SEBRING, Fla. (Mar. 17, 2006) - Bill Auberlen, of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., set a new lap record and won the season-opening round of the 2006 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car season, taking the checkered flag by 0.829-sec. in his No. 2 Turner Motorsport/H&R Springs BMW 325i over Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga. Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., finished third.
Starting from the pole, Auberlen withstood an immediate, unexpected charge from Seth Thomas, of Cumming, Ga., who shot from his fifth-starting position in his No. 38 BimmerWorld Racing/Performance Friction BMW 325i to challenge for the lead going into the first turn. Auberlen shut the door without incident and moved away as Thomas battled for second behind.
Thomas then dropped a wheel off the 3.7-mile course on the second lap of the 17-lap race, which allowed Pobst (No. 73 Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsports Mazda 6), Kleinubing (No. 42 Acura Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles/RealTime Acura TSX) and Charles Espenlaub (No. 97 Sparco/Oakley/Tindol Motorsport Mazda 6), to move by him and battle for second as Auberlen built a two-second lead that he maintained for much of the race.
Pobst made an attempt to catch the quicker Auberlen in the last few laps, closing the leader's gap to under a second, but wasn"t able to catch up completely.
"I think this year at Sebring was very fast compared to other years,�� said Auberlen, who set a new race lap record of 2:20.562 (94.762 mph) on the fourth lap, after set a new qualifying mark the day before. “The weather has been a little cooler, and the track seemed to be a little quicker. The car loves Sebring, and I love Sebring.”
The second-place finish at Sebring was a redemption of sorts for Pobst, who held a sizable lead well into the 2005 Sebring race before a malfunctioning fuel pump ended his day. With Thomas ahead of him off the start, Pobst said he had to win that battle before he could ever focus on catching Auberlen.
“It was a priority to get by him,” Pobst said. “Seth was doing a great job, he qualified well. But, he was a little conservative, and was a little slow in a couple of corners. That whole time, he was keeping me, well, letting Billy start to get a gap between me and Pierre and Charles and tighten the pack. Seth made the mistake going into Turn 10, and I call the pass I made a judo pass, where you use your opponent’s momentum against them. He just made it easy for me that way.”
Kleinubing climbed up to third behind Auberlen and Pobst when Thomas dropped back, and the Brazilian driver was never challenged from behind for the remainder of the race. At the post-race press conference, Kleinubing said that winning in 2006 was going to be a challenge, but that the change in R.E.W.A.R.D.S weight distribution would hopefully mean he would be a factor in most of the races.
“I think with the maximum weight coming down, we’ll at least be able to race most of the season,” Kleinubing said. “Hopefully, with the weight where it is now, we’ll be able to fight for second, third and fourth.
Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., finished fourth in his No. 72 Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsports Mazda 6 after starting ninth, and reigning SCCA SPEED Touring Car Drivers’ Champion Peter Cunningham was fifth in his No. 1 Acura Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles/RealTime Acura TSX.
Jon Prall, of Los Gatos, Calif., earned the season’s first B&M Sport Shifters Hole Shot Award after moving up to 25th from his 32nd starting position on the first lap in his No. 11 DIG Motorsports/JustRacing.com BMW 325Ci.
Hugh Stewart, of Massapequa, N.Y., won the Sunoco Hard Charger Award at Sebring, finishing 15th in the No. 22 Speedtechnik Dodge SRT-4 after starting 31st.
Karl Poetl (No. 83 Racer’s Edge, Inc./LEDA Suspension BMW 325i) won the Piloti Rookie of the Race, finishing 14th – first among rookies.
The SCCA SPEED Touring Car race, part of the 54th Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, will be broadcast on SPEED Channel at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19.
Round Two of the 2006 SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships is set for March 31-April 2 at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
For more information, visit www.world-challenge.com.