KONI Challenge Series ST Six-Hour Finale at Virginia International Raceway
Jamie Holtom wins driving title, gives Georgian Bay team crown and Chevrolet the manufacturer championship
They had six hours to distance themselves from the competition, but Lawson Aschenbach and Ken Dobson needed every single minute of Saturday's Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Street Tuner (ST) season finale, the Bosch Engineering Twin Six Hours at Virginia International Raceway, to win Round 11 in the No. 110 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
Aschenbach - who led three times for a race-high 36 laps after making up 37 positions after starting at the back of the field - passed outgoing series champion Adam Burrows on Lap 139 of the 147-lap race, then distanced himself from the rest of the field over the final five laps or 15 minutes.
In the meantime, Aschenbach's teammate, Jamie Holtom in the No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS, claimed the ST championship by 45 points (282-237) over Kuno Wittmer. At age 21 years, four days, Holtom becomes the youngest Grand-Am champion in the sanctioning body's nine-year history. He shared the car with Eric Curran, who had previously won at VIR in KONI Challenge competition three times.
Holtom led as late as Lap 132 before losing two positions. In an effort to keep the car out of trouble, he kept close to Burrows and challenged him for second, concluding the season with five consecutive podium finishes and nine top 10s in 10 starts. Holtom's only DNF came at Watkins Glen International in July.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, Georgian Bay ran up front. Aschenbach, who has the Formula Ford 2000 track qualifying record, qualified 38th, yeah wasted no time going toward the front. After making the winning pass, he was still forced to hold off Burrows and Holtom, who ran a combined one second behind at times before fading in the final laps. Burrows, who moved to second in the point standings after entering the event sixth, followed by 1.436 seconds in the No. 76 Compass360 Racing Skunk2/Sunday Group Management Acura TSX, while Holtom was 1.777 seconds behind Aschenbach, with whom he shared the ST victory at Iowa Speedway in August.
The opening laps appeared to be like what many expected to be see in the closing laps. Five drivers led in the opening 10 laps, attributing to 21 lead changes among 14 drivers and 11 cars. No driver led more than five laps in the first hour.
Aschenbach, who made his return to racing after a recent illness from overtraining, stayed out front for the longest periods of time. He led for the first time on Lap 24, taking the point for seven laps, then again on Lap 48 for 20 laps, the longest any driver ran out front. He then led the final nine laps, driving Georgian Bay's third entry fielded solely to help garner Chevrolet the manufacturer championship. Dobson led 11 laps, only to be passed by Curran on Lap 100. Curran led the second-highest number of laps, 23. Burrows also led 23 laps. Overall, Georgian Bay led 84 laps, and at one point had all three of its cars in the top five. Kirk Spencer and Ashley McCalmont ended the season in the No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS in 11th.
Matthew Bell and VJ Mirzayan finished fourth - their second-best finish of the season - in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i after running in the top five for most of the event. Owen Trinkler and BJ Zacharias rounded out the top five in the No. 196 RSR Motorsports CaseTech/Cruise America Mini Cooper S.
Seven cautions for 22 laps, most for cars which spun off course, slowed the race to an average speed of 80.048 mph. The only accident involved Bryan Ortiz and Juan Leroux, as Ortiz, in the No. 127 Next Generation/Fountain Motorsports BMW 330i, ran into the back of Leroux's No. 174 LRT Racing Mobil 1/Presidente Beer Acura TSX. Both drivers, however, escaped without serious injury.
Holtom and Curran's third-place finish wrapped up the championship for Georgian Bay's No. 01 car, and Aschenbach and Dobson's victory was enough to give Chevrolet its first KONI ST crown by nine points (310-301) over Acura, which had previously won five titles in six seasons.
Wittmer, who led three laps before his No. 32 i-MOTO Racing Cybernation/Alpinestar Acura TSX suffered mechanical problems, still managed to stay in third in the driver point standings. The No. 32 also ran out front for 16 laps. Bob Beede, who missed the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway when his car was involved in an early incident, finished fourth.
Kristian Skavnes dropped to fifthin the final rundown after co-driver Chuck Hemmingson brought the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy into the pits with a cut left-front tire, less than a handful of laps after Hemmingson took the controls from Andrew Aquilante. Unfortunately, the team's stop included repairs to the left-front of the car, forcing the team several laps down. Together, Skavnes, Hemmingson and Aquilante were credited with 19th.
In total, Burrows, Wittmer, Beede and Skavnes were separated by only four points (239 for Burrows, 237 for Wittmer, 236 for Beede, 235 for Skavnes). Beede's No. 29 Bill Fenton Motorsports car finished second in the team points, while Wittmer's No. 29 i-MOTO Racing machine was third.
The top ST drivers, teams and manufacturers will be honored in Monday's season-ending banquet at the Sheraton in Greensboro, N.C. The Grand Sport (GS) six-hour race will start at 11 a.m. Sunday, with seven drivers within nine points of the driving championship lead.
