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Sears Point: GT, Touring Car preview

Seven for Seven: Seven Races, Seven Faces Seven Look To Break the Trend of New Winners in Sonoma SONOMA, Calif. (June 22, 2006) -- SCCA Pro Racing's SPEED World Challenge has had a season start like no other, with seven different drivers in...

Seven for Seven: Seven Races, Seven Faces
Seven Look To Break the Trend of New Winners in Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. (June 22, 2006) -- SCCA Pro Racing's SPEED World Challenge has had a season start like no other, with seven different drivers in cars from seven different manufacturers taking wins in the first seven races, combined, of the 2006 SCCA SPEED GT and Touring Car Championships. Odds are, that will all change as the series head to Infineon Raceway for this weekend's Dodge/Save Mart 350.

Or will it?

The manufacturers, alphabetically, already in winner's circle this year include Audi (A4), BMW (325), Cadillac (CTS-V), Chevrolet (Corvette), Dodge (Viper), Mazda (6) and Porsche (911 GT3). The drivers number just as many, with Aschenbach (St. Pete GT), Auberlen (Sebring Touring Car), Fellows (Long Beach GT), Gigliotti (Mid-Ohio GT), Herr (Mid-Ohio Touring Car), McCann (Sebring GT) and Pobst (St. Pete Touring Car)

With four SPEED GT races and three SPEED Touring Car races in the books, one major combined entity not on the list RealTime Racing--home of the winningest two drivers (Peter Cunningham and Pierre Kleinubing), the second-winningest automaker (Acura) and the team that had nearly half the wins in 2005. Should an orange and white Acura take the checkered flag in Saturday afternoon's SPEED Touring Car race, the streak pushes to eight.

Could it realistically go to nine? That might be greedy. While a ninth different driver's name could easily be added to the list, a ninth different manufacturer would be difficult, with the absence of Volvo (which scored its first-ever podium finish at Mid-Ohio in the hands of Michael Galati), who has elected to switch engine builders and skip the Infineon race. No other GT manufacturer has been within striking distance thus far in 2006, but one never knows...

SPEED Touring Car Outlook

Historically, Infineon Raceway has favored certain cars. BMW has been dominant in Touring Car, winning the last five times out. In fact, a BMW has only not won once in Touring Car competition, back in 2000 when it was an Acura Integra R taking the checkered flag. However, BMW drivers entered this weekend have a total of zero wins between them in the series, meaning that if the BMW Infineon Raceway streak is to continue, it will be because of the effort of a first time winner. The likely candidates include the BimmerWorld trio of James Clay, Seth Thomas and Matt Richmond (making a return appearance after semi-retiring following 2005) and the DIG Motorsports team of local driver Jon Prall and quick rookie Justin Hall.

While BMW has been the dominant machine at Infineon, it was Randy Pobst's TriPoint Motorsports Mazda 6 that sat on pole in 2005. A new track configuration for the series (running the short course traditionally used by NASCAR's Nextel Cup) may help the front wheel drive cars. Pobst, who won at St. Petersburg and is tied atop the point standings with Kleinubing, has a couple of fast teammates as well that fared well in 2005 in Jeff Altenburg (coming off a podium finish at Mid-Ohio) and Dino Crescentini. Charles Espenlaub, who has struggled this year to make the finish of races, will again be fast, leading the Sparco/Oakley/Tindol Mazda team.

The team on a roll coming into Infineon is the Sonoma-based STaSIS Engineering trio of turbocharged Audi A4s. Chip Herr captured his first-ever series win in dominating fashion at Mid-Ohio, with Piloti Rookie of the Year leader Jeff Courtney recording a top five finish. Showing off new sponsor Clear Capital, the two, along with third teammate Freddy Baker hope to make it two-in-a-row.

