Mid-Ohio: Series round seven preview

Mid-Ohio: Series round seven preview
Oct 2, 2009, 4:35 PM

SPEED World Challenge Takes Round Seven to Mid-Ohio LEXINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 6, 2009) -- As the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships prepare for the Toyo Tires World Challenge Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network, the point ...

SPEED World Challenge Takes Round Seven to Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 6, 2009) -- As the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships prepare for the Toyo Tires World Challenge Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network, the point standings continue to get tighter. In both classes, a win this weekend could lead to a new leader in the Drivers' Championship, while the World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship is currently tied. The 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is an ideal venue for a Championship shakeup.

Current World Challenge GT point leader Brandon Davis is one of the lead candidates for a win this weekend. Driving the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra, Davis finished runner-up to Tommy Archer at Mid-Ohio last year. While Davis has yet to win a race this season, he's put his car in the top three for all but one race, and with Archer out of the picture this year, Vegas odds have to be in Davis' favor.

To take his first win of the year, Davis will likely have to contend with Eric Curran and the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette. Curran won convincingly at Mid-Ohio from the pole in 2007 and has already visited the podium three times this season. Curran too, is seeking his first win of 2009 and would love to bump Chevrolet into the top three of the World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine.

Porsche currently leads the World Challenge GT Manufactures' Championship with 38 points. Ford is second with 31, followed by Volvo (27), Chevrolet (26) and Viper (15).

GMG Racing has played a big part in Porsche's climb to the top of the Manufacturers' Championship. James Sofronas in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 and Dino Crescentini in the No. 4 StopTech/Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 have each scored a pole and a win this season. Sofronas is in the midst of his best World Challenge season yet, as he chases Davis in the Drivers' Championship. Mid-Ohio could be a stumbling block, however, as Sofronas has never placed higher than eighth in GT competition at the Lexington, Ohio-course.

Joining Davis and Archer on the 2008 World Challenge GT podium at Mid-Ohio was Andy Pilgrim. It seems likely we will see him there again this weekend, even though he will be driving the No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, as opposed to the Cadillac CTS-V he piloted at Mid-Ohio for the past five seasons. Pilgrim is currently riding a streak of four top-five finishes as the Volvos have found their stride in the car's debut season.

Further evidence of the Volvos coming into their own is Randy Pobst's recent win at Autobahn Country Club. At the wheel of the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, Pobst proved that a wet track isn't required for the all-wheel drive car to be out front; a tight and twisty course will do just fine too. Though Mid-Ohio is five turns shorter than Autobahn, it will provide a better opportunity for a win than upcoming races at Road America and Road Atlanta.

Since his Sebring race win, Tony Rivera has struggled to get the No. 97 TaxMasters/Brass Monkey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 back to the winner's circle, his nearest attempt being third at Mosport. Rivera knows how to wheel a Porsche around Mid-Ohio though. He won both IMSA Porsche Challenge Gold Cup races here in 2008, and just may be the first repeat World Challenge GT winner of the season.

The name Charlie Putman should sound familiar to any World Challenge fan, though most would associate it with Touring Car. This weekend will be a change of pace for Putman then, as he climbs into the No. 13 Woodhouse Performance Viper, for his first World Challenge GT race.

Speaking of Touring Car, the current point leader is an Ohio native. Jason Saini may have a Texas address, but he grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, watching Trans-Am and World Challenge race at Burke Lakefront Airport. Saini arrives at Mid-Ohio with a 46-point cushion in the Championship, thanks to wins at New Jersey Motorsports Park and, most recently, Autobahn Country Club. Saini finished fourth at Mid-Ohio last year in the No. 74 MAZDAPSEED/StopTech/ProParts MAZDA6, but nearly had a podium before a bobble dropped him a spot.

Saini's win at Autobahn moved Mazda into a tie with Acura for the World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine. Both marques have 43 points. BMW is third, with 24 points.

Last year's World Challenge Touring Car race at Mid-Ohio was an Acura one-two, with Kuno Wittmer leading teammate Peter Cunningham across the finish line. Cunningham is currently on a streak of five top-five finishes in his No. 1 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX. The defending Champion earned the pole here last year, but was outfoxed on the start by Wittmer, quite the feat when up against a driver with more World Challenge races at Mid-Ohio under his belt than any other driver in the field.

Wittmer is having a rollercoaster of a season. After a exiting the race at Sebring early with mechanical trouble, Wittmer bounced back with a fourth place finish at New Jersey and a win at Mosport in the No. 44 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX. Since his win, however, Wittmer has been unable to crack the top five. Mid-Ohio may be just the place for Wittmer to return to his winning ways.

A RealTime podium sweep became out of the question at Mid-Ohio last year, after an incident in the Keyhole ended Pierre Kleinubing's race on lap one. The DNF was a blemish on the driver of the No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX's otherwise impeccable Mid-Ohio record, which boasts five podium appearances, including a win in 2005.

Seth Thomas is also looking for improved consistency this season. The driver of the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i was the first repeat winner of the season, tacking on a Watkins Glen win to his win at Sebring. In between those races, save for a fourth-place finish at Mosport, Thomas has struggled to keep the car in the top 10. Joey Hand earned BimmerWorld's very first World Challenge win at Mid-Ohio in 2007, proving how capable the car is at the classic road racing venue. If BimmerWorld's preparation is flawless and Thomas can keep his nose clean, look for his blue BMW at the front.

One driver who has found some stability in his finishes is Charles Espenlaub in the No. 73 MAZDASPEED/StopTech/ProParts MAZDA6. So often classified as the "hard luck" driver for mechanical hiccups and racing incidents out of his control, Espenlaub had a disappointing start to the season, qualifying fourth in the opening two rounds, but finishing 12th and 11th, respectively. The Touring Car veteran now appears to be back on track with two runner-up finishes and, most recently, a fourth-place finish at Autobahn Country Club.

A strong contender for last year's Rookie of the Year title, Patrick Lindsey rejoins the World Challenge Touring Car field for the first time since the 2008 season finale. Lindsey will once again take a seat behind the wheel of the No. 57 Horton Autosport MAZDA6.

World Challenge Touring Car also welcomes two fresh faces, courtesy of new entrant Team HONDAWORKS. Kevin Helms will pilot the No. 05 Disc Brake Australia/HONDAWORKS Honda Civic this weekend, while another driver raised in the Cleveland area, Chris Puskar, will drive the No. 88 Exedy/Disc Brake Australia/Carbotech/Vicity Acura Integra Type R.

Fans can follow all the action of Round Seven at Mid-Ohio at www.world-challenge.com, which offers live timing, streaming audio, lap notes and more. Twitter subscribers can keep up to date with the series by following www.twitter.com/SPEEDWC.

-credit: scca pro racing

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