POST-RACE DRIVER QUOTES
Lawson Aschenbach (No. 110 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "Lawson Aschenbach did a great job starting the race from the back and getting the car up into position. So my job was not to blow it, because we know once we got Lawson back in the car, he would bring it back up to the front with ease. Luckily, I got the car back up into first place, and did my job of running consistent laps so the anchorman could do his job. The Chevy Cobalt SS Turbocharged did an awesome job tonight. Nothing major happened, and we didn't have to panic too much. When Lawson got into the car for the close we put new pads and new tires on for him, a full tank of gas, and that refreshened the car up enough to where he was able to bring it home in first place."
Ken Dobson (No. 110 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "Lawson Aschenbach did a great job starting the race from the back and getting the car up into position. So my job was not to blow it, because we know once we got Lawson back in the car, he would bring it back up to the front with ease. Luckily, I got the car back up into first place, and did my job of running consistent laps so the anchorman could do his job. The Chevy Cobalt SS Turbocharged did an awesome job tonight. Nothing major happened, and we didn't have to panic too much. When Lawson got into the car for the close we put new pads and new tires on for him, a full tank of gas, and that refreshened the car up enough to where he was able to bring it home in first place."
Trevor Hopwood (No. 76 Compass360 Racing Acura TSX): "Congratulations to Jamie-it's good to pass the championship on to a friend and fierce competitor like Jamie. I was trying to save the brakes as much as I could, but I still make the call for the team to change pads so Adam could fight at the end and that turned out to be the right call. The team had a great strategy once again, especially with that last splash of fuel. Thanks to the boys for all their hard work all year--we were fast everywhere we went this season."
Adam Burrows (No. 76 Compass360 Racing Acura TSX): "Compass360 had an awesome strategy once again - Ray Lee has done an amazing job calling our races all year long. Congratulations to Jamie on winning the championship-it's a great feeling to win a championship, and I know he's going to be celebrating tonight. You hate to give up the crown, but to hand it over to a driver like Jamie makes it a lot easier. It was tough to lose the lead to Lawson, but getting to second in the championship is great. The reality was that there wasn't anything I could do to hold him off, he was just too fast in a straight line and even though I was getting everything possible out of the car, he just motored on by me for the lead. Thanks to the Compass360 Racing guys for the job they've done all year long, working their butts off for us."
Jamie Holtom (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "Winning the championship was absolutely enormous for me, personally, for my co-drivers winning the race, for my team winning the team championship, and for Chevrolet winning the manufacturers championship as well. It really couldn't have shaken out any better than it did. I'm proud of the Georgian Bay guys, they've done an amazing job. With a little bit of luck, we pulled it off. It was absolutely not a conservative approach. When you start thinking about finishing 25th, you finish 26th, so we had our sights set on No. 1 and we were lucky enough to pull it off. We had no problems at all with the car. All we did for maintenance was change the brake pads. When you can go through a six-hour race with only a brake pad change, it says a lot about the cars. When you start with as good a car as a Cobalt, and you have the Georgian Bay guys working on it, you can't go wrong?"
Eric Curran (No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt SS): "It was a phenomenal day. I was very happy. Jamie Holtom and I have been working for three years now, and we've worked hard on this. Our goal every year is to go for a championship. Here it is, after all these years and all this hard work and a great season, we had a number of wins this season, and Jamie pulled it off. I wish I could have been there with him for the driver's championship, but I missed a couple of races. Just happy to be part of this whole program. Georgian Bay Motorsports, those guys do a great job; they work so hard at it. This (Chevrolet) Cobalt SS is awesome. To win all three is amazing. You know, we finished on the podium today, didn't win the race, but in our minds, we won it all. So we're very happy; it's been a great year."
VJ Mirzayan (No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i): "I'm very happy. This was the highest BMW. I think this was the best we could have done. On the last yellow, we would have been in P1, but the other cars had more for us at the end. Matt did a great job at the end of the race. I've got to Turner Motorsports for a great year. I just hope I can be back next year and continue racing. This is the end of my third season, and I keep growing and looking forward to '09."
Matthew Bell (No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i): "That was a lot of fun. We had a funky pit strategy that got us up to the front. I didn't even realize we were that far up. I figured everyone else had pitted, and as soon as we pitted we'd go back down. But we stayed up there. We just tried to set consistent lap times, and that's exactly what it took to finish up there. It was good for Turner Motorsports - they always build good consistent cars."
Owen Trinkler (No. 196 RSR Motorsports Mini Cooper S): "We just survived this one. It was a great run. BJ Zacharias and Mark Congleton did a great job, along with Randy Smalley and all of the RSR Motorsports/Cruise America team gave it their all. The car's got no brakes left. We were short shifting and getting the good mileage the Mini gets when you short shifting it. I didn't even know where we finished (fifth), the radio died near the end. I didn't think the Mini would do good here, but that shows what a championship team RSR is. We had a rough start to the season, but BJ came on board and we had a great second half of the season with two poles, led some laps and we're getting ready for next year, hoping to come out with the new Mini turbo. We're already looking forward to '09."