Auberlen, Bell Win ...

 Fresh From Florida 200 in Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Season Opener at Daytona

Three GS cars trade lead over final seven laps; Aschenbach, Iannucci earn victory in ST

In a fierce battle during Friday's season-opening Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway in the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge, Bill Auberlen led 22 of the final 25 laps to give himself and Matt Bell the victory in the three-hour race.

Auberlen passed Ken Wilden on Lap 70, then fought off Hugh Plumb for a lap before the caution flag flew on Lap 72. That gave Auberlen his second GS victory in three races and Bell his first-ever GS triumph in his first career class start. The duo drove the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3.

Meanwhile in ST competition, Lawson Aschenbach took the lead from Kristian Skavnes on Lap 71, and kept him at bay just moments before the yellow flag flew for Steve Jenkins' stalled car on the backstretch. Aschenbach took over from Pete Iannucci, who was making his first-ever auto race start after competing previously only in karting. The duo drove the No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt.

Auberlen took over from Bell during the first pit stop and coming off the race's fifth caution, he earned the lead on Lap 50. He held the lead for the next 18 laps - which included two four-lap caution periods - before the Ford Mustangs showed their power.

Plumb and Wilden both drove past Auberlen on Lap 68, putting the Fords up 1-2 and attempting to give the Mustangs their third GS victory at the track in five seasons. However, it wasn't meant to be.

The Mustang pilots got together on Lap 70, and Wilden drove past into the lead. Auberlen subsequently passed Plumb and set his sights on Wilden. Then, the Ontario-native - who has finished on the podium in each of his five starts with Rehagen Racing - made a mistake coming out of the bus stop, giving Auberlen a chance.

Auberlen, who took the outright lead in overall KONI victories with 12, jumped to the top of the banking and pulled alongside Wilden's No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT. Plumb pulled up behind Auberlen and the two drafted past, with Auberlen taking the lead at the line. Just moments later, the final of eight caution periods ended any chance for the Mustangs - which had led every practice and qualifying session during January - to regain the point.

Plumb drove the No. 61 Horsepower Ranch Ford Mustang GT to second with Jack Roush Jr.; the pair shared the podium in the season finale at Virginia International Raceway last October but with different teams. Wilden joined polesitter Dean Martin, who led a race-high 23 laps, one more than Auberlen.

Fourth was Billy Johnson and Tony Buffomante - making only his third career KONI start - in the No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group Porsche 997, while No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shur Save Ford Mustang GT co-drivers Bret Seafuse and James Gue finished fifth despite a spin by contact early in the race.

Defending race winner Craig Stanton took sixth in the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Revo Technik/Performance Drink Porsche 997, driving with Tim George Jr.

In ST, five cars raced within a second of each other in the final 10 laps, but like the GS race, the final caution put an end to the battle. No driver led more than four laps during the final 14 laps, as Aschenbach traded the paint with second-place finisher Skavnes and third-place finisher Travis Walker.

Skavnes dived under the white line on Lap 69 to take the lead away from Walker, making his first start in KONI since last June at Mosport International Raceway. He led until lap 71, when Aschenbach made a move in the tri-oval that bolstered him into the lead and his third career KONI victory in four starts, all with Georgian Bay. Iannucci, meanwhile, spent much of his time in the top five driving the No. 00.

Skavnes and ST polesitter Andrew Aquilante finished second in the No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy, while Walker and Matt Pritiko were third in the No. 76 Compass360 Racing Skunk2/ Honda Civic Si. Aquilante led the first 29 laps, a race-high, while Walker sat atop the standings for 14 circuits. Aschenbach led for 10 laps.

Fourth were No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt drivers Ashley McCalmont and Kirk Spencer, while outside front row starter David Thilenius and rookie Bret Spaude took fifth.

The race had eight cautions for 31 laps - including four caution periods for 15 of the event's opening 24 laps - and the race averaged 87.155 mph.

The next race on the KONI Sports Car Challenge circuit will be March 14-15, with split-class races making up the Grand-Am Fan Appreciation Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.


