Cunningham wins first SPEED Touring Car of 2002 at Road Atlanta; championship down to two drivers. BRASELTON, Ga. (October 11, 2002)-- Peter Cunningham, of W. Bend, Wis., had to wait until the 10th Round of the 2002 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World...
Cunningham wins first SPEED Touring Car of 2002 at Road Atlanta; championship down to two drivers.
BRASELTON, Ga. (October 11, 2002)-- Peter Cunningham, of W. Bend, Wis., had to wait until the 10th Round of the 2002 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship to capture his record 25th series win, but it came at the right time at the Audi Presents Petit Lemans Road Atlanta week, as he inched closer to the season Championship. Teammate Pierre Kleinubing, of Brazil, ensured that the Championship will be a two-car battle at the season finale in two weeks, finishing second, followed by Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md.
After starting second, Cunningham's No. 42 RealTime Racing Acura Integra R hounded Woody's Ice Polewinner Will Turner for the first 22 laps until Turner spun coming out of turn seven and clouted the tire wall. While he was able to drive the car back to the pits, Turner's race was over, and Cunningham sped away to a 1.627-second win, averaging 90.271 mph in the 25-lap, 63.5-mile contest.
"This feels great to finally win a race this year," said Cunningham, who last won a World Challenge race at Road Atlanta in 2001, but in the sister SPEED GT Championship."I wondered if I was ever going to win a SPEED Touring Car race. During the race, I was swearing at myself in my helmet, saying that Will Turner had done everything he needed to do to keep this [Championship] going. He went wide in turn seven and just looped it across the track, though. I was able to keep my foot in it and get on the radio to tell Pierre [Kleinubing] and the crew what had happened."
Kleinubing started third and was stuck to Cunningham's bumper in the opening laps, but was held up in traffic, allowing Altenburg, who was charging from eighth starting position, to close the gap. The two staged an outstanding battle for second in the final three laps, with Kleinubing's No. 1 RealTime Acura nosing ahead as the two exited turn 12 side-by-side on the final lap.
"Jeff [Altenburg] was able to get by me on the straightaway going into 10A, but I was pushing him deep into the braking, so I could get a run on him into 10B," said Kleinubing, who is now 16 points behind Cunningham, and the only one who can catch him for the title."I thought the last lap was going to be ugly coming down the hill. I slid a little going into 12 and thought both Jeff and I were going into the wall, but he luckily went into the grass on the exit and we both made it through."
While he came up just short of his third-consecutive runner-up finish at Road Atlanta, Altenburg was beaming after he climbed from his No. 14 TriPoint Motorsports/Mazdaspeed Mazda Protege ES.
"It was fun to race with Pierre [Kleinubing], I can trust him," said Altenburg."We were jumping the curbs, going sideways--it should make for a great race on television. This was the first race I felt comfortable with the car to drive like that. Most people wouldn't try to hang on the outside of turn 12 on the last lap, but the car was up to it and I knew I could trust Pierre."
Chuck Hemmingson, of W. Des Moines, Iowa, finished fourth, followed by Shauna Marinus, of Folsom, Calif.
Marc Kirberg, of Corte Madera, Calif., finished 13th, but was able to clinch the Rookie of the Year award for the 2002 season. Kirberg has one win on the season, at Washington, D.C., but struggled the last two weekends in a rented car after seriously damaging his primary car in testing.
"This definitely takes a lot of pressure off," said Kirberg."We set out to win the Rookie of the Year award this year, but it's been a struggle since our win. All the development we put into that car is gone, and it's been difficult to regain that form. Nonetheless, we're happy to clinch the award."
Local drivers Tom Fowler, of Cumming, Ga., and Robert Baxter, of Atlanta, each fared well, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively. Jim Osborn, of Ooltewah, Tenn., earned the B&M Holeshot Award for moving up 13 positions on the first lap, from 42nd to 29th.
With one race remaining at Virginia International Raceway, October 25-27, Cunningham now leads teammate Kleinubing by 16 (233 to 217). Hemmingson jumped to third, with 191. Paul Bonaccorsi, who finished 16th after an early spin, is fourth, with 184, with Ken Dobson in fifth, with 182. In the Manufacturers' Championship points battle, Acura jumped past Mazda into second, with the battle heading into the final round. BMW, who was shut out of the points at Road Atlanta, leads Acura and Mazda 53 to 50 to 48.
Today's race will be broadcast on SPEED Channel after an extensive post-production process on Saturday, October 26 at 8:00 p.m.
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