Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Victory at New Jersey Motorsports Park
Top seven GS drivers separated by only six points; Plumb, Beede win KONI ST race
Craig Stanton passed Billy Johnson on the final of 72 laps of the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport (GS) race Sunday at New Jersey Motorsports Park - just a lap after drifting off the track to give Johnson the lead - giving himself and Jon Miller the KONI New Jersey 250 victory and putting both drivers in strong contention for the championship with two races remaining. It was BGB Motorsports' third victory of 2008 and first career for Miller.
Like their GS counterparts, the Street Tuner (ST) race came down to the wire, with track instructor and Grand-Am regular Matt Plumb holding off Jamie Holtom by 0.381 seconds to give Plumb and co-driver Bob Beede their first KONI Challenge victory of 2008 and the first for Bill Fenton Motorsports since October 2006 at Virginia International Raceway.
Stanton, in the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Performance Drink/Weeden Consultants, and Johnson battled nose-to-tail for the final 15 minutes of action, with Johnson frequently trying to look inside and out on the veteran and former Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 GT champion Stanton. Johnson slid wide twice while chasing Stanton, but caught him twice more before traffic intervened and put Johnson more than a second behind.
But Johnson wouldn't give up. He weaved through traffic to pressure Stanton once more, and on the penultimate lap - Lap 71 - took advantage of a miscue when Stanton slid wide in Turn 1 and into the dirt. However, Johnson suffered the same fate on the final lap in Turn 1 while trying to pass lapped traffic. That reopened the door for Stanton, who went on to win by 0.722 seconds.
Stanton, the Fresh From Florida 200 co-winner, also moved within reach of taking the point lead in the next race. He is seventh, but only five points behind the top four drivers, all tied for the lead. Defending series champions and incoming point co-leaders Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal did not score any points after Thornton retired the No. 09 Automatic Racing Imported Car Store/Land Air BMW M3 just 13 laps into the race. Thornton spun without assistance and, moments later, was hit by former championship contender Mike Canney. Neither Segal nor Canney's co-driver Hugh Plumb drove in the race, and the No. 09 finished 25th.
Moving ahead of Thornton and Segal in the championship race are James Gue and Bret Seafuse, who finished 15th in the GS class. Seafuse started the car 11th but moved to third in the opening three laps, but the team fell out of contention during one of the race's caution periods. Gue and Seafuse now have 196 points, while Thornton and Segal are deadlocked at 190, good enough for sixth. Stanton is fifth at 191 points.
Two-time race winners Joe Foster and Scott Maxwell, seventh in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT, closed to within two points (196-194) of Gue and Seafuse after Foster started the car fourth.
It was the best career finish for Johnson and co-driver Louis-Philippe Dumoulin in the No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group BMW Z4. It was also the second straight podium finish for Johnson, who drove for Rehagen Racing two weeks ago at Le Circuit de Trois-Rivieres.
Bill Auberlen and Matthew Alhadeff finished third in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, 2.488 seconds in arrears. It marked the duo's third podium finish this season and second this month.
Finishing fourth were Jack Roush Jr. and Dean Martin in the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Roush Performance Products/Valvoline Ford Mustang GT, while Mark Ackley and Todd Snyder earned fifth in the No. 17 CMA Motorsports Ford Mustang GT.
In ST, Matt Plumb battled Holtom for the final 15 minutes in putting the No. 29 Bill Fenton Motorsports Honda Certified Used Cars/Southern Auto Auction Honda Civic Si in victory lane. Matt Plumb, who has lapped the track more than almost any other KONI Challenge competitor, took the lead from Glenn Bocchino on Lap 45 and never looked back, despite constant pressure by Holtom. Overall, Matt Plumb led a race-high 28 laps in ST. It was the fourth podium finish of the season for Beede, who did not score any points at Daytona.
Holtom's co-driver Lawson Aschenbach started second but led the opening 10 laps and 12 overall. Holtom was looking for his season-leading fourth victory this season, but settled for second and stretched his lead slightly in the process over Kristian Skavnes. Skavnes finished behind in third in the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy shared by Andrew Aquilante, and trails Holtom by four points (217-213). Skavnes' regular co-driver, Chuck Hemmingson, sat the race out after his wife Bernie gave birth earlier in the week.
Al Lamb and Leo Maia were fourth in the No. 85 Classic Plano-BMW Z4, with Owen Trinkler and BJ Zacharias credited with fifth in the No. 196 RSR Motorsports Mini Cooper S. Polesitter Andrew Carbonell led 20 laps, but his car was penalized when it ran over a hose during a stop. Carbonell and Tom Long were credited with 26th in the No. 146 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5.
