Segal, Thornton Lead Grand-Am.....

KONI Challenge Series Competitors to Saturday’s Race at Watkins Glen

Automatic pair holds 14-point lead in GS standings; Curran, Holtom own ST lead

Jeff Segal knows Watkins Glen a little better now than he did during his second-place finish in last year's Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series visit to the 3.4-mile track. He knows the course, how to run up front, and exactly where the track's new victory lane is.

The defending Grand Sport (GS) co-champion and current point co-leader picked up his initial Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 victory last month in a dominating effort, driving for the SpeedSource team. This Saturday, Segal will share the No. 09 Automatic Racing BMW M3 with Jep Thornton and try to make it two-for-two this season in Grand-Am competition at The Glen, this time in KONI Challenge. The two-and-a-half hour KONI Challenge GS/Street Tuner (ST) race is scheduled to start at 4:40 p.m. Saturday.

Segal is coming off a strong campaign in which he won two Grand-Am races in a span of three weeks, and the now Miami, Fla. resident and Thornton are looking to extend a 14-point advantage in the KONI points over Rehagen Racing's Hugh Plumb and Mike Canney.

"It's going to be a toss up during this race," said Segal, who teamed with Thornton for a victory at Lime Rock Park. "I really think we have a good shot at winning here this time in the KONI race. The BMWs always run well up there. It's one of the tracks that I grew up on, racing there in BMW club racing and in track schools. It was one of the first tracks on which I ever raced. We're hoping to go one better than last year, and hope to match the performance set last month in the Rolex Series race."

If Segal and Thornton are as strong this year as they were last year at The Glen - and history repeats itself - the pair's Automatic Racing teammates shouldn't be too far behind. Segal and Thornton finished second, one of three Automatic Racing cars in the top six. Their No. 99 BMW M3, which this weekend will be co-driven by Steve Cameron and Rob Finlay, sat on the pole in last year's race. Charles Espenlaub and Charles Putman will drive the No. 91 Automatic Racing BMW M3 which finished fourth last year. Blackforest Motorsports' Tom Nastasi, fifth in points, will also run that team's operation under the Automatic Racing umbrella as the Deland, Fla.-based team is now running a BMW M3.

Segal and Thornton must be mindful, however, of their closest competitors. Plumb and Canney are third in the standings and are coming off a second-place finish at Mosport International Raceway three weeks ago in the No. 60 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT. Mosport winners Joe Foster and Scott Maxwell in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT are seventh in the standings, and No. 37 JBS Motorsports Ford Mustang GT co-drivers James Gue and Bret Seafuse are ninth. Seafuse is from nearby Trumansburg, N.Y.

Defending race winners Dave Riddle and Kris Wilson are entered in the Nos. 25 and 26 C-MAX/Unitech Racing Porsche 997s. The No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 997, will feature Jon Miller and Craig Stanton, who won the Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona season opener. David Murry and Daniel Selznick are driving the team's No. 38 Porsche 997.

The Motorsport Technology Group is bringing four cars, including the No. 18 BMW Z4 for co-driver Billy Johnson, a co-winner in last year's ST race at The Glen. Rehagen Racing's stable is also four cars deep, and has Dean Martin and Jack Roush Jr. entered in the No. 59 Ford Mustang GT. Other multi-car teams come from Playboy Racing/Fall-Line, TRG, Kinetic Motorsports, Ranger Sports Racing and Turner Motorsport. One-car efforts include Cardiosport Racing, No Hot Wire Racing, CMA Motorsports, Wright Motorsports and Maxwell Paper Racing.

Curran, Holtom Pace KONI ST by Seven Points

KONI Challenge ST point leaders Eric Curran and Jamie Holtom look to start a new winning streak in the No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS at Watkins Glen. But if they can't win their third race in four starts, they at least want to keep a hold of the point lead.

