SEBRING, Fla. (March 16, 2007) – After going three seasons without a win, Jeff Altenburg of Ellicott City, Md. grabbed his third-career win at Sebring International Raceway. Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., and Pierre Kleinubing of Coconut Creek, Fla., completed the SPEED World Challenge Touring Car podium, part of the 55th Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.-30-
Through all 18 laps of the 66.6-mile race, Altenburg faced continuous pressure from teammate Pobst and the crowd couldn’t tell where one Mazda began and the other one ended. Despite having a mirror full of his teammate, Altenburg never wavered and crossed the stripe 0.433-second ahead of Pobst, a new event record.
“I wasn’t simply playing wing man out there,” Pobst said. “I wanted to win that race with all my heart and I gave it all I had. Jeff had a really strong car and had a good day today.”
Altenburg was also quick to credit his teammate for the successful Mazda performance at Sebring and his first win since 2003 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“It feels awesome to win and it was a perfect weekend,” Altenburg said. “First pole in four years and that was with the help of Randy [Pobst]. We decided we were going to help each other out more in qualifying and give one another a pull down the straights. We both got a clean start. Worked together to not do anything silly. Randy says he wanted to win with all of his heart and I’m sure he did, but I think he could have pulled a move or two during the race. But, being teammates, he opted not to and I appreciate that. Seeing an orange and white car behind you [RealTime Acura] is a little more disconcerting than having your teammate right behind you.
It was fun. The car was phenomenal. Obviously it has been a good car for the last several years. Stoptech brakes were awesome and all the guys who work with us—the Comptech engines, Sachs shocks. The car was the most comfortable, easiest to drive, that it has ever been.”
Driving the No. 73 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development Mazda 6, Pobst had to defend his position from defending SPEED Touring Car Champion Kleinubing, before he could make a bid for the lead. After putting a small gap between him and Kleinubing, Pobst turned up the heat on Lap 11, resetting the fastest race lap and beginning to take a couple looks at his teammate. No serious challenge could be surmounted by Pobst, but a Mazda one-two at the checkered flag would be good enough.
“We’re both driving for a terrific team with Tri-Point Motorsports and the Mazda 6 has been a terrific package since we started here two years ago,” Pobst said. “We’ve got such good balance. Pierre [Kleinubing] gave us a good run today. He had a good car too. It’s good to be off to a great start to the season and I congratulate Jeff for a great start to the season.”
Starting fifth in his No.1 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Acura TSX, Kleinubing was able to tuck behind teammate Kuno Wittmer in the No. 44 Acura RSX on the start. Kleinubing watched and waited as Wittmer battled with the No. 38 Bimmerworld BMW 325i of Seth Thomas. After a failed passing attempt sent Thomas off course and Wittmer slid wide several corners later, Kleinubing quietly snuck up to third on lap two.
Kleinubing charged on, closing the gap to the Mazdas by lap eight and putting serious pressure on Pobst, occasionally locking up tires in the process. Kleinubing began to fall back shortly thereafter, but did set the fastest lap of the race with a 2:22.710 (93.336 mph) on lap 16, in one last charge for the front.
“They were a lot stronger than me in a couple of places,” Kleinubing said. “Under braking and in some corners I was a little better, like high-speed stuff. But other than that they pretty much had me covered. Randy gave me a little tease of second place once. I had him in 17, but he got it right back going into one because I was on the outside. Even though I tend to make some crazy moves, that would be a stupid one, so I had to give it away.”
Chip Herr, of Lititz, Pa., finished fourth and was no doubt hoping the threatening skies would open up for his all-wheel drive Audi. Herr started his No. 17 STaSIS/Clear Capital Audi A4 tenth on the grid and earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for his efforts.
RealTime owner Peter Cunningham, of Grafton, Wis., completed the top five in his No. 42 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Acura TSX, also moving up six positions in the race.
Charles Espenlaub (Mazda 6) managed a sixth place finish after starting 23rd, due to suspension problems in qualifying and opting to change all four tires before the race.
In his first race with RealTime Acura, Kuno Wittmer (Acura RSX) finished seventh after sustaining damage from early contact, followed by teammate Brandon Davis (Acura TSX) and the Audi A4 of Dino Crescentini. Seth Thomas (BMW 325i) completed the top ten.
Stan Wilson (Dodge SRT-4) was not only the Piloti Rookie of the Race, but he picked up seven positions on the opening lap to take home the B&M Shifters Holeshot Award.
Driving the world’s first biodiesel racecar, Jim Osborn did start the race in his No. 24 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, but exited after two laps with mechanical problems.
Following the race, Davis was fined 10 driver points and Acura one manufacturer point for contact with the No. 29 BMW 325i of James Sofronas on the final lap. Sofronas eventually finished 13th.
The season opener of the SPEED Touring Car Championship will be broadcast on SPEED Sunday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. EDT.
Round Two of the SPEED Touring Car Championship will take place May 17-19 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.
For more information visit www.world-challenge.com