MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 15, 2004) – Bill Auberlen returns this week to the circuit where he clinched his first SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship in hopes of securing his second-straight at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season-ending round.
Last September, Auberlen, of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., became the first driver in the then 14-year World Challenge history to clinch a Drivers’ Championship with two races remaining. Not one to rest on his laurels, the driver who also finished runner-up in the 2003 SPEED GT Drivers’ chase, finished up the 2003 season with a win at Puerto Rico—to date the only driver to ever win with maximum REWARDS weight.
Auberlen carried his season-ending success from 2003 into the 2004 season, again driving the Turner Motorsports/H&R Springs BMW 325i, this time carrying the No. 1 as defending Champion. Auberlen and Turner came out of the box strong, winning the first two races from the pole. He added another win at Infineon Raceway, but with success came REWARDS weight. At the season’s mid-point, Auberlen was weighted down with maximum weight, whereas many other competitors that had not had early-season success enjoyed little or no weight.
Auberlen was not the only BMW to get heavy by mid-season, as Nic Jonsson and Tecmark’s revitalized program had carried the Swede to three-straight runner-up finishes before finally cracking into victory lane at Infineon in race two.
How did the weight affect the Championship leaders? Consider that in the four races following Infineon and leading into Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, only Auberlen has visited the podium, with a third at Mosport. The good news? Once maxxed out on REWARDS (250 lbs), the two are now below 215 lbs—and still one-two in the Championship.
As the two BMWs dealt with their REWARDS after Infineon, 2003 Rookie of the Year Matt Plumb asserted himself in the RealTime Racing Acura TSX, taking his second win of the season at Mosport to go with a second place at Portland.
At Road America’s Round Eight, all three drivers felt the weight. Both Auberlen and Jonsson were at 250lbs, with Plumb right behind at 245 lbs. All three finished in the back half of the top 10, battling one another for crucial Championship points.
The penultimate round at Road Atlanta saw a resurgence of Auberlen. The Champ qualified third and took the lead on the start. While the day looked to be a certain podium finish, and perhaps the clinching of a second-straight title, overheating forced him to pit lane mid-race, meaning he had to battle hard to finish 12th—behind Plumb (seventh) and Jonsson (10th).
With all three drivers now a little lighter, all three drivers hope to help their Championship hopes with a race win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Auberlen leads Jonsson by 15 points and Plumb by 19. With a maximum of 34 points possible, it will be a tough task to unseat the driver who has sat atop SPEED Touring Car points since June 2003.
When the teams arrived to the event Thursday, it was learned that Plumb would miss the final round and his shot at the title, electing to stay home in Rhode Island and await the birth of his first child.
It is now a two-driver battle.
“It was a hard fought effort all year long,” Auberlen said of trying to win the Drivers’ Championship. “If I can come out and win this Championship with Turner and StopTech brakes, it would be awesome.”
“You use a lot more restraint than you normally would use in any other race,” Auberlen said of his race strategy. “[You use more restraint] providing you don’t ruin the flow that you would normally drive with. For example, if you drive a certain lap time and all of a sudden your guy calls in and says slow it down by two seconds, that’s when you drive off the track because it ruins your rhythm. Don’t ruin the rhythm, but stay very safe, stay under control and keep the equipment under you. That should be the strategy for the race. That and don’t let Nic [Jonsson] get behind you.”
“It’s going to be a long shot,” Jonsson said of his chance to win the Drivers’ Championship. “Road Atlanta is where we really had our chance to close the gap going into the last race to have a real close battle for the Championship. So, right now it is a long shot, but anything can happen. And, we’ve seen that [happen]. We are approaching this weekend the same way we have approached every other weekend so far this year. We’re going to go out there and try as hard as we can and see how things end up.”
Link to: http://www.scca.com/News/News.asp?Ref=186