SEBRING, Fla. (March 19, 2004) – Defending series Champion Bill Auberlen, of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., grabbed the first SCCA Pro Racing SPEED Touring Car win of 2004 at Sebring International Raceway, as part of the Mobil 1 52nd Annual 12 Hours of Sebring event. Brazilian Pierre Kleinubing and James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., completed the top three.
Auberlen, who started from the pole in his No. 1 Turner Motorsport/H&R Springs BMW 325i, allowed Kleinubing to slip by as he and second qualifier Bob Stretch made it three-wide going into turn three on the first lap. Kleinubing’s move on the inside dropped Auberlen to third, but Auberlen needed only a few corners to regain second place shortly before the course went full course yellow.
The No. 26 Irish Mike’s Racing machine driven by Michael Flynn brought out the only caution of the day when he hit the tire wall in turn six. After nearly a 25-minute delay and eight laps under caution, due to a wrecker becoming stuck on course, the race went green on lap nine.
On the restart, Auberlen got a run on Kleinubing and was able pass him coming out of turn one and never looked back.
“I’m looking at this tow truck stuck in the sand and it’s killing me because I can just see the whole race burning away and him [Kleinubing] winning the race and I don’t even get a chance to fight for it,” Auberlen said of having to wait out the caution. “Finally, it [the race] went green and I got a little bit of a run on him. I forgot all about this in-line stuff and I was hanging way to his [Kleinubing] left. I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to get penalized.’ So, I went right behind him and I think I mashed the throttle maybe just a hair before him. And, I got a good run and went right by him.”
Auberlen set a new fast lap record with a 2:23.640 (92.731 mph) en route to his ninth career SPEED World Challenge win. His margin of victory was 1.821-seconds at an average speed of 74.294 mph on the 17-turn, 3.7-mile circuit.
After the race went green and Kleinubing fell to second, he spent the remainder of the race battling Sofronas for that position. The three-time series Champion pushed his brand new No. 42 A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX to the limit trying to keep Sofronas behind him. On lap 13, Sofronas got a run on Kleinubing and was able to briefly take over second place in turn one, but Kleinubing was determined not to let him have that position permanently and passed him two turns later.
“I was doing everything I could not to give him [Sofronas] a chance,” Kleinubing said. “He had little more power and got around me on both straightaways, twice. He got on the brakes a little too late in 17 and gave me a chance to fight back. I kept him on the inside as long as I needed to and then I made a move on the inside. I had a little bit of luck I guess. Otherwise, I was going to settle for third because that’s all I had. I couldn’t do any better.”
Sofronas, who qualified a career-best fifth, piloted the No. 29 Lectric Air/Techmark Corporation/GMG BMW 325Ci to his first-career podium finish.
“I was waiting to see what Pierre’s car would do,” Sofronas said describing his battle with Kleinubing. “It actually looked like he was hurting a little bit on the brakes. So, I could catch him under braking and getting out of the corners. Then, we kind of stayed close. I had a little bit more on the top end, but he was strong in the fast stuff like [turn] 17. It was a good battle. He did not make many mistakes.”
Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., and Justin Marks, of Chico, Calif., finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Rookie Nick Esayian, of Encinitas, Calif., won the Sunoco Hard Charger of the Race award for advancing 11 positions throughout the race. Matt Richmond, of Mooresville, N.C., won the B&M Holeshot award for advancing 10 positions on the first lap of the race.
Auberlen takes the lead in the SPEED Touring Car Drivers’ Championship with 34 points, followed by Kleinubing (29 points), Sofronas (26), Altenburg (23) and Marks (21).
BMW leads the SPEED Touring Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by Racer Magazine with nine points, followed by Acura (seven), Mazda (three).
The SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championships next heads to Road Atlanta for a non-points invitational race April 24-25, as part of the inaugural Drift Atlanta event.
Today’s race will initially air at 12:00 p.m. (EST), March 21 on SPEED Channel.
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