BRASELTON, Ga. (October 5, 2007) – Lawson Aschenbach, of West Palm Beach, Fla., took his first win of 2007 in a wet and incident-filled Round Nine SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT race at Road Atlanta, part of the 10th Anniversary Petit Le Mans. Ron Fellows, of Mississauga, Ontario, and Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., completed the top three.
The SPEED GT race at Road Atlanta started with a bang, literally, when several cars came together on the standing start, resulting in the No. 12 Diamond Construction/Blackdog Racing Chevrolet Corvette of Brian Kubinski, the No. 28 LG Pro Long Tube Headers Chevrolet Corvette of Lou Gigliotti and the No. 20 Deronda USA Pontaic GTO of Dane Moxlow all being disabled on the front straightaway, with debris littering the course. The race immediately went full-course yellow and several other cars hit pit lane for repairs as the result of the incident. The blockage of the front straight was significant enough that the field was required to follow the pace car through pit lane to avoid the clean-up efforts.
Just before green-flag racing resume on lap nine, a light rain began to fall on the back half of the track. As the green flag flew and race leader Pobst lead the field into Turn One, the light rain became a downpour encompassing the entire 2.54-mile road course.
While the No. 16 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose/Cadillac CTS-V of Fellows immediately hit pit lane for rain tires, the rest of the SPEED GT drivers pressed on in their dry-tire shod cars. But by lap 11, a series of lakes developed in Turns Three, Four and Five, and caught out the leaders. Each of the top five cars slid sideways through Turn Three, catching themselves and continuing. The rest of the field was not as lucky, however, as the No. 30 and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvettes of Eric Curan and Sonny Whelen came together, collecting the No. 3 Dodge/MOMO/Corsa/Mintex Dodge Viper of Scotty B. White. Several other cars had to take evasive and sideways action to avoid the parking lot. The full-course yellow came out for the second time on lap 11.
As the majority of the field hit the pits for rain tires, Pobst, still the leader, bypassed his pit stall and continued back out onto the course, still on dry tires.
As the rain continued to flood the course and the cleanup continued in Turn Three, officials brought out the red flag to bring the field into pit-lane. The field was given five minutes to make changes to their cars as necessary, including tire changes, before they were lined back up in their pre-red flag order and sent out behind the pace car.
The entire field, now on rain tires, took the green flag for a final 10-minute sprint on lap 17. Pobst continued to lead while Fellows picked up four spots and moved into second, trailing Pobst by nearly four seconds when the cars returned to the front straight. Three laps later the gap was down to 0.361-second.
“It was very interesting that we had the opportunity to put on rain tires,” Pobst said. “[To that point] the Porsche was actually quite good. K-PAX/3R Racing made some changes to adapt to the water. I believe, under these conditions, that this is when extra weight can be an advantage to push through the heavy water. There were a couple of places where my light weight Porsche was dancing around and the big Caddys ran me down.”
On lap 21, Fellows went to the inside of Pobst in Turn One to take the lead and earned himself the B&M Oil Coolers Coolest Move of the Race Award.
“I saw him [Fellows] catching me and I asked my guys in the pits who it was,” Pobst said. “I just don’t think I had enough car to stay ahead of those guys at the level of risk that was smart for me to take – especially in the position I’m in. He out-braked me and made it [the pass] happen.”
“He [Pobst] was a little bit better coming off the slow corners,” Fellows said. “I was better than him in [Turn] 12 and I took one shot at him and then got him the next time. There was a fair amount of grip to the inside and we were able to make it stick.”
“I should have come in a lap sooner [to get the rain tires] and we probably would’ve been at the front the whole time,” Fellows said. “It was the right call by Lynn Bishop. He actually asked me to come in a lap sooner and I didn’t. I waved him off because I did not want to lose [track position]. We’ve been here before at Road Atlanta where you get these massive downpours and it floods the race track.”
As Fellows motored away, Pobst fell into the clutches of yet another Cadillac, that of defending SCCA SPEED GT Champion Aschenbach in the No. 1 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V. Pobst slotted back to third as Aschenbach made the pass for second in Turn 10. Aschenbach gave chase to his teammate as the white flag flew.
With Aschenbach in a tight points battle for the SPEED GT Drivers’ Championship, while Fellows was only competing in his fourth race of the season, the team made the call for Fellows to let Aschenbach around on the back straight, giving the defending Champion his first win of the season by 1.164 seconds.
“I’m here to help them [Team Cadillac],” Fellows said of being passed by his teammate on the last lap. “What we did was helped the manufacturer. I mean, you never like to give up a win, but the right thing to do for the team was to give Lawson the points. He did a great job in the wet hanging in there behind us. If Lawson hadn’t gotten by Pobst, I would’ve been able to win. The right thing to do was to let him get maximum points because we are here to win a Championship.”
It was a strange 55.88-mile, 22-lap race for Aschenbach. A race that featured two cautions and a red flag period that slowed the average speed to 46.178 mph. But the win pushed Ashenbach past teammate Andy Pilgrim in the Championship, just four points behind Pobst who continues to lead. The one-two finish also gives Cadillac a 10-point advantage over Porsche in the SCCA SPEED GT Manufacturers’ Championship presented by RACER Magazine (62 to 52) heading into the final round of the 2007 season and keeps Cadillac undefeated in four World Challenge starts at Road Atlanta. Chevrolet and Dodge sit third and fourth in the Manufacturer points with 50 and 21 points, respectively.
“That caution was a bit strange,” Aschenbach said. “With all of the cautions and pit stops, we were one of the first teams on rain tires. So, I was really shocked when they [SCCA Pro Racing] decided to red flag the race and give everyone their position back. We were actually a bit upset about that, but it worked out for us. For some reason this car and my driving style must suit these conditions because to get a pole and a win in the rain really good. It’s [the win] great for the Championship.”
After winning the SCCA SPEED Touring Car race earlier in the day and starting third on the grid for the SCCA SPEED GT race, Michael Galati, of Olmsted, Ohio, finished fourth in his No. 23 K-PAX Racing LLC/Jim Haughey Porsche 911 GT-3. Galati set the fastest lap of the race, a 1:36.996 (94.272 mph) and currently sits fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, 10 points behind Pilgrim (247 to 237).
Making his second SCCA SPEED GT appearance of the year, current SCCA SPEED Touring Car point leader Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., brought the No. 13 Kicker/Woodhouse Performance Dodge Viper home in fifth. He was followed by teammate Jeff Courtney, of Slinger, Wis., in the No. 99 Kenda Tires/Pro MPI Dodge Viper.
Behind Pilgrim, who finished seventh, Gerardo Bonilla (Pontiac GTO) and Jason Daskalos (Dodge Viper) had their best SCCA SPEED GT finishes ever. Daskalos collected the Piloti Rookie of the Race honors. James Sofronas (Porsche 911 GT3) completed the top 10 and took home the Toyo Tires Cup.
The No. 6 RSIG Security Dodge Viper of Jeffrey Robbins earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing 13 positions during the race.
The hectic SPEED GT race from Road Atlanta will be broadcast on SPEED, Saturday, Oct. 13, at 3:00 p.m. (EDT). Visit www.world-challenge.com
for the latest results and news.
The SCCA SPEED World Challenge Championships next head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, October 19 – 21, for the 2007 season finale.