KONI GOES PONY: AMERICAN MUSCLE MUSTANGS, CAMARO, CHALLENGER SQUARE OFF IN SEASON FINALE AT VIR Muscle Cars Hit Track First Time Friday Afternoon DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 2, 2009) - This weekend revives an era where Pony cars - Ford Mustangs,...
KONI GOES PONY: AMERICAN MUSCLE MUSTANGS, CAMARO, CHALLENGER SQUARE OFF
IN SEASON FINALE AT VIR
Muscle Cars Hit Track First Time Friday Afternoon
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 2, 2009) - This weekend revives an era where Pony cars - Ford Mustangs, Dodge Challengers and Chevrolet Camaros, among others - competed against each other for the victory. The four-hour Bosch Engineering Octoberfest, the season-ending race for the KONI Challenge, is scheduled for noon ET Sunday at Virginia International Raceway near Danville, Va.
Mustangs, Challengers and Camaros all compete in the series' Grand Sport (GS) class, which includes cars tuned to 350-405 horsepower and top out at 160 mph. All cars that compete in the class come straight from the dealers' showrooms and are modified minimally in performance and more specifically in safety.
The Pony car, described as affordable and compact crossed with style and high performance, was introduced in 1964, with the Ford Mustang. Not long after, other car manufacturers joined in production of these cars. Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in 1967, with the Challenger introduced by Dodge in 1970.
Manufacturers fought for consumers to purchase their cars in the showrooms, and on the race track for championships. Sports car stalwart Roger Penske, who had just turned into an owner after a successful driving career, landed the efforts of Mark Donohue and Ronnie Bucknum, two drivers from opposite ends of the country who raced similarly - out front and for victories. They drove the No. 6 Sunoco Chevrolet Camaro to a road racing championship in 1969. In fact, Donohue won three road racing titles, two in a Camaro, before winning the 1972 Indianapolis 500 with Penske, his first of a record 15 as an owner.
The Mustangs ran out front with the likes of two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bud Moore, who later owned sports cars, and Carroll Shelby, as owners, and driver Parnelli Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner. Driving a Challenger was Sam Posey, who had stints in IndyCars, Formula 1 and Can-Am as well as the Trans-Am Series. Posey drove for Ray Caldwell's factory-backed Autodynamics.
In essence, it is not a new era for pony cars in KONI Challenge competition. Mustangs have competed in the series since it came under the Grand-Am umbrella in 2001 (Mustangs also won races in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series), and have compiled 28 wins in the KONI Challenge, including a season-high four victories this year.
The Challenger, reintroduced to the public in 2008, debuted this season in the Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway, finishing 26th. Since then the team developed and tested the car at several facilities, and should be ready to compete at the front Sunday. Between 2001 and 2003, two Camaros combined for 12 starts in the KONI Challenge. The 2010 version, entered by Stevenson Motorsports and built by Riley Technologies, was shaken down earlier this week for the first time. The Camaro returned this year after going out of production in 2002.
This weekend, history will repeat itself with the No. 6 Sunoco Chevrolet Camaro, with David Donohue and Jeff Bucknum co-driving the car. The addition of this car brings the majority of the Pony cars back in racing action for the first time since the Trans-Am's Golden Era.
"I'm excited to be part of the whole retro, muscle car thing from the 1960s and '70s, bringing it back to this day and age where people can still go out and buy a Camaro, Challenger, Mustang," Bucknum said. "Realistically, I don't have any experience in the KONI Sports Car Challenge, but I'm excited to come out here and debut the Sunoco Camaro with David Donohue. It's going to be fun for us, but I'm not sure exactly how we are going to fare. We're going to go out there and do our best, and learn some stuff about the car."
Nastasi, a former VIR winner in the GS class, brings the Challenger to VIR with co-drivers Ian James and Erich Heuschele. He said this weekend will be historic.
"I think it's history being made," Nastasi said. "The last time the Challenger raced in Trans-Am was 1972, so it's pretty historic. This is American road racing, just like it was done in the '60s and '70s. Hopefully we can and will revive it."
Dean Martin, currently third in the GS points standings, has been a Ford Mustang driver and team principal for several seasons. He showed excitement knowing the three cars were once again competing against each other.
"It's awesome," Martin said. "It just goes back to the days of Trans-Am, where the three cars raced against each other. We were involved in a photo shoot this morning, and I think that's the start of a historic weekend. I'm looking forward to getting out there with them and see what they do."
This Sunday, the Ford Mustang will attempt to win its second consecutive KONI Challenge GS manufacturer championship against German marque BMW and its M3 model, as well as battle the Porsche 997. The top two teams - Rehagen Racing and JBS Motorsports - field Mustangs, and driver Ken Wilden will try to hold off James Gue and Bret Seafuse in another close GS driving championship.
Official practice for the Bosch Engineering Octoberfest is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, with qualifying at 3 p.m. The race is scheduled for noon Sunday.