Gleason and Auberlen Finish on the Podium In KONI Challenge Season Opener at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 26 - Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. and Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif., got the 2007 KONI Challenge season off to a great...
Gleason and Auberlen Finish on the Podium In KONI Challenge Season Opener at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 26 - Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. and Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif., got the 2007 KONI Challenge season off to a great start by setting the fastest race lap and finishing on the podium in the Fresh from Florida 200 Friday at Daytona International Speedway. After 3 hours of competition on Daytona's 3.56-mile road course, their Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 96, which is sponsored in part by Gleason Financial, crossed the finish line in third place out of 106 entries.
Like the duo's experience here last year, they had to come from behind. This time that was because Gleason got spun out by a Porsche driver in Turn 1 on a restart on lap 10 of what turned out to be a 64-lap race while he was running tenth.
No one associated with the effort panicked, however, and the entry clawed its way back up the scoreboard. An extremely long yellow didn't help, nor did the fact that other makes of cars have an advantage here because Daytona is a high-horsepower track, but in the end it still worked out great for everyone cheering for the No. 96 when Auberlen crossed the line in third.
Gleason qualified 21st but he got off to a fabulous start, vaulting into 15th place by the end of the first 3 miles (1 lap). After a battle with Jim Hamblin in the BGB Motorsports No. 38, he was up to 11th when the first yellow waved on lap four when Tim Traver crashed and wiped out the front end of the Porsche he had been driving. Gleason passed another car right before the yellow waved to move into tenth place by the end of lap six.
The spin occurred on the restart on lap eight, dropping him to the rear of the standings. By lap 13, with two hours and 23 minutes left, he was in 56th place and digging.
Four laps later he was in 44th place. By lap 21, with two hours and nine minutes left, he was in 41st place when a Mustang went into a tire wall so hard it moved the concrete barrier behind it, bringing out another yellow.
Some pit stops and some more attrition allowed Gleason to move up to 33rd by lap 24, around the race's midpoint. He moved up to 29th shortly thereafter, and he was around that position when he pitted for fuel, tires and Auberlen to take over with about half the race remaining.
Auberlen got the car back into the top 10 by lap 35, but then the No. 151 BMW 330ci crashed in Turn 5 to bring out another yellow on lap 35. Auberlen pitted on lap 39 for fresh tires and fuel under that yellow with an hour and 10 minutes remaining. The entry was back in 19th after the stop, but then other top drivers pitted too and by lap 44, still under yellow, Auberlen was back in the top 10.
The green waved again on lap 46 and Auberlen pounced. He had charged into fifth by lap 48, and then battled the eventual winner, David Empringham, in what turned out to be the best fight of the race. They exchanged fifth place a couple of times on lap 50 and lap 51 before yet another yellow slowed the action on lap 52. Empringham repassed Auberlen just before the yellow waved to push him to sixth with 30 minutes remaining.
There was an attempt to get things going again with 18 minutes left but then Nick Longhi spun to a stop in the middle of a turn. He was a sitting duck, and was soon creamed by another competitor to bring out another yellow. Before everything was said and done there were five caution flags for 30 of the 64 laps.
The race finally got restarted with 10 minutes remaining. Empringham headed to the front and Auberlen got fourth with six minutes left. He took third from David Murry on lap 60 with 5 minutes remaining, and then threatened Scott Maxwell for second. On lap 61 he recorded the fastest lap anyone had run in the race when he traveled over the 14-turn track in 2:01.089 for an average speed of 105.840 miles per hour. Maxwell's Hyper Sport Mustang had too much horsepower on the high banks, however, and Auberlen was in third when the checkered waved on lap 64. Two Mustang GTs were the only cars ahead of his BMW, which was just 0.417 of a second behind the winner at the line.
The next KONI Challenge race is April 13-15 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.
Both Gleason and Auberlen will also compete in tomorrow's Rolex 24, which will be covered live on FOX Sports starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern before it switches to SPEED for the bulk of the coverage.
Gleason will drive the TRG Porsche GT3 Cup No. 68 in that event, which starts 58th in the field of 70. He's slated to drive fourth in the rotation, after Ted Ballou, Rocco DeSimone II and Brad Jaeger.
Gleason's post-race quote on Friday follows:
"Some Porsche hit me in Turn 1 on a restart. The engine stalled and I ended up sitting on the apex of the turn. The engine is hard to start when it's hot, so it took awhile before I got it going again. But I still stayed on the lead lap. We tried to minimize our pits stops, and I drove for about an hour and 45 minutes or so I guess.
"Last year we started last and this year that happened, so we had to battle back both times.
"Bill did his best to come up through the field, but this course is not a BMW track. So, to come away with a podium finish here is good. We earned good points and we're in a good position after the season opener, and the BMW tracks are coming up.
"Our car was great; my kudos to the Turner Motorsport crew for preparing a great car. The brakes were phenomenal.
"As far as the Rolex 24 goes, I'm still getting used to that car. It's a little different to drive, but we'll try to do our best."
-credit: restart communications