- This victory is the 12th Grand Sport victory for Bill Auberlen and first-ever for Matt Bell in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3. This is also the record-extending 14th GS win for Turner Motorsport.- This victory is the second in three races for Turner Motorsport as well as the second in three for the BMW M3.- This is the first-ever victory for the BMW M3 at Daytona International Speedway in KONI Sports Car Challenge competition.- This is the fourth time a KONI Sports Car Challenge race has been won from the third starting position - all in an odd-ending year (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009).- This is the second straight race in which Jack Roush Jr. finished second, a career best. This is also the second straight podium finish for Hugh Plumb.- This is the second straight podium for Dean Martin, who drove with Ken Wilden. The duo has finished on the podium in all five of their races together. The race was also the seventh straight race in which Martin has finished seventh or better.- Mustangs still dominated the top 10, with three top fives and five top 10s. The highest running Porsche 997 came from Motorsport Technology Group, with Billy Johnson and Tony Buffomante taking third in the No. 18 Porsche 997.- Ten drivers led the race, the most ever in KONI competition at DIS. The mark broke the previous record of nine set in 2007. Those leading were Dean Martin (23), Bill Auberlen (22), Jack Roush Jr. (8), Jeff Segal (5), Joey Hand (4), Charles Espenlaub (4), Craig Stanton (3), Nick Longhi (2), Hugh Plumb (2) and Ken Wilden (1).- Twenty-nine drivers, including 17 in the GS class, finished all 74 laps of the race.- Horsepower Ranch and Kinetic Motorsports didn't get off to the starts they were hoping. Mike Canney's No. 60 Horsepower Ranch Sunset Hills Vineyards Ford Mustang GT got together with Nic Jönsson's No. 79 Kinetic Motorsports BMW M3, and Jönsson hit the outside wall hard. Both cars fell out of the race on that first lap incident.- The BGB Motorsports Porsche 997 team dedicated the race to Memo Gomez, a former crewmember who lost his life in an accident before Thanksgiving of last year.- Blackforest Motorsports finished 32nd in the GS class with the new Dodge Challenger, falling out after 48 laps with mechanical problems. But driver Tom Nastasi was optimistic. "It'll be competitive by the end of the year," he said. "Hopefully it'll have a win this year."


- The ST victory is the third for Lawson Aschenbach in four career starts and the first-ever for Pete Iannucci in his first career start, who drove the No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt.- The victory is the third straight for Georgian Bay Motorsports and the third straight as well for the Chevrolet Cobalts.- This is the first-ever victory for the Chevrolet Cobalt at Daytona International Speedway in KONI Sports Car Challenge competition and the first for Chevrolet in a KONI race at DIS since 2003 (ST II).- This is the second podium in four races for Kristian Skavnes and Andrew Aquilante, who drove together for only the fourth time in the No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy.- This is the third podium ever for Travis Walker and first ever for Matt Pritiko, who drove the No. 76 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si. The team also finished 10th with Bo Roach and Pete Schwartott in the No. 75 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si.- Drivers Ian Baas and Josh Hurley scored sixth place, the highest Volkswagen GTI finish. Hurley led seven laps in his rookie race in the No. 171 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GTI but the team had to serve a penalty for an excessive speed violation on pit lane. Both APR Motorsport cars finished in the top 10, with Mike Sweeney and Patrick Barrett finishing ninth in the No. 181 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GTI.- Will Turner and Don Salama finished eighth in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 328, the car's first showing. The team had previously competed with a BMW 330i.- Bill Fenton Motorsports earned two top 10s, with David Thilenius and Bret Spaude finishing fifth in the No. 27 Honda Civic Si and Rich Cullen and Bob Beede taking seventh in the No. 29 Honda Civic Si. Overall, Honda Civic Sis took four of the top 10s.- Drivers leading in ST were Andrew Aquilante (29), Travis Walker (14), Lawson Aschenbach (10), Josh Hurley (7), David Thilenius (6), Andrew Danyliw (4), Kristian Skavnes (2) and Juan Leroux (2).


Bill Auberlen (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3): "This is one of those battles that you're actually smiling while you're in the car because it was so fun. To see the Mustangs coming, I expected that, and when they both went by, I was thinking man these guys are fighting real hard. I think Hugh got pushed a little wide in Turn 1 and I went by into second. I was thinking, ‘how am I going to get by the first-place Mustang?' I was waving to Hugh ‘come on give me a push, give me a push' and he actually shoved me by to give me the lead. That's the first time that ever happened, it worked out pretty well."

Matt Bell (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3): "This is really the perfect way to start the season off. The M3 was easy to drive, fun to race, and highly competitive. A typical Turner car. I just tried to be as efficient as possible and not make any aggressive moves at the start. The car was a bit loose, but I just kept focused on conserving as much of the car as possible for Billy while still setting a good pace. The competition at this level is really fierce, so to take a win my first time out is just amazing. Billy ran a great race, and the Turner guys did a fantastic job with this car, so I'm thrilled."