The top 30 cars overall finished on the lead lap. Stanton averaged 64.131 mph in the race which featured five cautions for 36 laps. The longest caution of the day, which lasted for 16 laps, began on a restart, when Shane Lewis hit the guardrail on the front straightaway in the No. 92 HART Honda Accord. The guardrail required repairs, forcing a 40-minute caution period. In addition, Lewis was transported to the infield medical center, where he was treated and released. However, Lewis was kept out of Sunday afternoon's Supercar Life 250 for the Grand-Am Rolex Series.
Round 10 of 11 for the KONI Challenge Series is Sept. 21 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.
POST-RACE DRIVER QUOTES (TOP THREE IN EACH CLASS)
Craig Stanton (No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 997): "Our team had such great strategy and we had a great car. I'm very grateful. I just drove my heart out. We slugged it out at the end for sure. This is a great place to race. It's great to see so many fans here. I think there is going to be some great races to come."
Jon Miller (No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 997): "I have to thank the BGB (Motorsports) guys for prepping an awesome car, calling a brilliant, strategic race and pulling off a perfect pit stop. They put us in position to win the race, and Craig (Stanton) made it happen. The last few laps we were all glue to the TV screens, cheering Craig on, when Billy (Johnson) got by him on the penultimate lap. We all held our breath as Craig gave chase for the final lap. When Craig came back around in the lead, we couldn't believe it. Thanks to Scott Weeden and Weeden Consultants for sponsoring myself and the BGB crew for a perfect day."
Billy Johnson (No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group BMW Z4 M): "It was great racing for the first time at NJMP with so many fans there to watch. Louis-Philippe Dumoulin drove a clean first stint, and gave me a good car to be able to bring the No. 18 BMW Z4 to the podium. Everyone at Motorsport Technology Group did a great job, and now that we've stood on the podium twice this year, we look to finish atop the podium soon."
Louis-Philippe Dumoulin (No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group BMW Z4 M): "Just two weeks ago, I was running for BGB at Trois-Rivieres, and this weekend, we ran against them to the checkered flag. What an exciting race! Billy (Johnson) did a great job, and we just came up short on the victory. But we'll get them next time. My stint was good, and I was glad to give Billy a good car in which he starred."
Bill Auberlen (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3): "Another great result for Turner Motorsport. We've run very well this season; just not enough for the victory today. Matthew (Alhadeff) drove a great race today, and at the end, we weren't racing with the top two. We'll see what we can come up with in the next race."
Matthew Alhadeff (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3): "We had a really good pace, and the car was awesome. Turner Motorsports prepared a great car again. I had a great run at the front. We got a penalty that was tough to agree with, because I was trying to avoid a car in the battle for third when I went off the track. That put us back pretty far. We wanted to win the race, but it's good enough to finish on the podium, I guess."
Matt Plumb (No. 29 Bill Fenton Motorsports Honda Civic Si): "This is a tough field and I've got double duty this weekend. I feel I had a really great car. I'm very thankful to my team and sponsors."
Bob Beede (No. 29 Bill Fenton Motorsports Honda Civic Si): "We've been waiting a long time to get this victory, and this Bill Fenton Motorsports team finally got this one. Matt Plumb did an excellent job; he knows the course and drove it well, beating a very good Chevrolet Cobalt car. We've run up front all season, and this should keep us in contention for the championship. Nice job to everyone today."
Jamie Holtom (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "I had a great run during my stint. The Georgian Bay Motorsports team called a great strategy and Lawson (Aschenbach) had a great opening stint. We thought we could get by Matt (Plumb), but he sure was tough today. We had a good points day and I can't wait for the remaining two races at Miller (Motorsports Park) and VIR."
Lawson Aschenbach (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "We had a great car today. Hats off to the Georgian Bay guys this weekend; they did an excellent job with the car. I had a pretty good scrap with the (No. 146 Mazda) Miata early on, and enjoyed the first stint. Jamie (Holtom) did an awesome job; I can't thank Georgian Bay, TTL, GM Racing and Chevy Cobalt enough. This was a great weekend and a lot of points for both the manufacturers and Jamie."
Kristian Skavnes (No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy): "This race was absolute carnage from start to finish. I was just lucky I didn't get involved in any of those messes."
Andrew Aquilante (No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy): "I don't normally drive the Subarus. My focus is on the GT class Corvette we race, but because Chuck Hemmingson's wife had a son on Thursday, and because he belonged with his family, I was happy to step in. My assignment was simple: don't wreck it, and I didn't."