Gleason Finishes Third In Grand-Am Cup Season Finale And in the National Championship ALTON, Va., Oct. 7 - In a race that had all sorts of drama, Johnstown, Pa.'s Chris Gleason was part of the driving squad that finished third in the six-hour ...
Gleason Finishes Third In Grand-Am Cup Season Finale And in the National Championship
ALTON, Va., Oct. 7 - In a race that had all sorts of drama, Johnstown, Pa.'s Chris Gleason was part of the driving squad that finished third in the six-hour Grand-Am Cup Grand Sport season finale Saturday at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) here.
The podium finish helped propel Gleason and his customary teammate, Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif., from fourth into a tie for third place in the national championship in this extremely challenging series. Some 175 drivers, including world-class, professional racers, competed in the Grand Sport class in the 10-race series that began in January in Daytona Beach, Fla. and ended Saturday in the rolling hills of Virginia.
Since Saturday's race was so long, Joey Hand of Sacramento, Calif. joined Gleason and Auberlen behind the wheel of the Turner Motorsport BMW M3 No. 96, which is partially sponsored by Gleason Financial, for this event.
Although Gleason and Auberlen were mathematically still in the picture in the title fight going into Saturday's race, they are also part of the Turner Motorsport team that also fields a car for the point leader, Anders Hainer of Hidden Hills, Calif. It made Gleason and Auberlen both very happy when their teammate, Hainer, captured the overall driver's title with a sixth-place finish in Saturday's race.
What's more, Gleason and Auberlen were part of the team that won the team championship, and they helped BMW finish second in the manufacturer standings. Gleason and Auberlen's No. 96 ended the year with two victories, more than any other entry in the series. They were also on the podium an incredible five times, finishing third or better in half of the events run this season.
Finishing on the podium in Saturday's six-hour enduro was a fitting way to end the year, but it wasn't easy.
Things started out very well, as Hand qualified third in the 36-car field for Saturday's race, called the Wheel Enhancement GS Enduro presented by EMC Mechanical. He took the green and was in fourth place by the end of the first hour of competition, running comfortably with the leaders.
Things got even better a few minutes later, as with some passing and some pit stops by the leaders, Hand took the lead on lap 30 of what turned out to be a 152-lap race. Hand led for two laps at that point until he pitted too, giving the lead to Terry Borcheller.
Polesitter Wolf Henzler regained the lead an hour and 25 minutes into the race but Hand was still in second. Spencer Pumpelly was applying a lot of pressure to Hand at that point, but at the end of Hour Two Hand was still in second, trailing Henzler by about 3 seconds.
Henzler was in the fastest car on the track at that point and he stretched his lead over Hand to six seconds, but then Henzler pitted for a driver change and Hand inherited the lead. He held the top spot for five laps until he pitted two hours and 30 minutes into the race for Gleason to take over.
After the pit stop Gleason was in sixth place, but by the half-way mark he was back up to fourth, holding off the car that eventually won. Gleason had the kind of stint that car owners love, as it was relatively uneventful. "I drove for almost an hour," he said afterwards. "We were running down on gas and then a full-course yellow came out, so I pitted and Billy took over.
"My stint was really uneventful," he added. "It wasn't raining at the time, so the conditions were good. I just tried to stay out of trouble. My job is to try to set the table for Bill."
He did just that, but then the plot thickened about four hours and 22 minutes into the race. Somehow the No. 96 and the No. 97 team cars got together between Turns 10 and 11 while Auberlen was in the No. 96 and Boris Said was in Hainer's car, the No. 97. Both cars received damage, lost nine positions, and barely made it back onto the track after their pit stops for repairs without losing a lap.
"It was just a miscommunication or something," Gleason said. "Neither one of them blamed the other one, but the crew did a great job to get them back on the track without them losing a lap. It was really close!"
Mother Nature then complicated things further, because as darkness fell over the 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course, it also started to rain. With one hour to go Auberlen was in seventh place, and things had gone from relatively easy to quite difficult. A tie rod had been bent in the collision so the BMW was a handful to drive even without the added complications of total darkness and rain.
But when the going gets tough the tough get going, and both Auberlen and Said are tough. Auberlen moved back into the top five with 48 minutes remaining, and then he got fourth with 39 minutes left in the contest. Three minutes later he took over third by passing Andy Lally. That's as far as he got, but he had gone from 12th to third over the course of 24 laps.
The rain slowed down near the end and Auberlen finished third with six hours and 152 laps in the books. Said did his best to regroup too, finishing sixth to bring the championship home for Hainer and the team.
Now all that's left is the awards ceremony at the Orlando Marriott World Center in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, Dec. 14, and preparation for the 2007 season opener at Daytona in January.
Gleason's post-race quote follows:
"I've never seen a race with such extreme changes in fortune and misfortune!
"Anders had a problem in qualifying and they qualified 18th. Joey Hand qualified third for us, so we were in good shape. Although Bill and I had a mathematical chance to win the championship we were sort of out of it, so we just tried to win the race. Anders and his teammates had to finish ahead of their main rivals, so their strategy was completely different than ours.
"They had an engine problem due to an electronics issue, but they finally got in the pits and got that taken care of. Meanwhile our car was moving up.
"With about two hours or so to go everything looked great; Bill's times were great and the pit stops were terrific. Everything was going well. Boris had to watch where Andy Lally and Spencer Pumpelly were, as well as where Pat Long and Brent Martini were. Boris was going to let Bill go by when he came up on him, but somehow they got confused and they both went off the track. They limped back to the pits and then we got them back out just in time so we didn't lose a lap, but it was close.
"Our car had a bent tie rod, and there was still an hour and a half to go.
"Then it started to rain, but somehow Bill started moving up again. It rained on and off the last part of the race, but we finished on the podium. It was our fifth podium in 10 races, which is terrific. Boris and those guys finished sixth and won the championship, and the crew put on Dead Head wigs to celebrate. Boris is a real fighter. They overcame so much adversity! I'm just privileged to be part of it. The job that Boris did to help Anders get the championship was really outstanding.
"It was a fitting conclusion to a great season. I think Billy and I finished third in the championship, so we're excited about that. The competition in this series is unbelievable; all the name drivers involved are very good. We're happy for Anders and for Turner Motorsport.
"They've asked me back for next year, and it's a wonderful team to be involved with, so why not? The new schedule is out, and soon it'll be time to get ready for Daytona!"
-credit: restart communications