The pair has a seven-point (120-113) advantage over Chuck Hemmingson and Kristian Skavnes, who broke the Cobalt's winning streak two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio in the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy. Hemmingson and Skavnes will run at The Glen for the first time in KONI competition as their team did not compete at Watkins Glen in 2007 due an abbreviated schedule.

The other race winners this season, Nick Wittmer and Glenn Bocchino, won at Daytona in the No. 31 i-MOTO Racing Acura TSX and are eighth and 10th in points respectively. But it's Wittmer's brother Kuno Wittmer battling near the front of the standings. With four top 10s - including two runner-up finishes - in four starts, Kuno Wittmer is fifth in points and is only 10 behind the leaders. This weekend, Kuno Wittmer resumes action with Peter Cunningham - sixth in points - in the No. 32 i-MOTO Racing Acura TSX.

Christian Miller in the No. 76 Compass360 Racing Acura RSX has four straight sixth-place finishes and is seventh in the standings. The Compass360 Racing team won on a last-lap pass by Billy Johnson last season at Watkins Glen. The team's No. 74 Acura TSX of defending series ST driver champions Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood ran well at Mid-Ohio before a broken left-rear wheel hub sent the car to a 29th-place finish.

Despite not posting points in the season opener at Daytona, Bob Beede is ninth after two third-place finishes and a ninth driving for Bill Fenton Motorsports. A former STII winner at Watkins Glen, Beede welcomes Bob Endicott back as a co-driver, and the two will share the No. 29 Honda Civic Si. Fenton will share the No. 27 Honda Civic Si with David Thilenius.

Fountain Motorsports (BMW 330s), Freedom Autosport (Mazda MX-5s), APR Motorsport (Volkswagen GTIs) and RSR Motorsports (Mini Coopers) are all fielding three cars, and all four teams had at least one of their cars in the top 10 at one point of the ST race at Mid-Ohio. The No. 196 RSR Motorsports Mini Cooper, driven by Owen Trinkler, led much of the Mid-Ohio race from the pole. Fountain Motorsports is based in New York, Freedom Autosport's Tom Long was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and APR's Mark White qualified fifth at Mid-Ohio.

Two-car efforts being fielded at Watkins Glen include Georgian Bay Motorsports, Brass Mitchell Racing (the team's No. 51 Mazda RX-8 took third at Mid-Ohio), Classic BMW-Plano, GS Motorsports and ICY/Phoenix Racing. Fielding one car are Flatout Motorsports, HART (which finished second last year at WGI), V-Pack Motorsport, Kinetic Motorsports, SDS Performance Racing, Team Sahlen, Predator Auto Sport, T Giovanis Motorsports, Riley Racing, BGB Motorsports, Turner Motorsport, Istook's Motorsports, Kiton Racing and LRT Racing.

KONI CHALLENGE SERIES ST WEEKEND SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES EASTERN)

- Thursday: KONI Challenge Practice (2:30-4:30 p.m.)- Friday: KONI Challenge Practice (2:45-3:15 p.m.); KONI Challenge ST Qualifying (5:45-6 p.m.); KONI Challenge GS Qualifying (6:05-6:20 p.m.)- Saturday: KONI Challenge Final Practice (8:45-9:15 a.m.); KONI Challenge Race (4:40-7:10 p.m.)

2008 IN REVIEW

Through the first four races of the 2008 Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series season, different driving pairs and manufacturers have won races in one of the most diversified forms of racing in North America. And with that comes a tight point battle that is sure to stay that way until the final checkered flag falls in October.

Craig Stanton, the 2004 Grand Sport champion, and Tim Traver started the season off right with an overall and GS victory in the Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway in January, as Stanton moved from fourth to first in the waning laps after the top three cars ahead of him suffered from mechanical problems. The pair drove to victory in the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 997. In the Street Tuner class, Quebec native Nick Wittmer and Glenn Bocchino notched the first victory for the i-MOTO Racing team, guiding the No. 31 Acura RSX to victory for a one-two team finish. However, the top two teams were docked five points for a non-compliant fuel tank.

