Von Kluge Wins Ford Racing Mustang Challenge as Winkler and Aweida Stage Battle for Homestead Podium HOMESTEAD, Fla., 7 March -- Everyone loves getting a new set of tires, but after this weekend, probably no one more than Ann Arbor, ...
Von Kluge Wins Ford Racing Mustang Challenge as Winkler and Aweida Stage Battle for Homestead Podium
HOMESTEAD, Fla., 7 March -- Everyone loves getting a new set of tires, but after this weekend, probably no one more than Ann Arbor, Michigan's Jason von Kluge, who used the new-specification BFGoodrich g-Force R1 tire to excellent effect as he scored two convincing Ford Racing Mustang Challenge race victories at Homestead Miami Speedway to open the 2010 championship in strong style.
Von Kluge was joined on the podium by pole-sitter Pratt Cole, with George Winkler emerging from a thrilling race with Dan Aweida to take third.
"I definitely had to be patient, to get up there, get by Tony (Buffomante) and then Pratt was running really well so I just took my time and reeled him in and used the draft through the banking and it worked out," said von Kluge. "I needed this. It was a lot of fun! Pratt is a great driver, and he shares the race track well. He's a good guy and this was a great weekend!"
The race marked the first time the Mustang Challenge racers got to take the battle to the high-banks as the event utilized the "NASCAR 3 and 4" turns of the oval on the South Florida circuit.
"This track, you have to be brave on one end, and patient on the other. It was better than yesterday, so we are going in the right direction," said Cole. "It could be a lot worse--we are really happy to be up here on the podium. We had a great set up for qualifying, and we were very strong in the first stages of the race, but obviously we have some work to do on our setup for the long run. Jason didn't make any mistakes, and had a great drive so congratulations to him. I've never driven at VIR, so we will see how it goes out there!"
There was no shortage of action throughout the field. From the drop of the green flag Tony Buffomante in his No. 34 Mustang out-muscled eventual race winner von Kluge to take over second place. Benefitting from his inside row-2 starting position, Buffomante positioned himself well through the first five turns to take full advantage into turn 6. At the end of lap 1, Cole led Buffomante, von Kluge, Steve Phillips and Dan Awieda in the Top-5.
The race's only caution came out on the very next lap when Robgert Bengoa spun to the inside of turn 1 and made contact with the wall, putting an early end to his day. When the green flag flew again on lap 6 the fireworks started going off aplenty.
Von Kluge came out of the final corner with a head of speed to draw alongside Buffomante into turns 1 and 2. Side-by-side they went until von Kluge forced the issue in turn 3 to get by. Meanwhile, George Winkler, starting from last after a morning mechanical ruled him out of qualifying, was clawing his way to the front.
Cole was keeping some daylight between himself and a hard charging von Kluge, but he never managed to open up enough of a gap to negate the effects of the draft along the back straight through turns 3 and 4 of the oval and onto the front straight.
Lap 13 began with Cole and von Kluge, taking full advantage of the draft, crossing the finish line door-to-door to begin the battle of the late-brakers.
von Kluge edged beneath Cole on the inside of turn 1, braking deeply into turn 2 in order to take the lead. von Kluge would go on to grow his advantage at the head of the field. While Cole didn't have the pace to keep up with the lead, he had more than enough to secure second place. For a few laps, Buffomante stalked Cole for third, but it wouldn't last. On lap 17 he went straight on at the run-off for turn 1 and found shelter to retire after issues cropped up with the Mustang's rear end.
Just past the halfway point, it appeared the race was to settle into steady rhythm for the run to the finish. Apparently, George Winkler didn't get the message. He was coming like gang-busters and soon engaged Dan Aweida in an entertainingly epic duel for the final place on the podium.
Over the next 12 laps, the duo would swap positions no less than seven times. There was little to choose between the two on each lap as the pendulum swung wildly from one to the other. They would go door-to-door through turns one and two. They would duck and dive each other into the hard-braking turn 8 hairpin. They would blaze a sling-shot trail around the oval portion. It was unrelenting, and the only thing that could put an end to it was the checkered flag. Winkler was ahead after their last exchange, but ultimately both racers would graciously and enthusiastically congratulate each other on a fair and hard fought battle. Pity the podium only holds three spots.
"Started from dead last and worked my way forward--I was a man on a mission!" said Winkler. "Came here this weekend with a whole new attitude, and very relaxed. Just my wife Kelli, and my son-just the three of us as the pit crew. I did get some help last night when we changed the clutch. I missed qualifying because we thought we broke something at the rear end so I had to start from the back. Just kept working at it and had to be patient. I lost my cool a couple times racing with Dan-but I got it back."
Aweida and Winkler have both been racing in the series since the first race at Road Atlanta in 2008, so were familiar fighters for the final podium position.
"I would have liked to finish on the podium," said Aweida following a jovial high-five exchange with Winkler. "But, that was good, clean, fun racing. I made a slight mistake into turn 1 the on the last lap and that was all George needed."
"For once, this was a clean race between me and Dan!" joked Winker. "Dan and I have certainly been known to do some bumping and bruising, I've hit him, and he's hit me before. But today was great. We didn't trade any paint. It was really clean and a whole lot of fun today!"
Special Awards: BF Goodrich Tires "Take Control" Award George Winkler will arrive at Virginia International Raceway with two new BFGoodrich g-Force R1 Tires to his credit after moving up from 10th on the grid to finish third. The result is his career-best Mustang Challenge finish, and netted him the BF Goodrich Tires "Take Control" Award as part of the podium ceremonies.
Sunday Group Management "Rookie of the Race" Congratulations to Richard Golinello for taking the second Sunday Group Management "Rookie of the Race" Award, which will see $150 donated in his name to the Austin Hatcher Foundation after he recovered from a disappointing race one outing to jump into a Capaldi Racing Ford Mustang and score the highest finish of the three rookies in the race.
"The Capaldi guys did a great job with the car--we had a few issues early, but everything was really good for the race. Better outcome than yesterday, thats for sure! It was a different set up than we had on my own car, but it was good in the race."
Round three of the 2010 Championship will be staged at Virginia International Raceway on April 24-5 as the series makes a debut race appearance on the rural Virginia race course as part of the GRAND-AM event weekend.
Ford Racing Mustang Challenge drivers and officials would like to thank the corner workers at Homestead Miami Speedway as well as Rick Ratajczak for stepping up to the mike on Sunday and managing the victory circle ceremonies.