Hugh Plumb (No. 61 Horsepower Ranch Ford Mustang GT): "What a battle, oh my God. When it came down to the last 10-15 minutes, we were all thinking [that] we've got to make our move to the lead. The Roush Mustang was you know, what a great car and we were able to put it in the lead. Got a tap from behind, but that's a bit of a racing incident and we moved back to third. I think with a couple more laps to go with a fantastic car, I could have brought it back to the lead. This is the first race for the new team with Mike Canney and Jack Roush Jr. as team principals with Sunset Hills and Valvoline and Roush Performance on board."

Jack Roush Jr. (No. 61 Horsepower Ranch Ford Mustang GT): "It was a little bit of a rough start, finding our way up. Eventually I was able to get some momentum and go up to the front. It was an honor to race against my previous co-driver, Dean Martin; he's a great driver. That was definitely a lot of fun. As soon as I got out of the car, my current co-driver, Hugh Plumb did an awesome job of racing out there so I'm really happy with how we did."

Dean Martin (No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT): "The start of the race was good. I actually had Jeff Segal work me over pretty good on the start. On the restart, I got back by him and got up on the banking and was able to let the Mustang stretch it's legs a little bit and get ahead of him; and just had a good solid run. Towards the end of the stint, Jack [Roush Jr.] got a real good run on me and drafted past me down on the straight and we just kind of hung out and messed around for a little bit. And then I came in as soon as our fuel window opened. Then we put Kenny in at about the hour-and-a-half mark. I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't very disappointed with the outcome of the race. We did what we could. I've really got to give some accolades to our pit crew. Those guys rocked. We had such an awesome pit stop. We were out way ahead of everybody and we just didn't have the car to win this weekend. But we'll be back in Homestead."

Ken Wilden (No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT): "It was a good battle out there for sure. I was trying to save my brakes; we had a pretty low pedal. I did some pretty aggressive moves to get by Bill [Auberlen] there and wasn't sure if I was going to stay on track. I was giving it my all. I think the thing that caught me out there about three laps from the end was there was a lot of dirt and something down in the bus stop and I straddled the apex there on the grass and they got a good run on me. But, very happy. Thanks to Dean for putting me in the car and you know, we're so-so happy. We had a good test; we had the pole and we wanted to win this race. I don't think that we're satisfied and we'll be working hard at the next race."

Lawson Aschenbach (No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt): "That was the most wild race I ran in my life. I've got to thank Pat Ianucci, my teammate, he's a great driver and this was his first race. It was great to get him a win at Daytona. I've got to thank everyone on the Georgian Bay Cobalt team that put this deal together. It was an unbelievable race. I'd do this every day of the week if I could. It was interesting. We were bumping and banging. I abused my brakes, I had no brakes at the end. I knew if I could get a good run out of the bus stop I could draft Kristian. When I car spun out, I knew I needed to get by him, and fortunately I got him before the caution came out. I'm stoked. That was a great way to start the season."

Pete Iannucci (No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt): "I knew if I was able to put Lawson in the car in a good position he would be able to take it home. He's a great driver and it's a great team. I'm happy we were able to pull it off today, it was an exciting race. He made a great pass just before the safety car was deployed, and that secured it. This was my first car race ever - and my first win. Got to start off on the right foot!"

Kristian Skavnes (No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy): "That was not NASCAR (going below the line to pass in the trioval, this is KONI Challenge and we can do that. Then it went back to NASCAR style, drafting 101. I had about a two-car length lead on the group and they came back and drafted by me again. We went down to turn one, it was three and four wide a few times. Everybody drove clean. This was the hardest race I've ever driven. Everybody gave everyone just enough room. We still traded a little paint, but no hard feelings. We ran  out of gas right at the finish line, and ran out of brakes - the pedal was right to the floor on the last lap. Lawson did a great job. I would have done the same thing. He went by me just before it went full-course caution, and that was the end of the race."

Andrew Aquilante (No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy): "We're very disappointed, but the Subaru symmetrical all-wheel drive and boxer engine was running great. We almost had it. If there was a 10-second difference in that caution, we probably would have had it. But oh well."

Matt Pritiko (No. 76 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si): "That was a great race. We had a great start. There was a lot of teamwork going on with all the team cars up there. The car started to fall off a little at the end, and that's the way it go. I've got to thank Travis for keeping it in there, and we're going to be back in Miami raring to go."

Travis Walker (No. 76 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si): "For the first race of the season it was crazy. It was a lot of fun. The Compass360 team built me a great car. My co-driver, Matt Pritiko, qualified well and did what he needed to do to get the job done. I got in with two hours to go. It was easy to drive. I had to worry about Aschenbach in front of me. I knew I could get him at the end. That yellow near the end bunched us up together and we put on a great show for the fans. It was a great race and a great show, and it's going to look great on TV."

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