Automatic Racing Ends Season with Anxious Six Hours at VIR ALTON, Va. -- Automatic Racing ended the KONI Challenge season in dramatic style during Sunday's six-hour Grand Sport class race at Virginia International Raceway. Charlie Putman and...
Automatic Racing Ends Season with Anxious Six Hours at VIR
ALTON, Va. -- Automatic Racing ended the KONI Challenge season in dramatic style during Sunday's six-hour Grand Sport class race at Virginia International Raceway. Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub overcame a one-lap deficit to finish eighth in the No. 91 Automatic Racing BMW M3, while Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal saw their championship hopes disappear in the final hour of the race.
Thornton and Segal, along with Terry Borcheller, put in a monumental effort in the No. 09 Automatic Racing BMW M3. Thornton and Segal hoped to earn their second consecutive championship, but fuel pickup problems developed in only the second hour of the race. The problem required refueling every half an hour.
During a caution in the third hour, while Thornton was behind the wheel, the Automatic crew got to work on the fuel problem. They were able to improve the fuel pressure, but by then the No. 09 was a lap down in 17th.
Thornton, Segal and Borcheller each took a stint in the car, and by the end of the fifth hour the team had made up their lap and Borcheller sat in an impressive eighth overall. The pickup problem returned, though, and Borcheller had to pull off track at turn three to take a shortcut back to the pits. A full tank was all that kept the fuel pressure in check, and he returned to the track a lap down once again. At the checkered flag, the No. 09 M3, sponsored by Imported Car Store, Rogue Engineering, LandAir and Engine Music Studios, was 11th.
The finish gave Thornton and Segal third in the Grand Sport driver championship, while the title went to Joe Foster and Scott Maxwell in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Mustang. "Congratulations to Joe and Scott," commented Thornton. "You never know how things will turn out -- we lost our chance for a championship in the last minutes of the last race. We all fight for this moment. We had our problems, but overall we had a great season." Referring to Monday night's KONI Challenge banquet in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina, Thornton added, "Viva Greensboro!"
"Congratulations to the entire Hyper Sport team," added Segal. "They did a fantastic job, and they really deserve this. Their Mustang was really strong and our little M3 just didn't have anything for them. Our whole team worked unbelievably hard all weekend. Our championship last year and our third place points finish this year is all because of their efforts."
"Every single time we advanced, we'd get pushed back down. In my last stint, we were on the lead lap and in place to race for the win, and the fuel pressure started to drop again," said Borcheller. "My lap times kept slowing, so I was still trying to race but also trying to stay out of the way."
Meanwhile, Putman and Espenlaub faced their own share of setbacks in the No. 91 Automatic M3. Espenlaub started the race and was up to 11th, pitting late in the second hour to give the car to Putman. At the halfway mark though, Putman was hit by a competitor on a restart, and he had to pit twice so the team could change a tire and repair damage to the left rear bumper.
Putman and Espenlaub battled back to regain the lap they lost as a result of their pit stops, and a late-race caution caught them up to the lead-lap field. The race restarted with only two laps before the checkered flag, and Espenlaub darted past several other cars to claim eighth.
"Our lucky eighth!" joked Putman, since this is the third eighth-place finish for the No. 91. "We're really happy with our finish because we came back from a lot of adversity. We ran good laps and got lucky with the timing of the final yellow. It was a dramatic race. We're happy for the guys in the Hyper Sport Mustang; they did great this year and we had fun running with them."
The No. 90 Automatic Racing BMW M3 of Derek Whitis and Tom Long finished 16th after a roller-coaster day. During the first two hours, Long worked his way up to second, and the car was becoming better to drive as the track conditions changed. Not long after the two-hour mark, though, Long took the car behind the wall, leaving a long trail of oil in the car's wake. A punctured oil line had to be repaired, and Whitis returned to the track near the bottom of the leaderboard.
Later in the race, Long was behind the wheel of the No. 90 again when a front brake rotor exploded, and the car went behind the wall again for repairs. Not to be outdone, Whitis and Long persevered and worked their way back up for their eventual finish of 16th.
Long, who drove in Saturday's Street Tuner race and amassed nearly nine hours of racing time this weekend, commented, "I had a fun time getting back into the Grand Sport class with Automatic Racing, and it was a great conclusion to the season. Thanks to Derek and the team for the opportunity to come out and race."
The formidable trio of Rob Finlay, Steve Cameron and Michael McDowell were impressive in the No. 99 Mobile-Shop.com BMW M3. McDowell had to pit early in the race for a dragging rear bumper, and he worked his way back up from 18th to seventh. McDowell wasn't done yet, though, and during the second hour he took over the race lead. Finlay continued the charge, followed by Cameron. The trio set consistently fast times and in hour five the No. 99 M3 was second overall. The final hour was not so kind, and the No. 99 was sidelined with a drive train issue.
Automatic Racing is already gearing up for the 2009 KONI Challenge season. Get off-season updates and previews of their '09 plans online at www.AutomaticRacing.com.