Honda, HART, Lewis and Schmitt Win VIR Finale as Turner, Hopwood, Burrows and Acura Take KONI ST Titles ALTON, Va. (October 6, 2007) -- Shane Lewis and John Schmitt capped a dominant weekend in the No. 22 HART Honda Accord with a convincing...
Honda, HART, Lewis and Schmitt Win VIR Finale as Turner, Hopwood, Burrows and Acura Take KONI ST Titles
ALTON, Va. (October 6, 2007) -- Shane Lewis and John Schmitt capped a dominant weekend in the No. 22 HART Honda Accord with a convincing win in the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series ST (Street Tuner) Six Hour Saturday at Virginia International Raceway while a third-place finish by No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i teammates Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood gave the New England duo their first professional championships and the Turner team its second-consecutive Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series ST Team Championship.
While Burrows and Hopwood ran in the lead pack all day, Lewis and Schmitt were clearly the class off the field. After Lewis won his first pole of the season in Saturday morning's qualifying session, he opened up to a more than 13 second lead in the opening 40 minutes of the race and gave notice that he and Schmitt would be the team to beat. In total, they led seven different times for a race-high total of 94 laps and really only lost the lead during pit stops.
Lewis, who drove both the first and final stints of the race with Schmitt handling the mid-race driving chores, took the lead for the final time just under 20 minutes from the finish when the race leading No. 127 Fountain Motorsports BMW 330i of Guy Cosmo pit for a splash of fuel. Cosmo rejoined the race in second but could never close the gap on Lewis and crossed the finish line 26.154 seconds behind the winners. Lewis and Schmitt completed 153 laps in the race that officially took 6:01:12.391 to complete with the winner's averaging 83.106 mph for the victory.
We were both driving as hard as we could," said Lewis, who also won with Schmitt earlier this season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "Some of this win was fuel strategy, and the rest was hard work by the team. Grand-Am does a great job at keeping these cars equal. We could only go 90 minutes on a fuel load while others are able to go two hours. We basically took any opportunity we could to fuel up, and the great pit stops our team performed allowed us to get this win."
"I ran an hour and a half just as hard as I could," said Schmitt, who took the lead at the three hour mark and held it until his next pit stop almost an hour later. "We worked really hard all year and had a few potential good finishes that didn't work out, so to come out here and win this event means a lot to us."
Cosmo, who won in the same Fountain BMW earlier this year at Iowa Speedway, helped give his co-driver VJ Mirzayan another Grand-Am career-best finish of second after crossing the line in the same spot at Laguna Seca this past May.
Burrows was running fourth on the final lap but moved up a spot at the checkered flag when the No. 29 Bill Fenton Motorsports Acura RSX of Mike Liebl ran out of fuel. The third-place finish gave Burrows and Hopwood an unmatched record of top-three podium finishes in half of the year's 12 races, including three second-place showings. Although winless this season, the championship duo led four laps today, finished out of the top-10 just once and had the most consistent record of any team in KONI ST competition.
"This is fantastic and just a huge relief," Burrows said. "We knew that we just had to focus on our own race, and it played out perfectly for us. I have to thank Will (Turner) for having the faith in us that he did. The whole Turner Motorsport organization is amazing. We had a perfect car every race this season."
For the Turner team, the ST crown follows last year's title that was earned by team owner Will Turner and his teammate Don Salama, who now compete in KONI Challenge GS competition. The Turner team also won last year's Grand-Am KONI Challenge GS team title which gives them an impressive record run of three team championships in the last two years.
"Turner Motorsport has won championships before, and the whole team just kept their cool all weekend," Hopwood said. "We didn't know what to expect this year, but given how competitive this series is, we really didn't think we'd be ending the year by taking the championship. But we got off to a solid start at Daytona, and just kept building from there."
The No. 95 Turner team saw the championships come their way at the four-hour mark of the race when the No. 76 Kensai Racing Acura TSX of Billy Johnson, Karl Thomson and hired-gun Matt Plumb pitted with a left front brake rotor fluid leak. The No. 76 earned a series-best four wins this year and came into the finale trailing the Turner team but just five points, 285 - 280, in both the driver and team championships. Although they ran up front most of the day and led three laps, the brake issue was too much to overcome and they ultimately finished a disappointing 12th, five laps behind the winners. Burrows and Hopwood ended the season with 315 points while Johnson and Thomson finished second in the championship with 299 points apiece. The team title was decided by the same points totals as the driver championship.
Despite today's disappointment, Kensai's success this season played a big part in Acura taking its second consecutive ST Manufacturers Championship and their fifth in the last six years. In addition to the No. 76's four wins, Acura's championship season was also given a boost by Kuno and Nick Wittmer's victory in the No. 31 i-MOTO Acura TSX at Trois-Rivieres. In total, Acura failed to finish out of the top five just once all year and its five wins were backed up by four more top-three podium finishes.
Kensai's second Acura TSX entry, the No. 75 of Scott Nicol, Beau Buisson and Aaron Povoledo, led the second highest number of laps Saturday with 20 tours up front and was one of seven different cars to lead the race. In addition to the winning No. 22 Honda (94 laps), the No. 127 BMW (20 laps), the No. 95 BMW (4 laps), and the No. 76 Acura (3 laps), the race was also led by the No. 01 Chevy Cobalt SS of Eric Curran and Jamie Holtom (10 laps) and Kensai's third entry, the No. 74 Acura RSX of Matt Pritiko, David Tuaty and Povoledo (2 laps). Despite the time up front both the No. 01 and No. 74 finished well down in the order after suffering mechanical woes.
Mazda struggled through an uncharacteristically difficult day and an 18th place finish by the No. 69 Mondial Forwarding/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 was the manufacturer's best showing of the race, but even that came with a silver lining. The result, which came only after a mid-race front suspension repair, was good enough for lead driver Jose Armengol to take third place in the ST drivers championship with 262 points. Armengol was capably supported Saturday by co-drivers and former Grand-Am KONI Challenge ST Champions David Haskell and Sylvain Tremblay.
The Wittmer brothers and co-driver Glen Bocchino won the SunTrust Improve Your Position Award in the No. 31 i-MOTO Acura after climbing an impressive 24 positions in the race. Nick Wittmer qualified and started the car from 35th position this morning and climbed as high as fourth before experiencing brake failure late in the race and settling for an eleventh place finish. The team's charge to the front included Nick Wittmer impressively passing nine cars on the very first lap of the race.