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Laguna Seca: Tri-Point Motorsports race report

SPEED WCTC Finale Sees Tri-Point's Jeff Altenburg Clinch Drivers' Title in a MAZDA6 Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was the site of the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car 2007 season final race, and although Mazda had cliched the manufacturers' ...

SPEED WCTC Finale Sees Tri-Point's Jeff Altenburg Clinch Drivers' Title in a MAZDA6

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was the site of the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car 2007 season final race, and although Mazda had cliched the manufacturers' title the previous race, the results of the season finale would decide the drivers' championship standings. When it was all said and done, Tri-Point Motorsports driver Jeff Altenburg of Ellicott City, Maryland had taken the title after a 4th place finish in his #72 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development MAZDA6. After leading all but one lap of the race, MAZDA6 pilot Randy Pobst of Gainesville, Georgia, was forced to settled for 2nd place in the championship after contact relegated him to 6th place at the checkered flag. Tri-Point driver Dino Crescentini from Malibu, California, who raced with the team through 2005 and 2006, re-joined the Tri-Point squad for the season's final race, and scored a 5th place in the #74 MAZDA6.

Coming into the season finale, Tri-Point's two lead drivers had the drivers' points chase down to an inter-squad rivalry - it was simply a matter of who would take the title. Altenburg had only to finish fourth to clinch his first Touring Car title, while Pobst was under the gauntlet, and had to come up with a win to keep his championship hopes alive. Randy was clearly keen to make it a race for the championship spoils, and he knew that qualifying near the front of the field would be important. Pobst placed the #73 Tri-Point MAZDA6 near the top of the timing sheets in both practice sessions and then capped off his preparations for the race by narrowly beating Acura driver Peter Cunningham to the pole by a mere .025 seconds.

Altenburg, knowing that the pressure was on Randy to win the race, took a more conservative approach to the event, working diligently on a predictable and consistent race setup. Sessions one and two saw Altenburg's MAZDA6 in 9th and 7th places respectively and in qualifying he split the difference, placing the Tri-Point #72 8th on the 23 car SPEED Touring Car grid.

Crescentini, who was having one of the strongest weekends he's had with the boys in blue Tri-Point crew, ran as high as 4th on the timesheets after session two. Dino qualified the #74 12th and prepared for the scheduled 50- minute event.

At the start of the race, the all-wheel-drive traction of the #18 STaSIS Audi A4 launched its driver, Ian Baas, into the lead briefly, but Pobst was able to reclaim the point by turn three on the first lap. Randy knew that it would be important to win the race in order to secure the championship and was doing everything he could to ensure that outcome. Further back in the pack, Altenburg was having an uncharacteristically tough race, and one that would put the pressure on the #72 Tri-Point MAZDA6 driver to reclaim lost ground.

Shortly after the start, Altenburg was crowded into a curb and damaged a wheel and tire sufficiently to need it changed. Jeff immediately pitted and the tire change was quickly done by the Tri-Point squad, but Altenburg was knocked back to 18th place as he rejoined the action. Jeff knew his work was cut out for him, and much of his initial conservative strategy for the weekend went out he window as it was now a do or die scenario. The ball was in Jeff's court as he left pit lane, and he responded with a championship worthy run back through the field. As the closing laps approached, Altenburg found himself in 5th place, meaning that Pobst would have to win and lead the most laps to win the championship.

It was with one lap to go that it appeared that Pobst would in fact, by the narrowest of margins, win the championship despite Altenburg's stunning run through the pack. On lap 22 of the 25 lap event, Realtime Acura driver and 2006 World Challenge Touring Car defending champion Pierre Kleinubing, who had been hounding Pobst for the last several laps, made a drag race out of the run from turn eleven down to turn two. With a decidedly ill-advised attempt at a late pass into turn two, the nose of the Acura caught the rear of Randy's MAZDA6 and sent the blue and white #73 Tri-Point entry spinning off the track, ultimately to be mired in the thick gravel trap outside turn two.

