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Road America: Series event preview

SPEED World Challenge Heads to Road America ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 6, 2008) - From Watkins Glen to Mid-Ohio and now Road America, SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge continues its tour of North America's greatest road courses. While SCCA...

SPEED World Challenge Heads to Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 6, 2008) - From Watkins Glen to Mid-Ohio and now Road America, SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge continues its tour of North America's greatest road courses. While SCCA SPEED Touring Car has hit the home stretch (Round Eight), SCCA SPEED GT commences the second half of its season, with the Road America SPEED GT Presented by Remington serving as Round Six. There is still much to be decided in both classes.

None of the top three finishers from the 2006 SPEED GT race will be in Elkhart Lake this year. In fact, only one of the top five finishers from that race is entered this weekend: Michael McCann. Of course, in 2006 McCann was driving a Dodge Viper, a very different animal from the No. 16 Remington Shaving Cadillac CTS-V he drives now. He has yet to finish in the top five with the Cadillac, but his record does show that he is quickly coming up to speed.

Randy Pobst was missing some speed in the previous Round at Mid-Ohio. The No. 1 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 pilot crossed the finish line in sixth, his worst finish of the season thus far. The last time Pobst raced SPEED GT at Road America, he was behind the wheel of the venerable Audi RS 6 in 2004. He qualified on pole, but finished second in a close battle with his teammate, Michael Galati.

Funny how history repeats itself and we're back at Road America in 2008 with Pobst and Galati teammates once gain. There could very well be another teammate showdown this weekend, as Galati is the winningest World Challenge driver at Road America and Pobst is the current point leader, eager to make up for ground lost at Mid-Ohio.

Nipping at Pobst's heels in the Championship is Andy Pilgrim, driver of the No. 8 Remington Shaving Cadillac CTS-V. Pilgrim remains the only driver to finish every race on the podium this year, although he's barely had to pass anyone all year. Pilgrim said is himself at Mid-Ohio, where he started eighth and finished third, "There must be something on the front of the car that people see and they just drive off the road."

If the team has come up with such a contraption it will be put to good use this weekend as Remington is the presenting sponsor of the SPEED GT race.

After his DNF at Watkins Glen, Brandon Davis bounced back strong in the No. 10 ACS/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra, finishing second at Mid-Ohio. Davis is no stranger to Road America, having raced in SPEED Touring Car here in 2006, but has yet to pace the powerful Mustang around the four-mile gem. Father Mike brought the Mustang out to Road America for the SPEED GT race in 2006 and has several Trans-Am races under his belt here as well. While Mike may have more experience in Elkhart Lake, Brandon's yet to have trouble keeping pace with anyone, let alone his dad.

James Sofronas (No. 14 GMG Porsche 911 GT3) has had a fantastic first half of the season, finishing in the top-10 at each round and now sitting fifth in the Championship. Although his last SPEED GT trip to Road America ended in a DNF, Sofronas still lists Road America as his favorite track. It could be because his professional racing career started here in 1994 and it is the site of his career-best World Challenge finish of second (2004 Touring Car).

Jeff Courtney is feeling the pressure this weekend. Hailing from nearby Slinger and with Wisconsin sponsors plastered all over the side of his car, he'll have plenty of people watching him on Sunday. Problem is, despite being a local, Courtney has more experience at several other tracks on the World Challenge calendar than he does at Road America. Courtney had planned on entering the June Sprints with the No. 99 KENDA/TJM/MPI Coin/Badger Components Dodge Viper to get more track time, but a blown engine at Watkins Glen prevented the car from making the trip. The 2006 SPEED Touring Car race was Courtney's last race here, he finished 11th in an Audi A4.

Courtney isn't the only local SPEED GT pilot. Tim McKenzie in the No. 66 TR Racing Porsche 911 GT3 is from Madison, Wis. A good weekend could propel McKenzie into the top 10 in points.

It's good to be RealTime Racing right now. Three drivers at the top of the Drivers' Championship, leading the Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER and now heading to their home track (the team is based in Saukville, Wis.). RealTime team owner Peter Cunningham attributed the team's strong performance this season to their quick acclimatization to the new Toyo R888 tires. If that is the case, the team might be the strongest this weekend at Road America, where they've tested as recently as June.

