Hand Records Thrilling Performance To Nab Podium Finish for the Gleason/Hand Entry In KONI Challenge Race Friday Night in Utah TOOELE, Utah, Sept. 19 - Chris Gleason was speechless after watching the performance of his co-driver, Joey Hand, in...
Hand Records Thrilling Performance To Nab Podium Finish for the Gleason/Hand Entry In KONI Challenge Race Friday Night in Utah
TOOELE, Utah, Sept. 19 - Chris Gleason was speechless after watching the performance of his co-driver, Joey Hand, in Friday night's Salt Lake City 200 KONI Challenge race at Miller Motorsports Park.
Their Turner Motorsport BMW M3 Coupe, No. 97, which is sponsored in part by Gleason Financial, had some issues in the race. It was mired in 17th position for quite awhile, and Gleason was resigned to the fact that even a top-10 finish would be good.
A podium didn't seem possible at that point, but in what Gleason called an "absolutely brilliant performance," Hand worked his way back up through the field in the two-hour-and-33-minute event. The Sacramento, Calif.-based driver advanced from tenth to third in the last 13 minutes of the 41-car race, and Gleason and Hand finished on the podium in third place.
Gleason, of Johnson, Pa., went into this event fifth in the national point standings, 46 points behind leader Ken Wilden. He finished ahead of all but one of the four drivers ahead of him in the point standings going into the race. The sole exception was Matt Bell, who along with his co-driver, Bill Auberlen, finished second in a sister car to Gleason and Hand's mount.
Auberlen and Bell's entry almost won the race, but Auberlen was passed on the last lap by Billy Johnson, who along with his co-driver, Jack Roush Jr., won the event in a Horsepower Ranch Ford Mustang GT.
Unofficially Gleason is now sixth in the point standings, tied with Roush, going into the four-hour season finale Sunday, Oct. 4 at VIRginia International Raceway in Alton, Va. They both have 250 points to Wilden's 292. Unofficially Wilden just has to finish 14th or better in Virginia to win the championship even if the two drivers tied for second, Bret Seafuse and James Gue, would win that race.
Gleason and Hand's focus now is on trying to secure the Grand Sport team championship for Turner Motorsport. The team's No. 96 car is third in the team standings going into the season finale while Gleason and Hand's No. 97 is tied for fourth with the Horsepower Ranch team.
They're also trying to win the engine manufacturer title for BMW, which unofficially leads Ford by two points going into the season finale.
What Gleason will remember most about Friday's race was Hand's heart-stopping performance, as Hand came from 11th to third in the last half-hour of the race on Miller Motorsports Park's long, flat and dusty track edged by picturesque mountains. At 4.486 miles and 24 turns, it's the longest circuit on the KONI Challenge schedule. The race started under bright skies and 80-degree temperatures, but Hand passed the most cars at the end in nearly pitch-black conditions with flashes of lightning in the distance.
Gleason started the race in 15th position after qualifying in that spot less than two hours earlier with a lap in 3:13.024 for an average speed of 83.666 miles per hour. He passed David Riddle's BGB Motorsports Porsche 997 before lap two was in the books to move up to 14th place. He was in 16th when he pitted with about 40 minutes gone in the race for service and for Hand to take over.
With the pit stop and driver change, Hand started his stint in 25th position, but the team remained calm and stuck with their plan to try to conserve their fuel, tires and brakes. As the event neared the 1-hour mark Hand was still in 17th position, although he had moved up to 14th with 1:06 gone.
Other top contenders then started to make pit stops, and by lap 23 Hand cracked the top 10 for the first time. On the next circuit he vaulted to eighth and set the fastest lap of the race at that point with a time of 3:09.792 and an average speed of 95.091 mph. It remained the fastest race lap until the last half-hour of the event when the eventual winner and second-place car ran a bit faster.
Hand stayed in eighth until lap 28 when he pitted for service under the event's only full-course caution, which was displayed from laps 27 through 30 after someone hit a pylon and pushed it onto the track in Turn 6. The pit stop dropped Hand back to 15th, but he now had enough fuel and fresh tires to go the distance.
He still wasn't in the top 10 with 30 minutes remaining in the race. He was close, however, as he was running 11th at that point, with 35 laps complete. Two laps later he was back in the top 10 after a car ahead of him pitted. The cars that went on to finish first and second were already in those spots by then, some 23.392 seconds ahead.
Fifth through ninth place were fairly close together at that point, and Hand, who won here in 2007, was determined to close the gap. He was still in tenth with 13 minutes remaining, but he vaulted from tenth to eighth by passing both Charles Espenlaub and Spencer Pumpelly on lap 42 with 10 minutes remaining.
He got by two more drivers on the next lap, putting Bryan Sellers and Todd Lamb behind him to move into sixth. Then he drew aim on Mike Borkowski, who was in fifth with less than 5 minutes left.
Borkowski dropped from fifth to eighth and Hand passed Dean Martin for fourth on lap 44 with 2:27 gone. Although the clock showed the time limit had been reached the event ran two more laps. That turned out to be both good and bad for the Turner Motorsport team, as Hand passed James Gue for third on lap 45 to nail down the podium finish. Auberlen got by Johnson for the lead on that lap too, but the event ran one lap longer and Johnson was able to repass Auberlen in Turn 1 for the victory before the checkered waved.
The race will be telecast at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, Oct. 3 on SPEED. The season finale the next day will not be televised but live timing and scoring will be available on the Internet at grand-am.com. The official point standings will be released later on that same Web site.
Gleason's post-race quote follows:
"This story is all about Joey. His drive today was one for the history books. Despite a mediocre car with a soft engine and inconsistent brakes and being mired in 17th place, Joey would not give up. It's this never-say-die attitude combined with a healthy dose of talent and competitive spirit that makes Joey one of the top sports car jockeys in the nation. I'm honored to drive with him.
"Our engine just didn't have any jump to it and we had some problems with our brakes. But a great race car driver works around those kinds of problems. He was buried in 17th place for a long time. He got caught up in a dogfight with another driver, and at that point I was just looking for a top 10.
"We got a lucky yellow, but then the field got spread out again. Despite that, he was closing the gap. He had to run the last 45 minutes or so of the race in the dark, but he overcame all that. He had to pass a lot of very good pro drivers in the end, but he showed his mettle. I was speechless when we got on the podium.
"Now our focus switches to the team championship. Without worrying about the driver points for me, it will give us the flexibility to get me out of the car under the 30-minute mark that you need to drive to earn points.
"One of the things I love about racing is the locker-room atmosphere and the chance to work together as a team. I set the table and help with the sponsorship, and in the best tradition Joey really stepped up and delivered today. I was absolutely astonished."
-credit: restart communications