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Laguna Seca: Touring Car race report

Curran Tastes Victory, Kleinubing Wins SPEED Touring Car Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca MONTEREY, Calif., (Oct. 22, 2006) -- Eric Curran, of East Hampton, Mass., scored a dominant victory in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge...

Curran Tastes Victory, Kleinubing Wins SPEED Touring Car Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, Calif., (Oct. 22, 2006) -- Eric Curran, of East Hampton, Mass., scored a dominant victory in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, part of the Monterey Sports Car Championships, while his teammate, Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., earned his fourth Drivers' Championship.

As the starting lights went out on the final round of the 2006 SPEED Touring Car Championship, polesitter Curran rocketed off the line and into the lead. The No. 43 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura RSX would pull a steady gap on the field throughout the 26-lap, 58.188-mile race without a single challenge for the lead. Curran crossed the finish line 4.921 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor to take his second-career victory with an average speed of 82.532 mph.

"This couldn't have been planned any better for RealTime Racing to have us all here in these positions," Curran said. "The season didn't start off well at Sebring and then after the big crash at St. Petersburg, I thought that it was going to be a really long season. But the second half of the season has just gone better and better and better. To finish off the season with a win after starting on the pole--you just couldn't ask for a better day. What more to ask for--me winning the race, Peter on the podium and Pierre taking the Championship? Couldn't have scripted this any different."

Chasing Curran throughout the race was the No. 72 Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsports Mazda 6 of Jeff Altenburg. Starting third, Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., inherited the runner-up spot from teammate Randy Pobst on lap two, when the No. 73 Mazda 6 dropped a wheel at Turn Six and had a right-front tire go down, forcing him to pit. Unable to catch Curran and too quick for third place Peter Cunningham, two-time Laguna Seca winner Altenburg would have to settle for second.

"[Teammate] Randy [Pobst] was in a position, with the right set of circumstances, to win the Championship, so I was ready to be a wingman and do what I could to help him," Altenburg said. "My car was the best it's been all year. It was very consistent. I got a pretty good start and was following Randy. I guess he went off at the inside of six, broke a wheel and that pretty much ended his day.

"So I set off after Eric [Curran] and there was just nothing that could be done. When I realized I couldn't catch him, I went into a slight tire conservation mode. Then PD [Cunningham] came up and I was just running as hard as I could."

Altenburg also dedicated the race to the family of fellow SPEED Touring Car driver Jim Osborn. Jim and wife Amy Jo lost their nine-week old son Austin Hatcher "Hatch" this past week to cancer. Many teams carried stickers remembering Hatch on their cars.

Starting fifth, defending SPEED Touring Car Champion Cunningham, of Grafton, Wis., was bested by the all-wheel-drive Audi of Chip Herr on the start. But, with the help of teammate Kleinubing, the pair worked their way around Herr on Lap 10, moving the No.1 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX of Cunningham up to third and Kleinubing's No. 42 Acura TSX to fourth. Cunningham spent the rest of the race hunting down Altenburg, whom he caught near lap 18, but the opportunity for a pass never presented itself.

"I get #42 back next year, which appears to be good luck," Cunningham said about turning over the defending Champion's #1 to Kleinubing for 2007. "I had a great race. I'm thankful that everyone fell into line at the start and didn't end up in a big pile down in turn two. Once I was able to get by Pierre [Kleinubing] and Chip [Herr] when they were arguing, I set off to chase down Jeff [Altenburg] and I caught up. I thought I'd give him a ration of you-know-what, but I couldn't make an honest bid to sneak up inside of him.

"It was definitely a grand year for RealTime Acura," the team owner said. "To have five good drivers in five great cars is just fantastic. We had great reliability all season long, and that's what the Championship really came down to."

The battle for the 2006 SPEED Touring Car Championship had an early climax, when, on the opening lap, Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., bobbled in Turn Six, clipped the apex curb and damaged his right-front wheel. Pobst was forced to pit on lap two, dropping him to last in the order and easing the pressure on Kleinubing. Although Pobst was able to claw his way back through the field to 13th, setting a new race lap record of 1:36.429 (83.551 mph) along the way, a fourth place finish by Kleinubing was good enough to claim the 2006 SPEED Touring Car Drivers' Championship, his fourth-career title.

"It's not just for me, but for this whole team. To have five cars in the top 10 in the points. It's just amazing," Kleinubing said. "The last few years, it was tough. You know, there was just that racing bad luck and it's the kind of stuff that makes you stronger. You learn and figure out how you can fix the things that go wrong.

"I think that I drove my best season ever. I was patient. I did what I needed to do at the right times."

Herr, of Lititz, Pa., completed the top five. The No. 17 ClearCapital/STaSIS Audi A4 driver put some heavy pressure on Kleinubing in the closing laps. Herr appeared to be setting Kleinubing up for a last lap pass, but a dropped wheel in Turn Three quickly dashed his hopes.

Charles Espenlaub (Mazda 6) finished sixth followed by the BMW 325i of Seth Thomas and the Acura RSX of Nick Esayian. Dino Crescentini (Mazda 6) finished ninth and earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award for advancing seventeen positions during the race. Kuno Wittmer (Mercedes-Benz C230) completed the top ten.

Jason Martinelli in the No. 27 Techmark Corporation/LecticAir BMW 325ci earned the B&M Holeshot Award for advancing six positions on the start.

The Piloti Rookie of the Race award went to the No. 3R-Racing Dodge SRT-4 of Robb Holland, who was unable to catch Jeff Courtney for the 2006 Piloti SPEED Touring Car Rookie of the Year honors, despite the Audi A4 driver's mechanical retirement from the season finale.

Kleinubing earned the 2006 SPEED Touring Car Drivers' Championship nineteen points ahead of Pobst (286 to 267). Herr finished the season in third, with 232, followed by last year's Champion Cunningham (228) and Curran (221).

The 2006 SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship was clinched by Acura at Road Atlanta in September. Acura finishes the season fourteen points ahead of Mazda (75 to 61), followed by Audi with 40 points, BMW with 11 points and Dodge with 5 points.

Today's race will be broadcast on SPEED, Saturday, October 28th at 1 p.m. (EDT).

Stay tuned to www.world-challenge.com for information about the 2007 SPEED World Challenge season.

-credit: scca

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Series PWC
Drivers Randy Pobst , Pierre Kleinubing , Peter Cunningham , Eric Curran , Charles Espenlaub , Jim Osborn , Jeff Altenburg , Nick Esayian , Kuno Wittmer , Chip Herr , Jason Martinelli , Dino Crescentini , Seth Thomas , Jeff Courtney , Robb Holland
Teams RealTime Racing