Point leader Kuno Wittmer is an unknown at this track. In 2006, Wittmer was driving the temperamental Mercedes in SPEED GT and didn't start the race. One could compare the challenging mix of corners and elevation changes of Road America to that of VIR or Mid-Ohio (both of which Wittmer won) and therefore conclude that Wittmer will have a successful run in the No. 44 Acura/Realtime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX. Of course, is there any good reason to bet against it?

Ask Wisconsinite Cunningham how he thinks he'll do this weekend in the No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX and you'll likely get a modest response. True, Cunningham finished seventh and RealTime missed the podium the last time SPEED Touring Car came to Road America, but in 2003 and 2004 Cunningham swept the pole and race win at his home track. Also keep in mind that every podium so far this season has had a RealTime driver on it.

A podium is just what Pierre Kleinubing needs after his DNF at Mid-Ohio. The driver of the No. 43 Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX slipped from first to third in the Drivers' Championship following Round Seven and only has two more rounds to climb back to the top and earn his record-tying fifth World Challenge Championship.

Chip Herr is the defending race winner, but in 2006 he was driving the all-wheel drive Audi A4. Coincidentally, he's now driving the car that finished second in that race, the No. 97 Mazdaspeed/Tindol Motorsports MAZDA6. In 2006, Charles Espenlaub put that car on the pole and finished second to Herr. Will the combo of Herr and the MAZDA6 put him on the top step of the podium again at Road America? It would be just what he needs to break up the RealTime domination at the top of the Championship table and put a dent in Acura's lead over Mazda in the Manufacturers' Championship.

Espenlaub has had a tough season thus far, still in a MAZDA6, but with the defending Champion Tri-Point team. Espenlaub will pull double duty in his Touring Car Mazda and debut the Lotus Exige in SPEED GT.

Espenlaub's teammate, Rookie Jason Saini finds himself fifth in the Championship with three rounds remaining. The No. 74 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6 driver is no stranger to Road America. He won his first professional race here in 2006, competing in the Mazda MX-5 Cup. He just recently competed in the June Sprints, where he finished third in Spec Miata. He'll be disappointed if he doesn't leave this track with a solid points finish.

BimmerWorld's Nick Esayian will also be disappointed if he leaves Elkhart Lake without a strong finish. The No. 34 BimmerWorld BMW 325i driver grew up in Milwaukee and remains fond of the locale and the course, but the team has yet to score a top-10 finish at Road America. Thomas came close in 2004 when he finished 11th, but with a chance to climb into the top five of the Drivers' Championship this weekend, nothing less than a top-five finish will do. Working in the teams favor this weekend is the steep hills in two of the primary passing areas, Turns Five and 14, which will favor the rear-wheel drive BMW.

He may only be eighth in the points, but Michael Galati has proven he can win in the No. 95 Mazda North America/Tindol MAZDA6. With more victories at Road America than any other World Challenge driver, Galati could put on another Watkins Glen-like show in Elkhart Lake on Sunday.

In 2006, Robb Holland finished third at Road America in the No. 63 Dodge SRT-4, and it remains his career-best finish. Although he hasn't been running the SRT for the full season, look for Holland to lay the power down on the course's long straights and hopefully mix it up at the front once again.

The schedule is so full at Road America this weekend that the track has opened up two days for testing and the World Challenge teams are already assembled in the paddock and collecting data as we speak. While the style and format of World Challenge hasn't changed since the series last raced at Road America, many of the drivers and cars have, so prepare for the unexpected as Round Eight of the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Championship and The Road America SPEED GT Presented by Remington begin on Friday, August 8. As always, live timing and lap notes will be available all weekend at www.world-challenge.com.

Sunday's races will be broadcast on SPEED, Wednesday, Aug. 20 at noon and 1 p.m. Eastern.

-credit: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Andy Pilgrim , Randy Pobst , Pierre Kleinubing , Michael Galati , Peter Cunningham , Charles Espenlaub , Nick Esayian , Kuno Wittmer , Chip Herr , James Sofronas , Michael McCann , Tim McKenzie , Brandon Davis , Jeff Courtney , Robb Holland , Jason Saini
Teams RealTime Racing , HART