand through for his and BimmerWorld's first World Challenge race win.

Considering what we've seen from the SPEED Touring Car field thus far, it's not a stretch to expect similar racing this weekend, but will BimmerWorld be able to score win number two? Seth Thomas did qualify the No. 38 BimmerWorld BMW 325i third at Mid-Ohio last year, a spot ahead of Hand, before a driveline failure left him stranded on the grid. Similar to VIR (where BimmerWorld put two cars on the podium) in its challenging mix of corners and exciting elevation, Mid-Ohio seems to suit the BMWs well. Seeing as how all three cars left Watkins Glen a tangled mess, lady luck probably owes BimmerWorld this weekend.

Of course it was a Mazda that was on the pole with Herr starting alongside in the Audi, so now that Herr is at the wheel of the No. 97 Mazdaspeed/Tindol Motorsports MAZDA6 does that mean pole and a win is inevitable? The Tindol team is on a roll with Michael Galati winning the most recent round at Watkins Glen in the No. 95 Mazda North America/Tindol MAZDA6 and Herr collecting the Lime Rock Park round before that. But, can you carry momentum through a six-week break?

On the Tri-Point side of things, Charles Espenlaub never seems to have gelled with Mid-Ohio. In six starts he's yet to crack the top five, his best finish being sixth in 2002. Rookie teammates Jim Daniels and Jason Saini will be unknown quantities, although Daniels did score a win at Mid-Ohio in 2006 with Mazda MX-5 Cup. In Saini's favor is the comfort and confidence of racing on home soil. Currently seventh in the point standings, Saini grew up in Cleveland, and when he returned to Ohio last year to race MX-5 Cup at the Grand Prix of Cleveland, he won both rounds of a doubleheader. He'll take another shot at homecoming king this weekend.

What about Acura, the current Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine leader and chariot of the top three drivers in the Drivers' Championship? Pierre Kleinubing was the highest finishing RealTime Acura driver at Mid-Ohio last year in fifth, but a similar result this time around simply will not do, as every podium thus far has had a RealTime driver on it. But as the SPEED Touring Car season enters the home stretch, an inter-team battle may be brewing. Following Watkins Glen, Kleinubing and the No. 43 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX moved ahead of Kuno Wittmer and the No. 44 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX in the point standings and into the lead. Kleinubing is out for a record-tying fifth World Challenge Championship. Wittmer is in search of his first.

The regular SPEED Touring Car players will welcome Jim Osborn and the No. 24 Chili Pepper Racing/AHFPC Volkswagen Jett TDI back to the grid at Mid-Ohio. The ground-breaking biodiesel machine has been missing in action since Sebring.

SCCA SPEED GT is experiencing some dejà vu as of late. Just like last season, Randy Pobst conquered Watkins Glen in the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 and left with the Drivers' Championship lead. If history continues to repeat itself, Pobst will continue to strengthen his lead with more podium finishes, like Mid-Ohio, where he was runner-up last year. Pobst has been the bridesmaid a couple times at Mid-Ohio, but never the bride, not in World Challenge at least. That's in contrast to his teammate Galati, in the No. 23 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3, who's won three World Challenge races at Mid-Ohio, just down I71 from his home outside of Cleveland.

It's also been dejà vu for Eric Curran, whose 2008 has started off mimicking the ups and downs of last year. After DNFs in the first three rounds, Curran finally broke through in the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette at Watkins Glen, finishing fourth. The team has high hopes that their season is turning around heading into Mid-Ohio where they won convincingly from the pole in 2007.

Speaking of deserving winners, Andy Pilgrim is due for a race win. The No. 8 Remington Shaving Cadillac CTS-V has been on the podium at each race thus far, but hasn't climbed the top step yet. With the team based in nearby Canton, Ohio, and team sponsor Remington also serving as the presenting sponsor for the SPEED GT race, it would be perfect timing for Pilgrim to take victory at Mid-Ohio and leave with the Drivers' Championship lead, as well as the Manufacturers' lead, for Cadillac.

Brandon Davis will attest to the fact that having the presenting sponsor on the side of your car can be a good luck charm. That was the scenario when he won the Long Beach SPEED GT Presented by ACS in the No. 10 ACS/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra. After a hot start to the season, Davis hit his first bump in the road at Watkins Glen when the car lost a tuning chain early in the race. No need to panic though, the SPEED GT season is just hitting the halfway mark at Mid-Ohio.

With five rounds yet to be recorded, there's still plenty of time for Dodge to take the fight to Porsche, Cadillac and Ford in the Manufacturers' Championship. It seems the Viper contingent is rapidly scaling the learning curve. Jeff Courtney and Jason Daskalos are currently tied for sixth in the Drivers' Championship and are eclipsing their personal bests with each round. Same goes for Cindi Lux who had to miss the Watkins Glen round, but is still buzzing from her third-place qualifying effort and fourth-place finish at Miller Motorsports Park. Heading into Watkins Glen, Ritch Marziale had been qualifying higher then ever, but was having trouble making it to the finish line. He tried the reverse at The Glen; starting a disappointing 21st, but making up an incredible 13 positions in the race to finish eighth. Miller Motorsports Park winner Tommy Archer will crawl into the No. 13 Woodhouse Performance Dodge Viper again this weekend before handing over the reins to Claudio Burtin for Road America.

Currently fifth in the SPEED GT Drivers' Championship, James Sofronas collected his first top-five Mid-Ohio finish last year...in SPEED Touring Car. Sofronas is having one of his best GT seasons yet, and if he can capitalize on anything learned last year from attacking the course in a BMW, he could begin to make waves in the title fight.

Waves have already been made this week courtesy of Rahal Letterman Racing who will bring the Aston Martin DB9 back to the SPEED GT grid in the hands of young Tommy Milner.

Appearing for the first time this weekend will be the No. 72 DRC Motorsports Lexus IS-F with 2007 SCCA SPEED Touring Car Champ Jeff Altenburg behind the wheel. It will be the debut of the new IS-F in North American motorsports.

The SPEED World Challenge mid-summer intermission is over and it's time to start the show again. After Friday practice and Saturday qualifying Round Seven of the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Championship will go green at 9:15 a.m. (EDT). The Mid-Ohio SPEED GT Presented by Remington follows the IRL race at 4:00 p.m. (EDT). Live timing and lap notes will be available all weekend at www.world-challenge.com. The races will air on SPEED, Thursday, July 24, at noon and 1 p.m. (EDT), respectively.

-credit: scca pro racing

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Series PWC
Drivers Andy Pilgrim , Tommy Archer , Joey Hand , Randy Pobst , Pierre Kleinubing , Michael Galati , Claudio Burtin , Eric Curran , Charles Espenlaub , Jim Osborn , Kuno Wittmer , Chip Herr , Seth Thomas , Brandon Davis , Tommy Milner , Jeff Courtney , Jason Daskalos , Cindi Lux , Ritch Marziale , Jim Daniels , Jason Saini