The second round at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut was split into two class races, with Canadian Jamie Holtom and Yankee Eric Curran taking the victory in the ST race and in the process the point lead in the No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS. Defending GS driver champions Jeff Segal and Jep Thornton earned the Automatic Racing team's first ever victory in the No. 09 BMW M3.

At Mosport International Raceway, Scott Maxwell raced through the field to give himself and Joe Foster a come-from-behind victory in GS in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT. A fifth-place finish put Segal and Thornton - tied with 89 points - up by 14. Meanwhile, the Curran-Holtom pair backed up their Lime Rock victory with another at Mosport.

Chuck Hemmingson and Kristian Skavnes won at Mid-Ohio in their No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy, an ST-race only. They moved to within seven points of Curran and Holtom (120-113).

So far this season, 99 drivers have been credited with points in GS and 106 drivers with points in ST.

NEWS & NOTES

- New York-Based Drivers Running at Watkins Glen: New York is the home for several KONI Challenge Series drivers, and all of them will look for strong efforts at their home state track. Among the closest drivers are Mark Ackley of Horseheads and Bret Seafuse of Trumansburg. Both cities are within 20 miles of the track. Michael Auriemma of New York and Peter Ludwig of New Paltz are other GS drivers from the Empire State. In ST, Sam Schultz resides in Horseheads, while Joe Sahlen calls Elma home. Michael Fonte of Webster and Paul Stoddart of Rochester drive for the New York-based Fountain Motorsports team.

- Pulling Daytona-Watkins Glen Double Duty: Several drivers are planning on running both Thursday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 race at Daytona International Speedway and Saturday's KONI Challenge Series race at Watkins Glen International. Among them are Tom Nastasi, Jeff Segal, Andrew Davis, Darren Law, Spencer Pumpelly, Joe Foster, Nic Jonsson, Craig Stanton, Bill Auberlen, Shane Lewis, Will Nonnamaker and Joe Sahlen.

- Curran Tests NASCAR Nationwide Car: Georgian Bay Motorsports driver Eric Curran tested a NASCAR Nationwide Series car last week at Thompson Motor Speedway in Connecticut. Curran drove a Chevrolet Monte Carlo about 100 laps around the 5/8-mile track. "We're looking at getting a sponsorship where we can run a half a dozen races this season," Curran said. The Easthampton, Mass. native may also drive a NASCAR Camping World race at Lime Rock Park later this season.

- Car Count Up Despite High Fuel Costs: The cost of fuel in the U.S. is not deterring drivers and teams from making the trip to Watkins Glen. Seventy-seven cars are entered for Saturday's two-and-a-half hour race. Last year, only 57 took the green flag for the race.

- Parity Seen So Far in KONI: Not only have there been three different winning pairs in the Grand Sport class, there have also been three different manufacturers to take the checkered flag this season. Porsche won at Daytona, BMW earned the Lime Rock victory and Ford sat atop the Mosport podium. In ST, 13 different models from nearly 10 manufacturers were among the top 15 during one of the weekend's practice sessions at Mid-Ohio.

KONI CHALLENGE SERIES DRIVER POINT STANDINGS

- Grand Sport: 1. (tie) Jep Thornton, Jeff Segal (89); 3. (tie) Hugh Plumb, Mike Canney (78); 5. Tom Nastasi (74); 6. Craig Stanton (72); 7. (tie) Joe Foster, Scott Maxwell (70); 9. (tie) James Gue, Bret Seafuse (66).- Street Tuner: 1. (tie) Jamie Holtom, Eric Curran (120); 3. (tie) Kristian Skavnes, Chuck Hemmingson (113); 5. Kuno Wittmer (110); 6. Peter Cunningham (105); 7. Christian Miller (100); 8. Nick Wittmer (84); 9. Bob Beede (82); 10. Glenn Bocchino (79).