Gleason and Hand Finish Seventh In KONI Challenge Season Opener DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 23 - The Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 97 of Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. and Joey Hand of Sacramento, Calif. led four laps and finished seventh out of...
Gleason and Hand Finish Seventh In KONI Challenge Season Opener
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 23 - The Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 97 of Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. and Joey Hand of Sacramento, Calif. led four laps and finished seventh out of 65 cars in the Fresh from Florida 200 season opener Friday at Daytona International Speedway. The solid top-10 finish of their car, which is sponsored by H&R Springs, Turner Motorsport and Gleason Financial, got them off to a great start in their pursuit of the 2009 championship in the KONI Sports Car Challenge Series.
They were part of the winning team here too. A sister Turner Motorsport BMW driven by Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif. and Matthew Bell of Los Altos, Calif. won the three-hour race.
Gleason started 26th and moved the car up to 13th position in the first hour of competition. There were lots of accidents during his stint, but Gleason successfully avoided them all and turned the car over to Hand in great shape. Gleason had the car up to 15th by lap six. He passed Russell Smith's Kinetic Motorsports BMW for 13th on lap 12. He had a subsequent battle with Tony Buffomante in the Porsche that ended up finishing fourth as well as Shawn Hickman's Mustang before turning the car over to Hand.
Hand, a factory BMW driver, had the car in fifth place by lap 35 and then took third two laps later. He passed Craig Stanton's Porsche for second place on lap 38, and took the lead on lap 41 by passing Stanton again in the east horseshoe.
Unfortunately at that point something in the car's engine started to go awry, and by lap 45 he'd slipped back to fifth. He was in fourth at the two-hour mark, and although he was seventh at the checkered he was able to bring the car home in the top 10 for valuable points.
Chris Gleason: "We had a little shock problem in qualifying that screwed up the handling, and we started 25th or something like that. The car was working pretty well in the race though. Its set-up wasn't perfect, but we were dealing with it. I haven't driven in more than a year, and it'll probably take me three or four races to get reacclimated with the finer points of braking and some other things.
"There were a lot of accidents during my stint. Once when I came into Turn 1 there was smoke and debris everywhere, and you couldn't see well. You have to point to the hole and not brake too hard, because if you do the guy behind you might hit you. It's kind of instinctive; there's not much time to think.
"I got up to about 13th I think, and then Joey played it out. The team did a great job and had very good pit strategy. Joey quickly got into the top 10 and then started heading for the top five. We drove together in '05; he's a terrific kid, and like a son to me.
"After Joey led in the second hour, the engine lost power. The last hour he had to fight to stay in the top 10. Then Bill's drive at the end was very exciting; it was great when he won.
"When you can't get on the podium we want to get a top-10 finish. The Grand-Am points system is similar to NASCAR's in that it rewards consistent top-10 finishes, so that's what we want. We're out of the gate well. We'll make some improvements in the car and sort out some problems, and I think we'll be very competitive at Homestead, a track that suits our car better anyway."
Joey Hand: "At first it was the best car I've ever had in a KONI Challenge race, but then something in the engine started to go. We lost torque, and I was a sitting duck on the straightaways. But it was the best power I've ever had until then.
"Chris drove great. He did exactly what we needed him to do. He missed all those wrecks. But I used up everything getting to the front. I ruined the tir es. We have to work on our shocks before the next race too. I tried to be as aggressive and smart as I could be under the situation, and finish with points. Chris and I are trying to win the championship, and a top-10 finish is what we need for the points."