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Laguna Seca: Touring Car race notes

Altenburg Gives Mazda 6 First SCCA Speed Touring Car Win at Mazda Raceway; Auberlen Wins Scca Speed Touring Car Drivers' Championship MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 17, 2004) -- Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., gave the new Mazda 6 its first...

Altenburg Gives Mazda 6 First SCCA Speed Touring Car Win at Mazda Raceway; Auberlen Wins Scca Speed Touring Car Drivers' Championship

MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 17, 2004) -- Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., gave the new Mazda 6 its first SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car victory, while also grabbing his second-career SPEED Touring Car win in the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as part of the Audi Sports Car Championships. Defending series Champion Bill Auberlen, of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., captured his second Drivers' Championship in as many years.

It was cloudy and cool for the start of the final round of the SPEED Touring Car season, as polewinner Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., got a great start and led into turn one. In fact, the three-time series Champion led the first 21 laps of the 26-lap event before he slid wide in turn 11, allowing Altenburg, Peter Cunningham, of West Bend, Wis., and Memo Gidley of Novato, Calif., to pass him. Kleinubing dropped to fourth and never recovered. Although the track was damp for the start of the race, due to light rain earlier in the morning, just moments before Kleinubing slid wide, there were reports that it started to rain lightly on the course.

Now in the lead, Altenburg had to push his No. 72 Tri-Point Racing/Mazdaspeed Mazda 6 over the remaining six laps, to stay in front of Cunningham and bring home the win. Altenburg won by 1.287 seconds over Cunningham averaging 72.250 mph.

"He just went wide," Altenburg said of his pass on Kleinubing. "But, earlier I had closed up on him a couple of times. I had a little bit better brakes than him [Kleinubing] and one time he broke a little earlier than I thought he was going to in turn one and I kind of got into him. So, I backed off and let him back in, trying to be sportsmanlike. But, he just went wide [in turn 11] a little bit later and that's when we got him. Then Peter [Cunningham] started coming and I knew I had to drive as hard as I could to keep that gap. I wasn't leaving anything on the table. Maybe on the last lap I backed it down a little bit."

"If there is going to be a race to win, it's this one," Altenburg said of giving Mazda a win at a Mazda track. "I guess we pick the right ones to win."

En route to his second-career win, Altenburg also set a new fast race lap record with a time of 1:39.446 (81.016 mph), breaking the record (1:44.708, 76.945 mph) he set last year by more than five seconds. This effort won Altenburg the UrbanRacer.com Hot Lap award.

Cunningham, who started on the outside of row one in his No. 4 NISMO/TeamRTR Nissan Sentra SE-R, spent the first 13 laps chasing Kleinubing before he made contact with the tire wall at the exit of turn six and fell to fifth. Not to be denied, Cunningham put his head down, and seven laps later, he found himself back in third. One lap later, Cunningham benefited from Kleinubing's turn 11 bobble and moved to second, which is where he ended the day.

Piloting the No. 48 U.S. Air Force Reserve Ford Focus from his fifth starting spot, Gidley got a good start and had moved to third heading into turn one on lap one. This was a position he would hold for the first six laps before having to battle Altenburg, Justin Marks, of San Francisco, and Cunningham for the remainder of the race. Gidley's third-place finish was his career-best in a SPEED Touring Car.

Despite his mistake in the late stages of the race, Kleinubing still finished fourth, while Marks finished fifth.

Auberlen, who won the Drivers' Championship following this race a year ago, grabbed the early lead this season with wins at Sebring, Lime Rock and Infineon Raceway and never looked back. His eighth place finish today was good enough to help him earn his second-career Drivers' Championship.

"Winning the Championship this year was even better than last year because it was so much harder than last year," Auberlen said of winning his second consecutive Championship. "Trying to redo what you've already done is really difficult to do. But, man it feels good."

Auberlen amassed 251 points to win the SPEED Touring Car Championship, followed by Nic Jonsson (234), Matt Plumb (214), James Sofronas (196) and Cunningham (188).

Dino Crescentini, of Malibu, Calif., won the Rookie of the Year award.

Rookie Kenny Yim, of Arcadia, Calif., won the Sunoco Hard Charger of the Race award for advancing nine positions throughout the race. Scott Bradley, of San Jose, Calif., won the B&M Holeshot award for advancing 10 positions on the first lap of the race.

BMW won the SPEED Touring Manufacturers' Championship Presented by Racer Magazine.

Today's race will air at 4:00 a.m. (EDT), Thursday, Oct. 21 on SPEED Channel.

-scca pro racing-

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Drivers Nic Jönsson