KONI Sports Car Challenge Competitors Back in Action Saturday in New Jersey Rehagen Racing, SRRT lead respective classes to Garden State 250
Ken Wilden has had two different co-drivers in the first two races this season, but that hasn't done anything to keep the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT pilot from top finishes.
After earning podium finishes in the opening two races, the Oakville, Ontario, native leads last year's Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport runners-up James Gue and Bret Seafuse by six points (60-54) heading into the third of 11 races, Saturday's Garden State 250 at Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The two-and-a-half hour race, which also features the Street Tuner class, is scheduled for a 3:40 p.m. start (SPEED, noon on May 9).
Wilden was third in January's Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway, co-driving with Dean Martin, and finished third again in March's Grand-Am Fan Appreciation Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, co-driving with Ozz Negri. This weekend, Martin returns to the cockpit as the pair look to give Wilden and the No. 59 boosts in the driver and team points.
"It's definitely been a good start to the year," said Wilden, who also started the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Daytona Prototype race last August as well. "I'm pretty comfortable here. I'm glad to get back in with Dean; it'll be great. We're just looking for a good finish and to keep our nose clean. It might not be the strongest track for us, but if we run consistently, that will win the championship for us."
Rehagen has two cars, as does Seafuse's JBS Motorsports stable. Seafuse and Gue will drive the No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg ShurSave Ford Mustang GT in attempt to garnering the point lead again at the 2.25-mile, 14-turn track. Despite problems in last year's race, Gue and Seafuse took the point lead at New Jersey before surrendering the lead the following round.
And while the two combine to field four Ford Mustang GTs, 2008 KONI Challenge Manufacturer Champion Ford continues to seek its first victory of 2009. BMW and Porsche won the first two races.
Those with victories are Turner Motorsport, with Bill Auberlen and Matt Bell in the No. 96 BMW M3 and Joey Hand and Chris Gleason in the No. 97 BMW M3, and Motorsport Technology Group, which is not entered for this weekend's race despite finishing second at Thunderbolt last season.
TRG, winners at NJMP last year in the Rolex Series GT class, will also field two KONI GS entries, including the No. 41 Magnus Racing Porsche 997 that Andy Lally drove in the third-closest KONI Challenge finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month. Lally's co-driver is John Potter. The other car, the No. 39 TRG DigiTrust Group Porsche 997, will be co-piloted by Spencer Pumpelly and Duncan Ende.
The largest contingent of cars comes from Kinetic Motorsports, which tested at the track earlier this month. Fielding five BMW M3s, Nic Jönsson hopes one of those cars tastes victory, including those piloted by New Jersey-born drivers Glenn Bocchino (Trenton) and 18-year-old Frankie Montecalvo (Keasby), the field's youngest driver.
Automatic Racing and CMA Motorsports will field cars, while Fall-Line Motorsports and Horsepower Ranch have one car entered each.Subaru Heads ST Field
Kristian Skavnes and Andrew Aquilante could call New Jersey Motorsports Park their home track. They could also call it the first track at which they began driving together fulltime in KONI Challenge competition.
And even more so, the pair has an early lead in the KONI Challenge ST point standings. Skavnes and Aquilante are tied with Fresh From Florida 200 co-winners Lawson Aschenbach and Pat Iannucci; the four drivers all have 58 points. Trailing in third, with 56 points, are Kirk Spencer and Ashley McCalmont.
Skavnes and Aquilante have two top-five finishes in the No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy this season - a second at Daytona and a fifth at Homestead. Meanwhile, Aschenbach and Iannucci were first and eighth.
Skavnes is a native of Sparta, N.J., located in the northern part of the state, while Aquilante lives less than two hours driving time away in Chester Springs, Pa., which is also where the team is based. The two began driving together fulltime at New Jersey, and earned a third-place finish last August. In five starts together, they have third top fives, and are still collectively seeking their first victory. Skavnes has three.
"The Subaru's advantages at this track will really come into play through the slower corners and the little uphill sections, where we should make good use of the Legacy's all-wheel driver and turbocharger," Aquilante said.
Aschenbach was second at New Jersey in 2008 driving with class champion Jamie Holtom. Now, Aschenbach - who has three victories in six KONI ST starts - and Iannucci - who made his auto racing debut at Daytona - look to start a new streak for Georgian Bay Motorsports as they pilot the No. 00 Chevrolet Cobalt. Dating back to Aschenbach's debut last August at Iowa Speedway, a span of seven races, Georgian Bay has four victories. Spencer and McCalmont drive the No. 01 Chevrolet Cobalt.
Canadian-based teams have actually won every race follow last year's race at New Jersey. Compass360 Racing, based in New Jersey, broke Georgian Bay's three-race winning streak by winning at Homestead with co-drivers Randy Pobst and Christian Miller in the No. 74 Honda Civic Si. This weekend, Pobst and Miller look to make it two straight, while Canadians Travis Walker and Matt Pritiko shoot for victory in the No. 76 Honda Civic Si.
Bill Fenton Motorsports brings its two-car stable to New Jersey in search of another victory. Last year, Bob Beede and Matt Plumb won in the No. 29 Southern Auto Auction Honda Civic Si; this weekend, Beede partners with Rich Cullen. Bret Spaude, who made his KONI debut at the track last year, is teamed with David Thilenius in the No. 27 Honda Civic Si.
Two other multi-car teams that have performed well this season include Freedom Autosport, with Tom Long and Derek Whitis second in the second-closest KONI finish at Homestead in the No. 145 Mazda MX-5, and APR Motorsport, which earned third at Homestead with Ian Baas and Josh Hurley in the No. 171 APR/BBS Volkswagen GTI. Freedom Autosport and APR Motorsport earned the fastest qualifying times last year at New Jersey.
Practice begins at 11:10 a.m. Friday, with qualifying at 4:15 p.m. Friday and the two-hour, 30-minute race taking the green flag at 3:10 p.m. Saturday. Live timing and scoring, notes and results will be available on www.grand-am.com, with regular weekend updates also posted on www.twitter.com/KONI_Challenge.