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Road Atlanta: Touring Car race report

Herr Wins Road Atlanta, Cunningham Takes SPEED TC Championship Thriller BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 3, 2008) -- While Chip Herr, of Lititz, Pa., led every lap of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED Touring Car Finale Presented by Toyo Tires®, the focus of...

Herr Wins Road Atlanta, Cunningham Takes SPEED TC Championship Thriller

BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 3, 2008) -- While Chip Herr, of Lititz, Pa., led every lap of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED Touring Car Finale Presented by Toyo Tires®, the focus of the race was glued on third through fifth place, where the battle for the 2008 SPEED Touring Car Drivers' Championship was unfolding. Michael Galati, of Olmsted, Ohio, and Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., completed the podium at Road Atlanta, site of the Petit Le Mans Presented by the Totally New MAZDA6. Battling with his teammate all the way to the finish, Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., crossed the finish line in fourth, to take his fifth World Challenge Championship.

Starting from pole in the No. 97 Mazdaspeed/Tindol Motorsports MAZDA6, Herr rocketed into Turn One from the standing start with the lead firmly in hand. His teammate, Galati, followed in the No. 95 Mazda North America/Tindol MAZDA6 and championship contender Kleinubing moved from fourth on the grid into third.

When fourth-place Patrick Lindsey lost the motor in his No. 57 Horton Motorsports/Sloan Securities MAZDA6, Cunningham was promoted to fourth place, putting him in a dead heat with Kleinubing for the Championship, as both drivers would finish the race with 934 points.

Kleinubing broke the tie on lap 17, passing Galati for second. He would be unable to make a charge for the lead, however, as the full-course caution flags came out for the No. 74 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6 of Jason Saini, who was stuck in the Turn 10 gravel, following contact with the No. 36 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 325i of James Clay.

The Championship scenario returned to a tie on the lap 20 restart, when Galati re-passed Kleinubing for second, but only two laps later, Cunningham would take over the Championship point lead by passing the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 325i of Seth Thomas for fourth. To add to the excitement, Canadian Kuno Wittmer, the third Championship contender, was able to follow Cunningham around Thomas. With four laps remaining, the points were tighter than ever and every position mattered.

"Prior to the full-course yellow, I was resigned to the idea that Pierre had this thing won, but I felt comfortable that I was gonna hang on for second, because Kuno was pretty far back at that point," Cunningham said. "Then the yellow came out and I cursed in my helmet because I knew Kuno was going to be right on my bumper. I wasn't really clear if he was going to have something for me but it was clear that he was going to be hungry and want a piece of me. When the restart came out, I had a little bit of a gap on Kuno and then Galati dive-bombed Pierre later in the lap to take second back and then Seth had a problem with his car and I'm thinking, 'okay, now I'm in the lead but here comes Kuno.'"

Cunningham was right to be worried. On the final lap, Wittmer made a brave move on his own team boss, pulling his No. 44 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX alongside Cunningham under braking into Turn 10, attempting to take the Championship for himself. The teammates bumped and slid their Acuras through the corner side-by-side, with Cunningham holding the position as Wittmer struggled to maintain control of his car.

"Kuno put a move on me there in the third to last corner for the position," recalled Cunningham. "I don't blame him. If he hadn't done that I'd have been disappointed in the lad. But I'm glad I was able to come out on the good end of that stick and cross the finish line to take the position.

"If Kuno would have passed me, he would have taken the Championship--that part was clear to me at that moment."

"I got a good run on him out of the exit of Turn Seven and as we went down the straight he was changing his line trying to break the draft a bit," Wittmer said of the final lap. "I came down into Turn 10 right on the limit and I got on the brakes so hard the tires were chirping as they were locking up. I was right on the limit. I turned in and closed my eyes, but Peter still had a nose on me so I pulled inside a bit and backed off because I wasn't going to clean out my boss trying to win a Championship."

