Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup to Crown its 2009 Champion at Road Atlanta Megenbier takes a 39-point lead into the final race of the season For the second consecutive year, the SCCA Pro Racing Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup will be closing out its season...
Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup to Crown its 2009 Champion at Road Atlanta
Megenbier takes a 39-point lead into the final race of the season
For the second consecutive year, the SCCA Pro Racing Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup will be closing out its season at Road Atlanta. And, as in 2008, the Championship battle is going to come down to the final race around the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course in Braselton, Georgia.
Last season, Josh Hurley entered the final race with a 17-point lead and won the series title by five points over Liam Kenney. The pair has moved to compete in other series, and series veteran Timmy Megenbier is bringing a 39-point lead over Andy Lee into Road Atlanta this year. If Megenbier finishes 15th or better, the Championship will be his regardless of any other driver results. However, anything can happen.
The Melrose Park, Illinois native has had a banner year that includes three wins, eight podium appearances, two pole positions and 41 laps led (31 percent of all laps this season). After a difficult 2008 campaign that saw several races end without him finishing, Megenbier returned to the series with a more mental approach to his craft.
"I think I showed people last year that I was capable of running up front, but I kept putting myself in bad positions and taking chances at the wrong time," Megenbier said. "During the offseason, I had a chance to watch some of our races and identify things that I wanted to do differently. I realized that I needed to be a little smarter on the track, and this approach has certainly paid off. Other than one bad race at VIR (VIRginia International Raceway), I have been on the podium every time. My hope is that I'll be able to maintain this consistency at Road Atlanta to win the Championship."
Six drivers have won races, and 10 drivers have made podium appearances this season, but only Lee remains eligible to unseat Megenbier from the lead. Like Megenbier, Lee has also had a very consistent season that has him currently second in the standings. The series veteran and Maricopa, Arizona native has one race win, two pole positions, three podium appearances, 27 laps led and finished in the top 10 in every race. In addition, the 26-year-old driver hasn't finished lower than sixth.
"I ran well last year at Road Atlanta, so I'm definitely looking forward to going back," Lee said. "I'm trying not to worry about the Championship because it's going to be unlikely that I'll be able to catch (Timmy) at this point. I'm just going to worry about running my race, and if something happens that vaults me to the top that's great, but I can't let myself get caught up in thinking about it. The biggest thing for me is to end the season on a positive note. People remember the last thing you did, so I would like to end on top. That would be a great way to close out my run in the series."
If last year's race at Road Atlanta is any indication of this year's potential result, Lee might have the upper hand. Lee finished ninth, while Megenbier came in 26th.
While 39 points separate the first- and second-place drivers in the Championship, the fight for "Rookie of the Year" honors is expected to be a battle to the finish. Only two points separate Joey Atterbury (273 points) and Jake Thompson (271 points) entering the final contest. Both drivers have found victory lane this season, but Thompson of Calgary, Alberta is coming off his second win of the year last weekend in New Jersey.
"Being able to get back to the top of the podium in New Jersey was huge for me," Thompson said. "I was lucky enough to win one of our first races of the year, but I struggled a bit in the middle of the season. Road Atlanta is a fast track like New Jersey. These sorts of courses seem to suit me best, so I'm hopeful that I'll be able to make a strong run there. Being able to claim the 'Rookie of the Year' title in my first season in sports car racing would be a huge accomplishment for me."
No place like home -- Three drivers hail from Atlanta area
The Atlanta area is a hotbed for Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup drivers, and three of the 24 series drivers are looking forward to the upcoming race on their home track.
The trio is led by series veteran Mark Pombo from Duluth, Georgia. He is currently in fifth place in the Championship standings on the strength of one win (Mosport), two pole positions, 26 laps led and five top-five finishes. While the series title is out of reach for Pombo, there still is room for him to move up the ladder. Heading into Road Atlanta, only 11 points separate him from third place, and he has experience on his side. He proved last season that he's one of the best around the Braselton circuit as he captured the pole position on his way to a third-place finish.
"I've had a lot of experience racing at Road Atlanta, so I couldn't pick a better spot for us to finish our season," Pombo said. "Obviously, I would like to be a little higher in the Championship, but there's no sense in looking back at what could have been. I have nothing to lose in terms of points, so I'm definitely going to be driving for the win in hopes of giving my family and friends who will be in attendance something to cheer about."
Pombo is also joined by two series rookies who are also from the area. Rhett Tucker of Cumming, Georgia and Andrew Gunn Tucker of McDonough, Georgia are getting their first taste of professional racing experience this season.
Tucker is currently 20th in points and is coming off of a 13th-place finish last weekend in New Jersey, his best result of the season. While this is his first season competing in the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup, Tucker began racing at age eight when he started karting on dirt ovals and road courses. In 2004 and 2005, he won the championship at Florida's Dirt Devils WKA Speedway. Last year, he ran five races in the USAC Ford Focus midget series.
Gunn Tucker is also coming off his best result of the season, 19th. However, his racing career spans only a few years. He began competing in local autocross events in 2003 while attending Tennessee Tech University and then entered the technical side of racing. Gunn Tucker has served as a mechanic and car chief for various sports car teams including his current employer, APR Motorsport. APR races Volkswagen GTIs in the Grand Am Koni Challenge series and is currently third in the series standings with two races left.
Richert claims the PR title
In an attempt to develop driver skills on and off the track, the series holds an annual public relations contest. During the season, drivers earn points by securing media stories on themselves and the series, engaging in social media efforts and making promotional appearances for the series and sponsors.
For the second year, series veteran David Richert claimed the title. Not only did he achieve more media coverage than any other driver, but he also came up with creative ways to bring attention to the series. Earlier this season at Mid-Ohio, Richert developed a Father's Day campaign where fans could purchase space on his car to write their Father's Day greetings. He then used this money to purchase toys for children at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Richert's prize is attending an upcoming Volkswagen public relations event in Germany to launch the 2010 Golf and Golf TDI. During the trip, he will join journalists in driving the vehicles and touring the company's facilities including the Autostadt and the transparent factory. All expenses associated with this trip are being covered by Volkswagen.
"Being successful in the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup media contest has been one of my top priorities this race season," Richert said. "The contest has provided me with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate my skills and abilities off of the racetrack, which can often make or break a driver's career. The series has been great in providing us with the tools needed to succeed in this area, and I'm looking forward to developing relationships with reporters during the trip to Germany."
There's green racing, and there's the Jetta TDI Cup -- Truly green racing