Monterey, CA -- The three-car Kensai Racing with Compass360 team had much to celebrate this weekend at Laguna Seca, scoring their second win of the season for Billy Johnson and Karl Thomson. Karting star Matt Pritiko, driving with Eric Powell,...
Monterey, CA -- The three-car Kensai Racing with Compass360 team had much to celebrate this weekend at Laguna Seca, scoring their second win of the season for Billy Johnson and Karl Thomson. Karting star Matt Pritiko, driving with Eric Powell, also marked his second top- ten finish this season. And Beau Buisson, with Taz Harvey, had their Acura up front for much of the race. The fabled Laguna Seca circuit hosted the fourth round of the KONI Challenge series, where the racing proved to be exciting from flag to flag, for fans and competitors alike.
THOMSON AND JOHNSON RETAKE ST POINTS LEAD
In a dramatic battle that demanded the most in terms of driver performance, team strategy and fuel conservation, Billy Johnson and Karl Thomson brought their #76 Kensai/Compass360 Acura TSX home in first place, retaking the KONI ST-class points lead in the process.
It was an especially sweet win for Johnson, as Laguna Seca is the track he calls home. An instructor with Skip Barber at the Monterey facility, Johnson was able to make the most of an aggressive strategy by the team. "We decided to do our driver change at the second caution period, on lap 22," noted Crew Chief Ray Lee. "We were banking on having a couple more yellows so we could make our fuel window." Thomson, who had started tenth, had moved up to seventh before handing to Johnson.
Two short cautions did occur mid-way through the race, but the team was on pins-and-needles as the race drew to a close, because they knew they'd be tight on fuel. "Billy pulled out a small four-second lead after the last yellow, but he had another forty minutes to go," remarked Thomson. " We kept going over our fuel calculations, and I told Billy to try and conserve as best he could." Remarkably, Johnson continued to turn consistently quick laps and maintained his small lead. Meanwhile, battles were going behind, rearranging the leaderboard throughout the last thirty minutes.
The last ten minutes were absolute nail-biters for the team, as they watched the clock count down, and as Guy Cosmo inched closer and closer in his #127 Fountain BMW, followed closely by Roger Foo in the #32 i-MOTO TSX.
In the end, Johnson took the checkered flag just two seconds ahead of Cosmo, and made the victory lap around to impound. When the team inspected his fuel tank, they found there wasn't enough gas to go even one more lap! The strategy had worked, but it was very, very close.
POWELL AND PRITIKO FINISH A STRONG NINTH
Eric Powell, who returned to the team after a strong run with them at Daytona, led the orange Kensai/Compass360 Acuras in the early going, after qualifying a strong sixth. By the fifth lap Powell was in second place, battling Ken Wilden (in the #01 Cobalt) for the lead. He lost a few positions towards the end of his stint, handing the car to Pritiko in fifth place. Pit strategy cost the team some positions in this case, with Pritiko emerging in 17th after his stop. Matt, however, consistently decreased his times lap after lap and showed great maturity and car conservation to bring the #74 RSX-S home in ninth.
"I'm proud of Eric and Matt who continue to improve their craft with each event," said Thomson. "Both are young guys who I'm confident have good careers ahead of them in motorsport."
HARVEY AND BUISSON 17TH AFTER RUNNING UP FRONT
The team's other TSX also started very well, with Taz Harvey taking the #75 car from its seventh-place starting position up to first before handing off to Beau Buisson. Beau completed his pit stop and emerged in 10th place, but quickly moved up to fifth. For the next thirty laps, Buisson was engaged in an epic battle with the #01 ScadaPack Cobalt of Jamie Holtom (the very same car that Powell had battled in his stint). The two fought their way up the leader board, with the running order on lap 65 being Johnson's #76 TSX in first, Holtom in second and Buisson in third.
Unfortunately, on the 68th lap, just six laps from race's end, Buisson's TSX blew its brake caliper seals and lost all braking ability. Going into the tight hairpin at the end of the fast front straight, the calipers gave out and Buisson tagged Holtom, knocking them both cars off the track. It was an unfortunate end to a good run for both drivers, as Buisson was forced to retire, and Holtom was knocked out of contention while repairs were made to his Cobalt. The #75 Acura TSX was scored in 17th place.
Thomson and Johnson now sit seven points ahead of the Turner BMW 330 of Trevor Hopwood and Adam Burrows in the ST Driver's Championship battle. "Every point counts when you're in a tight championship race like this," remarked Johnson. "Obviously we're thrilled to be back in first, but we're only leading by a few points and we're going to have to work hard to keep ahead of Trevor and Adam."
The duo's first-place also extends Acura's lead in the Manufacturer's Championship.
The Kensai/Compass360 team must quickly repair their three Acuras and transport them across the country (from California to Connecticut) for next weekend's KONI meeting at Lime Rock park. The race promises to be another close-fought battle and should provide the fans with some great racing.