CROSLAND CAPTURES FIRST WIN; BUFFOMANTE RETAKES CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD MILLVILLE NJ, 17 July - Seventeen year-old Ben Crosland scored his first win in Ford Racing Mustang Challenge competition with a decisive flag-to-flag tour de force on Sunday.
CROSLAND CAPTURES FIRST WIN; BUFFOMANTE RETAKES CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD
MILLVILLE NJ, 17 July - Seventeen year-old Ben Crosland scored his first win in Ford Racing Mustang Challenge competition with a decisive flag-to-flag tour de force on Sunday. Behind him, Tony Buffomante settled for second place and the title lead after starting third and moving up to shadow Crosland for nearly 20 laps. Polesitter Dan Aweida, had also challenged Crosland early before eventually having to defend from teammate Kyle Gimple late in the race, went on to finish in third place, matching his career best Mustang Challenge result.
For the second consecutive year, the Mustang Challenge race ran entirely under green conditions from start to finish for the first of two races on the weekend.
Starting from the outside of the front row, Crosland got the jump in the Interbank FX Mustang to take the lead into turn 1 at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Aweida hounded Crosland for the first 10 laps, but the young driver defended more like a wily veteran, taking away the inside lane into turn 1 lap after lap. After 10 trips around the 2.25-mile circuit, Aweida's challenge in the No. 17 Mustang dimmed, which allowed Buffomante to take over second place.
Meanwhile, erstwhile title leader Jason von Kluge was forced to serve a drive through penalty for avoidable contact involving both the No. 34 of Buffomante and the No. 88 of Pratt Cole, who was holding third place at the time, Buffomante was further motivated to take over the points lead with as wide a margin as possible. He went after Crosland with everything he had, yet once more, Crosland proved immune to the pressure from behind to hold on for the victory.
"That was the hardest, but the best race I've ever done," said a thrilled Crosland. "Both Dan and Tony really put me to work. With Tony there were places on the track where he had the advantage, and places where I had the advantage. In the end, I was able to stay out in front thanks to a great car."
Buffomante's second place marks his fourth consecutive podium appearance as he keeps the championship as his primary focus.
"I made a terrible start and then to make matters worse I missed a shift when I was trying to get around Pratt (Cole) which allowed Jason (von Kluge) to get through. Later on in turn 5, when Jason tangled with Pratt, I got hit on the right side by Pratt's car, which actually straightened him out. At that point I was in third and set off to chase down the leaders. By the end I had used my tires up. Anyway, I'm happy with a good haul of points today," said Buffomante, with his usual word of thanks to his entire crew at Capaldi Racing as well as his Dad.
Aweida's trip to the podium was his second ever following his career-first pole in Mustang Challenge action.
"I used up my tires early and so I just had to focus on staying in touch with the leaders. Eventually they edged away and it was a bit lonely out there in no man's land. Then, when Kyle caught up to me I had to refocus yet again to keep him behind. We had a couple of great dices going into turn-1. He's a good driver and a good teammate. I had a lot of fun today," said Aweida, who was a busy man during the day, having participated in a meet and greet in support of a Susan Koman event taking place on Saturday afternoon.
After experiencing some difficulty with the damp conditions in qualifying, Gimple found himself starting from the ninth position. A combination of attrition and speed helped Gimple work his way through the field. By lap 7 he had moved up to fifth and with von Kluge's penalty, he was granted fourth. Steadily he was able to distance himself from Cole while also closing the gap to his Flying Horse Motorsports teammate, Aweida. On two different occasions braking into turn 1, Gimple mounted a stout challenge, but Aweida held him off both times. For his effort, Gimple was recognized with both the BF Goodrich Take Control Award for his forward progression through the field, and the Sunday Group Management "Rookie of the Race" Award.
"Qualifying this morning was tough with the wet track not matching our car set-up at all. But in the race, I picked my through the cars ahead to catch up to Dan. I tried a couple of times to get through, but my tires had given me all they had at that point. Who knows, may be another couple of laps and I could have gotten by, but I'm happy with this finish," proclaimed Gimple.
Recovering from his enforced spin, Cole went on to finish in fifth place. He held onto fourth as long as he could, but with a damaged front splitter that would eventually be dragging on the track beneath the front of the car, it was unlikely that he would be able to fend off a speeding Gimble.
For his part, von Kluge came back from his penalty, which had dropped him down the order to ninth place. Steadily he worked has way forward to eventually finish in sixth place.
Seventh-place finisher Brad Adams earned the Greenfiltersusa.com "We're Going Green" Award from behind the wheel of the No. 75 RP Motorsports Mustang for advancing the most positions on the opening lap.
Making his Mustang Challenge debut, Devin Cates scored an eighth place finish in the No. 68 Capaldi Racing Mustang ahead of the No. 82 ICY Racing entry driven by David Rosenblum. The final spot in the Top 10 went to hard charging Richard Golinello.
In the title race, Buffomante takes the lead over von Kluge by 13 points while Aweida clawed back some of the deficit he had to Cole in the race for third overall.
Qualifying for the second New Jersey Motorsports Park race takes place tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM EDT with the second race going green at 11:00 AM EDT. Follow all the action on mustangchallenge.com