BOTH KENSAI/COMPASS360 TSX'S IN TOP EIGHT The Kensai Racing with Compass360 team hoped to gain some ground in their KONI ST-class championship battle in the series' penultimate round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah this past weekend.
BOTH KENSAI/COMPASS360 TSX'S IN TOP EIGHT
The Kensai Racing with Compass360 team hoped to gain some ground in their KONI ST-class championship battle in the series' penultimate round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah this past weekend. Coming into the event, the #76 Acura TSX of Billy Johnson and Karl Thomson was solidly in second place, just four points behind the first-placed #95 Turner Motorsports BMW. The team also hoped to improve the positions of Matt Pritiko and David Tuaty, driving their #74 Acura RSX-S, as both were sitting well into the top ten. The #75 TSX rounded out the team's entries, with Aaron Povoledo once again joining Beau Buisson behind the wheel, hoping to better the car's best finish of 5th (at Mosport) this year.
Every effort was made to maximize the performance of each car, with a dyno being brought in specifically to tune the Acuras for the high altitude. "The elevation here in Salt Lake City robs us of so much power," explained Crew Chief Ray Lee. "The forced-induction cars like the Subarus and the Cobalts do much better here, so we had to try and get as much as we could out of the cars."
Qualifying rewarded the team's efforts, with all three cars qualifying in the top-eight for the first time this season. Povoledo placed the #75 TSX in fourth, with Thomson right behind in fifth, while Tuaty put the #74 RSX in eighth. "This is a really challenging track," noted Thomson. "It demands utmost attention from the driver, and with 23 corners over four-and-a-half miles, there's little chance of catching your breath. The whole team really did a great job getting the best performance out of the cars."
The start of the race was really exciting, with the field racing down the long straight into the first corner three cars wide. Povoledo and Thomson both made good starts, moving up to third and fourth respectively. This, despite Povoledo being tagged from behind, which resulted in his rear bumper flapping about on the ground for the next two laps. "I felt the hit, and just managed to keep my line, getting the inside line into corner two ahead of Karl," said Povoledo. "I was worried I'd get a black flag, but the bumper fell off a lap later and I settled into third spot behind the #93 Subaru and the #01 Cobalt."
Indeed, as expected the turbocharged Subaru and the supercharged Cobalt pulled away from the field at the front of the pack. Thomson, meanwhile was locked in a fierce battle, staying ahead of the #111 Subaru and the #95 Turner BMW. Mid-way through his stint, the TSX lost its ABS, which allowed the Subaru past. "I worked for a few laps to figure out just how hard I could brake without locking up the tires," noted Thomson. "All the time Adam (Burrows, in the BMW) was right there, looking for an opportunity to get by. It was another good fight, one of many we've had this year." In the end, Thomson stayed ahead, and when a full-course yellow flag flew at the 40- minute mark the team elected to do its first pit stop, adding fuel, changing tires and putting Billy Johnson in the car. The Turner car also pitted, which set up a good battle between Johnson and Trevor Hopwood.
The #74 RSX also pitted under the yellow flag, with Tutay (who had moved up to sixth), handing to Pritiko. Povoledo remained out, the team electing to try a different strategy for the #75 car. As the race progressed and other cars had to stop for fuel under green flag conditions, Povoledo led for a lap before coming in on lap 28th, putting Buisson behind the wheel and being good to go to the finish.
Johnson, meanwhile, hung behind Hopwood, trying to save enough of his tires for the late-race dogfight that was sure to ensure between the two. The lack of ABS, combined with contact with another car early in his stint, compounded to make this a real effort. "I got hit on the left side early in my stint, which knocked the rear end out of alignment. It was really hard to hustle the car around some of the corners, all the while trying not to flat-spot the tires," remarked Johnson.
The #74 RSX's day came to an unfortunate end when a drive shaft let go, relegating Tuaty and Pritiko to a disappointing 24th place finish, after a promising qualifying and early race pace.
So, in the closing laps, both the 76 TSX and the 95 BMW pitted for splashes of fuel, the Turner car getting out a few seconds ahead of the Acura. The Kensai/Compass360 #75 car was ahead of the BMW, but Buisson found the handling of his car also a handful and was unable to keep the position, while Johnson put his head down and worked to close the gap. At the checkered flag, it was Hopwood in sixth place, Johnson in seventh and Buisson in eighth.
"That was a really, really close fight from start to finish," remarked Thomson. "We had hoped to close the gap this weekend, but everybody on the Kensai team gave it their all, and this was the way it played out. Billy did an amazing job to bring the car in as good a position as he did, and Beau did everything he could to help us. We're still in the hunt and, as we expected, it'll go down to the season-ending six-hour race at VIR in October."
And so the tradition of closely-fought Grand American championships continues, with Johnson and Thomson's #76 sitting just five points behind the Turner car. It promises is to be a spectacular fight right to the last lap at VIR.
The Grand Am KONI Miller race will be aired tape-delayed on SPEED Channel on September 23rd at 3:00pm and should feature good coverage of the ST-class championship battle.