Matt Bell earned his second victory of the 2009 Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport (GS) season Sunday in the 40th edition of the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières, holding off Billy Johnson and giving co-driver Don Salama a win as well.
Bell led the final 45 laps of the 66-lap, 90-minute race around the 1.521-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, also giving Turner Motorsport it's third victory of 2009. He took over from Salama during one of the race's three full course cautions, made his way to the front as pit stops cycled through and sprinted away following the final caution to win by 2.7 seconds. The winning pair averaged 66.238 mph.
At times during his stint, Bell owned nearly an eight-second lead, but that was cut into late in the race by Tom Long. The gap diminished on Lap 52, when the yellow flag came out for debris on the track as a result of a crash involving John Potter's No. 41 Magnus Racing Porsche 997. It marked the first time a caution period occurred in a GS race since TheGlen.com 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The green flag flew on Lap 55, and Bell was momentarily challenged before positions began changing behind him. With that racing going on, he pulled away, and in the process moved to fifth in the standings. It also kept his championship hopes alive with only two races remaining this season.
"It's fantastic to get a win on this track!" said Bell, who opened the season with a win at Daytona International Speedway, his first KONI Challenge victory. "To be behind the wheel and take the checkered flag was a great feeling. When that last yellow flag came out and took away the lead I'd built up, it was like it took all the steam out of the effort I'd put in at that point. But the BMW M3 is so balanced and I had been as conservative as I could be with the brakes, so on the restart I was able to build up my lead again, thankfully. Don did a great job in his stint and the Turner guys gave me an unbelievable pit stop and then I just had to do my job from there."
Salama and Bell have never triumphed before in KONI Challenge competition at Trois-Rivières, but Turner Motorsport has - three times now, all in odd-numbered years. Chris Gleason, who finished sixth in the No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 with Justin Marks, won in 2007 with Bill Auberlen. Auberlen also won in 2005.
Salama was a substitute for Auberlen this weekend. He becomes the first winner this season to win in multiple KONI Challenge classes - he also joined team owner Will Turner as a winner in the Street Tuner (ST) class race in May at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
"There are so few days in racing where everything works perfectly for you, but this was one of those days," Salama said. "My job was just to stay out as close to the front as possible. I am not in the championship points battle, so we had the flexibility to do the driver change when we wanted to. So when that (second) yellow flag came out, it was exactly the right time for us. Matt drove a perfect race for us today, managing the car so that when that last restart came, he had plenty of car left underneath him and no problem moving clear of the field once again."
Johnson moved through the field to take second just a couple laps after the final caution, giving himself a second consecutive GS podium at Trois-Rivières and the first for Jack Roush Jr. at the track. They drove together in the No. 61 Valvoline/Roush Ford Mustang GT.
Polesitter Dean Martin led the opening 21 circuits in the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT, which satisfied the 30-minute rule (drivers must complete that amount of time on the racing surface to obtain points). Shortly after, he turned the car over to Wilden, who reentered the race seventh. For several laps, he followed Johnson through the field, and took over third from Long on Lap 59. Wilden set the race's fastest lap two circuits later, and his efforts awarded him with a two-point increase on James Gue and Bret Seafuse, who finished fourth in the No. 37 Trumansburg ShurSave Ford Mustang. Wilden's lead is now 20 points (266-246).
Rounding out the top five were Long and Charlie Putman in the No. 91 Sparco/Import Car Store BMW M3.
Potter, who was also involved in a first-lap incident that brought out the yellow flag, was not injured in either crash. On Lap 11, David Riddle and Lee Davis were involved in a tangle - when the loss of brakes caused an incident and sent Riddle's No. 26 C-Max Porsche 997 off course in Turn 6. Both the No. 26 and Davis' No. 32 Luna-C Clothing BMW M3 - fielded by reigning GS race-winning team Kinetic Motorsports - were eliminated from competition.
On Saturday, Andrew and Alfredo Carbonell took their first victory and the first for Freedom Autosport in the No. 146 Mazda/Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, the car's first win in ST competition.
The next KONI Sports Car Challenge race will be Sept. 18 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.