Living with BMW dominance throughout the years has been tough for SPEED World Challenge's most winning team--RealTime Racing, but the quintet of drivers hope to reverse the trend in 2006. Kleinubing scored a runner-up finish way back in 2000, but is the co-point leader with Pobst and will be a factor in his Acura Certified Pre-Owned Acura TSX, as will fellow TSX drivers Cunningham (defending series champion) and Brandon Davis (2005 Rookie of the Year). Additionally, Eric Curran and Nick Esayian both come off strong finishes at Mid-Ohio in their Acura RSXs.

SPEED GT Overview

Ask Lou Gigliotti how he feels about a recent adjustment to his, and the other, Chevrolet Corvette C6s and be prepared to pull up a seat as he'd have plenty to say and none of it would be with a smile. However, the three-time Champion and defending race winner must still be considered a favorite coming into the weekend. His LG Pro Long Tube Headers Corvette has led more laps and scored more qualifying points than any other car this year. In fact, despite a DNF at the opening round in Sebring, his bonus points from qualifying and laps led still have him second in points--just two back from leader Lawson Aschenbach.

Gigliotti ended a winless streak at Infineon in 2005, going flag-to-flag, and while he'll tell you he's fighting an uphill battle at Infineon this year with the recent adjustment (five percent air restriction and 400 RPM limit), the rest of the paddock still expects him to be the guy to beat. Other Corvettes expected to compete for the top spot include 2005 podium finisher Tony Gaples (Kleinschmidt Inc/Blackdog Racing) and Sonny Whelen (Whelen Engineering).

Aschenbach, the 22-year old Piloti Rookie sensation leading the points, makes his first series start at Infineon Raceway in the AXA Financial Porsche 911 GT3. He, rookie teammate Ricardo Imery and James Sofronas (Global Motorsports Group) lead the Porsche contingent, which has scored wins at Infineon in 2001 and 2004.

Dodge started the year off with a bang, with Michael McCann scoring his first-ever win in the McCann Plastics/K&N Filters SRT Viper. McCann's Championship hopes took a major hit at Mid-Ohio, when the then point leader was caught in a melee with a lapped car and ended his day in the gravel. Tommy Archer has been lightning quick in the Autohaus Motorsports Viper at times, winning the Long Beach pole, but uncharacteristic mechanical woes (Sebring and Long Beach) and an on track incident (St. Pete) have put him in a hole points wise. Bob Woodhouse and rookie Rob Foster have had solid years in their Vipers, both solidly in the top 10 in points. Ritch Marziale also comes off a solid top-10 finish at Mid-Ohio.

That leaves defending series Champion Cadillac and driver Andy Pilgrim. Pilgrim has again displayed unbelievable consistency that carried him to the 2005 title in his Cadillac CTS-V. However, he still awaits his first series win in the black sedan. His teammates have been more successful reaching victory lane, with Ron Fellows taking the #16 car to victory at Long Beach. Johnny O'Connell will pilot the #16 car for the second-straight race at Infineon. He was caught in the same incident that eliminated McCann at Mid-Ohio, but was second at St.. Pete. With its consistent podium and top five finishes, Cadillac enters Infineon atop the Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine standings.

A last minute schedule change due to a television production issue has moved the SPEED GT race to Saturday afternoon, immediately following the SPEED Touring Car race. Practice for the events is scheduled to begin Friday morning. Live Timing & Scoring Presented by SRT, as well as live minute-by-minute notes for all sessions, are available through the SCCA Pit Board. Visit www.world-challenge.com and click on the "Infineon" event for full links, schedules, entry lists and event news.

This weekend's events will air July 8 on a tape-delayed basis on SPEED.

-scca pro racing-

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Andy Pilgrim , Tommy Archer , Lawson Aschenbach , Pierre Kleinubing , Michael Galati , Lou Gigliotti , Peter Cunningham , Eric Curran , Charles Espenlaub , Jeff Altenburg , James Clay , Matt Richmond , Chip Herr , Ricardo Imery , James Sofronas , Tony Gaples , Michael McCann , Bob Woodhouse , Dino Crescentini , Seth Thomas , Jon Prall , Sonny Whelen , Jeff Courtney , Justin Hall , Ritch Marziale
Teams RealTime Racing , Global Motorsports Group