Cleveland: Return to the airport preview

Cleveland: Return to the airport preview
Jun 24, 2005, 7:59 PM

SPEED World Challenge Drivers Hope Experience in Other Series Pays Off In Cleveland CLEVELAND (June 22, 2005) -- Following a month's break, SCCA Pro Racing's SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car Championships return to action this weekend, ...

SPEED World Challenge Drivers Hope Experience in Other Series Pays Off In Cleveland

CLEVELAND (June 22, 2005) -- Following a month's break, SCCA Pro Racing's SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car Championships return to action this weekend, making their second-ever appearances at Burke Lakefront Airport for the 24th Annual Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank.

For the first time since 1992, the premiere production car racing series in North America returns to the Lake Erie shore, and while only three current drivers competed in that event, many of this weekend's entrants have experience with other series at the circuit known for its wide-open competition.

"The track is mostly concrete and has a consistent level of grip, but the expansion joint bumps and the relative lack of reference points for braking or turn-ins make it a challenge to get right," SPEED Touring Car point leader Peter Cunningham said of his experience with the North American Touring Car Championship, in which he won a Cleveland race in 1997.

"Because it is so flat and physically separated from the grandstands or paddock area, what you're seeing out your windshield all looks pretty much the same. It just takes time--eventually it becomes easier to feel your way around."

Cunningham's experience may give him an advantage over RealTime Racing Acura TSX teammate Pierre Kleinubing, who has never raced in Cleveland, but several of his other competitors have raced and been successful at Cleveland as well.

Jeff Altenburg (Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsports Mazda 6), who is currently tied with Kleinubing for second in SPEED Touring Car points, finished fourth in the 2000 Trans-Am Series race. Both of his teammates have even more experience, with St. Petersburg winner Randy Pobst taking both privateer class races in the 1997 NATCC event and Dino Crescentini recording a pair of top-10s in the 1996 and 1998 Trans-Am events.

Bedford's Freddy Baker (Fred Baker Audi/STaSIS Engineering Audi A4) and Olmsted's Michael Galati (Autohaus Motorsports Mercedes-Benz C230) both ran their first-ever World Challenge sprint-format races in Cleveland in 1992. Baker retired after an accident and Galati managed eighth in the D class.

Nick Esayian (A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura RSX) and Mark German (Green Filter USA/Ground Control Mazda) both have experience at Cleveland in the 1996 Neon Challenge.

On the SPEED GT side, three of the top five drivers in the current point standings have Cleveland experience, albeit in very different machinery, led by point leader Tommy Archer (c3controls/3R Racing Dodge Viper), who twice finished fourth at Cleveland in the Trans-Am Series, most recently in 2001.

Second-in-points Andy Pilgrim (Cadillac/XM Radio/ Mobil 1/ Motorola/On Star Cadillac CTS-V) scored a seventh-place finish in the 1993 IMSA Supercar series driving a Lotus, while teammate Max Papis ran in the Champ Car main event six times with a best finish of 12th (twice, most recent in 2003).

Lou Gigliotti is the only current driver to have won a World Challenge race at Cleveland, taking the 1992 B Class win. He hopes to duplicate that in his LG Pro Long Tube Headers Corvette C6.

Leighton Reese (Banner Engineering Corvette C6), Mike Davis (ACS Express Saleen SR) and Stu Hayner (GMAC Commercial Finance/Trenton Forging Pontiac GTO) all have Trans-Am experience at Cleveland, with Hayner scoring top-five finishes each year from 2001-2003.

Two drivers without any Cleveland experience are the hottest drivers in the series though, and expect Kleinubing (back-to-back Touring Car wins) and Mid-Ohio SPEED GT runaway winner Wolf Henzler (Applied Materials/Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche 911) to be quick studies.

On the Touring Car side, other drivers who expect to run toward the front after a bit of practice include early Mid-Ohio race leader Bob Stretch (Wheels America/P5 Wheels BMW 325Ci), fourth-in-points Eric Curran (A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura RSX), top rookie Brandon (son of GT driver Mike) Davis (A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX), the BimmerWorld Racing BMW trio of Matt Richmond, James Clay and Seth Thomas, the U.S. Air Force Reserve Ford Focus of Chip Herr, Charles Espenlaub's Sparco/Oakley Mazda 6 and a host of others.

In SPEED GT, Robin Liddell looks to rebound from two disappointing outings that have hurt his title hopes with a win in the AXA Financial/Pfaff Porsche 911. Other drivers hoping for strong runs on the Burke Lakefront tarmac include Phil McClure and Tim Wiens (FirsTier/3R Racing Dodge Vipers), North Canton's Michael and Jim McCann (McCann Plastics/K&N Filters Dodge Vipers), Tony Gaples (Black Dog Racing Corvette C6), Michael Galati (Volvo of North America Volvo S60 R), Tom Oates' Tiger Racing Corvette C5 and James Sofronas (GMG/Tecmark Autosport Porsche 911).

Additionally, Team Cadillac has again obtained the services of Max Angelelli to drive its third car. Angelelli started from the pole, led and finished third at Road Atlanta in his only other 2005 appearance.

Saturday's SPEED Touring Car race is set to take its standing start at 6:45 p.m. (EDT). Sunday's SPEED GT race will go off at 4:00 p.m. (EDT). Both races will be broadcast Sunday, beginning at 4 p.m. (Touring Car) on SPEED Channel.

To follow all the weekend's activities, including live timing and scoring, please visit

-scca pro racing-

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