As Herr crossed the finished line 1.204 seconds ahead of Galati and Kleinubing, Cunningham took the checkered flag in fourth in the No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, winning the 2008 SCCA SPEED Touring Car Drivers' Championship by four points (939 to 934) over Kleinubing. Wittmer finishes the season third, with 930.

"Kuno gave it a hell of a shot and certainly Pierre would have been a very deserving Champion for his fifth title. If I hadn't done everything to do my best, I wouldn't have done my job to honor my team and Pierre. I hope Pierre won't blame me for that--he'll probably punch me in the belly later when I'm not paying attention.

"Congrats to Pierre and Kuno and to RealTime and Acura for a great season."

Cunningham tied Galati for the most World Challenge Championships, with five.

Leading all 27 laps of the 68.58-mile race to take his second SPEED Touring Car victory of 2008, Herr secured fourth in the 2008 Drivers' Championship.

"This was the first year for me with Tindol Motorsports and the MAZDA6 with a sequential gearbox, so there was a lot for me to learn," Herr said. "I picked it up pretty quickly--I had a pole at VIR, but the first race at Sebring was really a learning experience and a challenge."

Herr was relieved to return to the podium after a disappointing finish in Round Nine at Mosport.

"After Mosport, I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, being taken out of second place. But things like that happen in Touring Car and maybe someday I'll be in the other spot. I came here wanting to do the best I could for Tindol, for Mazda and my crew chief Barry [Trivette]. It's been a team effort all year long.

"I know RealTime had a one-two-three at Sebring, but other than that, there's been a pretty good mix of cars on the podium and now it's great to finish with a Tindol one-two. I haven't gotten my Championship yet, but hopefully everyone is starting to wonder when it's going to happen and I'm pushing with everything I have to get it."

Last year's race winner Galati earned his second-consecutive podium finish and set a new race lap record in the process, a 1:33.433 (97.867 mph). Galati made a quick escape from the winner's circle ceremonies to jump in his SPEED GT Porsche awaiting him on pre-grid.

Finishing third in the No. 43 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, Kleinubing collected his eighth podium finish of the season.

"I couldn't have asked for a better race," Kleinubing said. "It went down to the very end. We just lack a little bit of straight-line speed. Unfortunately, that back straightaway is just a little bit too long and the Esses are not as tough as they used to be--you can do them pretty much flat-out every lap. The advantage that I seemed to have here in the past has pretty much evaporated the last few years."

Though he had Galati in his sights throughout the race and missed out on the Championship by an agonizing four points, Kleinubing remained thankful for a strong season and a successful team.

"I can't complain," smiled Kleinubing. "We have a team that finished one-two-three in the Championship and won the Manufacturers' Championship. I'm pretty happy to be a part of it. I've been in this series for 12 seasons now and I've only finished outside of the top two positions twice. What else could I ask for?"

Following Cunningham and Wittmer across the line was Nick Esayian in the No. 34 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 325i. In addition to collecting his best career-finish, Esayian earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award, advancing nine positions in the race. Esayian's teammate, Clay, took home the Racing Electronics Holeshot Award for picking up two positions on the opening lap.

Eric Curran (Acura RSX), Charles Espenlaub (MAZDA6), Jim Daniels (MAZDA6) and Martin Ohlin (MAZDA6) completed the top 10.

Rookie of the Year Jason Saini finished the season fifth in the Drivers' Championship, followed by Galati, Thomas, Espenlaub, Clay and Charlie Putman.

Acura had already clinched the SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine following Round Nine at Mosport.

The SCCA SPEED Touring Car Finale Presented by Toyo Tires will air on SPEED, Oct. 15, at 2 p.m. (EDT).

-credit: scca pro racing

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Series PWC
Drivers Michael Galati , Peter Cunningham , Eric Curran , Charles Espenlaub , James Clay , Nick Esayian , Kuno Wittmer , Chip Herr , Seth Thomas , Charlie Putman , Jim Daniels , Jason Saini , Patrick Lindsey , Martin Ohlin