SEBRING, Fla. (March 18, 2004) – Bill Auberlen, of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., took the first step in defending his SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship today by winning the Air Force Reserve Pole Position Award for Friday’s race at Sebring International Raceway, part of the 52nd Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Bob Stretch, of Dallas, Texas, will start on the outside of row one, followed by Brazilian Pierre Kleinubing.
On a picture perfect day in Central Florida, defending race winner Auberlen broke his own qualifying record by nearly three and a half seconds when he turned a lap of 2:23.199 (93.017 mph) in his No. 1 Turner Motorsport/H&R Springs BMW 325i. While Auberlen admits his team made very few changes to the car in the off-season, his record qualifying run was certainly helped by the new Toyo Proxes RA-1 DOT-approved tires the series will compete on this season.
“You know what’s good, they didn’t change anything,” Auberlen said. “They [Turner Motorsport] said, ‘let’s bring back the exact same car.’ So, they dusted it off and off we went racing. They put new tires on it. The good thing was, I ran those tires last year in GT. I knew a lot of the suspension settings and I knew how it would respond.”
The pole was the ninth of Auberlen’s World Challenge career.
Stretch, who was quickest in Wednesday’s combined practice session and who was quickest for most of the qualifying session, will start from the row one thanks to a qualifying time of 2:23.323 (92.937 mph). Stretch will be gunning for his first SPEED Touring Car win when he takes to the track in his No. 98 Wheels America BMW 325Ci. It is the first time in 15 career SPEED Touring Car starts that Stretch will start from the front row.
Three-time series Champion Pierre Kleinubing will start third in his brand new No. 42 A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX as the result of lap time of 2:23.508 (92.817 mph). This is the fourth year the SPEED World Challenge has competed at Sebring and Kleinubing is a two-time race winner.
Nic Jonsson, of Buford, Ga., recorded the fourth quickest time of the day and Techmark Autosport teammate James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., completed the top five.
Fifteen drivers qualified faster than the old qualifying record (2:26.701, 90.796 mph) set by Auberlen last year. The change is largely attributed to the new tires.
Rookie Seth Thomas, who turned a lap fast enough for 23rd, was found to have a non-compliant wing location and was moved to the rear of the grid.
Friday’s SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship Round One race is set to make its standing start at 1:30 p.m. (EST). The race will initially air on SPEED Channel at noon Sunday, March 21. For more information, including Live Timing & Scoring Presented by Cadillac, visit www.world-challenge.com.