Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Practice at Virginia International Raceway
Turner Motorsport, Georgian Bay drivers take big steps toward bigger goals, as they prepare for second straight victories with strong practice times
Bill Auberlen and Jamie Holtom took big steps toward big goals in Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series practice Friday, as the two led their respective Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) overall sessions at Virginia International Raceway. Both classes have their season finales scheduled in this weekend's Bosch Engineering Twin Six Hours at the 3.27-mile track.
Auberlen, who won last year's GS race at VIR with Turner Motorsport, posted a fastest time of 2:03.985 (94.347 mph) during the class's third and final practice session, and hopes to start from the pole when teams qualify Saturday morning. Auberlen and co-driver Matthew Alhadeff are coming off a victory in the most recent race at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, and look toward a second consecutive triumph in Sunday's six-hour classic.
Spencer Pumpelly was second quickest in GS with a time of 2:04.033 (94.910 mph) in the No. 39 TRG Carlsen Porsche/TheDigiTrust Group Porsche 997. Pumpelly and co-driver Duncan Ende seek to end their season on a strong note with their first victory together.
Series point leaders Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster were third quickest overall with a time of 2:04.550 (94.516), which was set in the second session. Broken parts kept the team from setting the fastest time in the first session, and the duo ran only two laps in the final session in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT. The pair leads Bret Seafuse and James Gue by only one point (222-221); Seafuse and Gue were 14th quick in the No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shur Save Ford Mustang GT.
Other championship contenders had mixed results. Defending series champs Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal were sixth in the No. 09 Automatic Racing Imported Car Store/Land Air BMW M3, and Craig Stanton's No. 83 BGB Motorsports Performance Drink/Weeden Consultants Porsche 997 was 18th. Thornton, Segal and Stanton are nine points (222-213) behind Maxwell and Foster.
Dean Martin was fourth in the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Valvoline/ROUSH Performance Products Ford Mustang GT he shares with Jack Roush Jr. and Ryan Phinny, while Kris Wilson and Dave Riddle were fifth in the No. 25 C-MAX/Unitech Racing Porsche 997.
Holtom was fastest in ST after setting a lap of 2:11.136 (89.769 mph) during the evening session, which ended in darkness. He needs only to finish 25th in Saturday's race - which starts at 2 p.m. ET - to become the youngest Grand-Am champion. With a season-high four victories in nine starts this season, Holtom will share the No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS with Eric Curran and Lawson Aschenbach, who have each contributed their driving talents in ST victories in 2008.
At 21 years, four days, Holtom would surpass Segal as the youngest champion, as he leads Kristian Skavnes and Kuno Wittmer - who drive different cars - by 29 points (252-223). Segal set that mark last year when he won the GS title at 22 years, six months and 10 days.
Skavnes was 10th in the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy he shares with Chuck Hemmingson and Andrew Aquilante. Wittmer did not contest Friday's session as he competed elsewhere, but his younger brother Nick Wittmer set the fastest and third fastest times in different cars in the second practice session. Overall, the No. 32 i-MOTO Racing Cybernation/Alpinestar Acura TSX Kuno Wittmer is scheduled to drive was third.
Tom Long drove the No. 146 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 to second on the charts at 2:11.141 (89.766), only five thousandths of a second slower than Holtom's time. Long is searching for his first career ST victory with Rhett O'Doski.
Outgoing ST champs Trevor Hopwood and Adam Burrows were fourth in the No. 76 Compass360 Racing Skunk2/Sunday Group Management Acura TSX, while teammates Ken Wilden and Jeremy Wilden in the No. 75 Compass360 Racing Acura TSX were fifth.
Qualifying for ST begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with GS qualifying following. The six-hour ST race starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, and the six-hour GS race starts at 11 a.m. Sunday.
POST-PRACTICE DRIVER QUOTES
Bill Auberlen (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3): "We won this race last year. I think we're looking as good as anybody. Temperature is paying a big part here in terms of how the car was from the morning to the afternoon sessions. In the middle practice session, we struggled a little bit. We made a lot of changes coming into the late session, and we were quick again. So we were quickest in the morning and quickest in the afternoon. You have to say it, Will (Turner) and the guys here can very quickly tune these BMWs to get you right in the window. These cars are never out of the window at every single event. Between the H&R Springs and StopTech brakes and all the sponsors, Turner Motorsports is ready to win every weekend. Everybody else has to be wondering about us, that's the good part."
Spencer Pumpelly (No. 39 TRG Porsche 997): "Today was a good day. We have a very, very fast race car. The tough part about it is that it's a little twitchy and hard to drive; it's not very comfortable right now. Fortunately, I have the TRG crew; I've asked for a lot of changes and the guys are more than able to accommodate me. We still have a little bit of work to get a good race car. I think right now it's fast, but if we can maintain our reliability through Sunday, I think we'll have a shot at it. Duncan (Ende) is doing a great job; his time came down a lot the last session, and he's right in the hunt. We've got a great team, I've got a great co-driver, and I think going into an endurance race, we need a little bit of luck. Everything else should just fit into place."
Jamie Holtom (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "Our strategy was to take care of the car as best we could. Looking back, we don't have the best track record here with these six hour races. So we're trying to take it easy on the car, stay off the rumble strips, keep it out of the grass, and at the same time we're still trying to be competitive as we always are. We're not going to rest, that's for sure, we're going to go after it and try to help GM and Georgian Bay Motorsports win the manufacturer and team championships. For us to be fastest and still take care of the equipment, that's great. I like the position we're in just fine. But with that said, we're not going to lay down. We're still going to go after it as hard as we always have. All we have to do is have a good finish to win the other two championships as well, and hopefully, put it on the podium. That would be a great way to end the year. Today, I only did around 10 laps. I went out this morning for a few laps. I didn't go out in the afternoon, and then went out halfway through the later session to assess the light situation and set up the car for the night as well. I won't lie, I was pushing the car as hard as it would go."
Tom Long (No. 146 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5): "It's fun out there be at night. I love this place. This is one of my home tracks, and it's enjoyable to be out here with the headlights. We're one of the little cars, so we're looking up to some of the bigger cars, but I think we're hustling pretty good. I've really got to thank Mazda for their support. We've got a good program going, and I'm looking forward to next year. I'm a little surprised by our speed. I wasn't expected it to be so quick, but we'll take it."