Altenburg thus earned, in spectacular fashion, his first SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car championship, fittingly at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Pobst secured second in the championship making it a Tri- Point one-two in the drivers' standings. Perhaps more importantly though, Altenburg and Pobst were able to set their personal championship hopes aside for much of the year, and worked together throughout the season to score the vast majority of the points that led to Mazda winning their first Manufacturers' title in SPEED Touring Car competition.

Adding to Tri-Point's strong weekend, Dino Crescentini, who had been brought in for Laguna scored a 5th place finish.

Jeff Altenburg - 2007 SPEED Touring Car Champion - Driver - #72 Tri-Point Motorsports MAZDA6

"Well, it's about time! Driving for one of the premier teams in World Challenge, I was expecting both Manufacturer's and Driver's Championships before 2007! It's nice to finally get it done and have Tri-Point add the honor of Crew of the Year as voted on by the other teams in the series.

"I must thank the folks at Mazda and Tri-Point for keeping me around since 2002 and it's nice to repay them with these championships. We couldn't have done it without the excellent support of Stop Tech, Comptech Engines, Sachs Shocks, Chase Cams and a host of others who contributed to Tri-Point's successes this year.

"The ending to the season couldn't have been more dramatic if it was written for a Hollywood movie! To hit a curb first lap, get a yellow flag and pit to change the wheel and tire, come back to 5th place with the aid of a couple more yellow flags, and then have my team mate spun with one lap to go while we were tied for points is pretty amazing! It was a great season and fantastic to lead all season except two events to take my first World Challenge Touring Car Championship. A culmination of 10 events where I had some good fortune and some bad breaks as well."

Randy Pobst - Driver - #73 Tri-Point Motorsports MAZDA6

"It has been a pleasure to race for Mazda, Mazdaspeed and Tri-Point Motorsports again in 2006. I really enjoy being part of Mazda's sporting emphasis, from 'Zoom-Zoom', to 'More Mazdas are racing on any weekend than any other brand'. Thank you Robert Davis, Steve Sanders, and the whole Mazda corporate team.

"It was great to have the #73 back at the front of the field! We proudly carried the Humane Society on our cars, with the Mutts comic strip cat Mooch as my mascot. 'Yesh!' We had a wild ending, leading the race from the pole and leading the championship 'til just three laps to go, when a cheap shot from behind by Acura driver Pierre Kleinubing sent me and Mooch back to sixth. Still, a very close finish, with the Tri-Point Mazda 6s one and two for the season, and Mazda the Manufacturer Champion. Bravo, Team!

"Special mention to Chris Degioanni, Car Chief on my #73, Greg Haver, his right hand man, and the brilliant Andris Laivins. Congrats to Jeff Altenburg on the driver's championship. Our team owner Craig Nagler also made a great choice in teaming with Tony Manzer and Comptech Engines, always fast and never a failure. Our Stoptech brakes have been superb since day one, and my Chase Cam has been a terrific addition for study and video practice. Special thanks to my friends at Team Janica Racing, APR Tuning and WeatherTech."

Dino Crescentini - Driver - #74 Tri-Point Motorsports MAZDA6

"Talk about mixed emotions! It was Randy's race - and championship - all the way. He was on to an incredible finish, and I feel terrible about what happened to him in the last few moments of the race. I hope that winning the GT championship is at least partial consolation. Having said that, 'Congratulations Jeff!' Charging from the back of the pack to finish 4th was equally incredible, and a fine exhibition as to why he so deserved his championship.

"As for me, I would like to thank the entire Tri-Point team for a wonderful racing experience. They delivered an excellent car, and I was happy to bring it home into 5th position."

-credit: tpr

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Series PWC
Drivers Randy Pobst , Pierre Kleinubing , Jeff Altenburg , Ian Baas , Dino Crescentini , Robert Davis