ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 10, 2008) – Road America might have owed James Clay one. After twice being upside down in the turn one gravel in 2004 and missing the race altogether in 2006 after a practice crash, Clay got his redemption Sunday, scoring his first SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car win in a thrilling Round Eight at Road America, part of the Road Race Showcase weekend. Polesitter Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., and Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, completed the top three.
Starting fourth in his No. 36 BimmerWorld BMW 325i, Clay fell to sixth early, but worked back up to fifth by the time a lap six full-course caution came out to extract Michael Galati’s Mazda from the Turn One gravel. On the subsequent lap seven restart, he moved to third and then to second one lap later. Clay passed Kleinubing’s No. 43 Acura/RealTime/Red Line/Eibach Acura TSX in Turn Five on lap 12, and was able to hold on for his first series victory.
Clay beat Kleinubing to the flag by 1.525 seconds, averaging 93.577 mph over the course of the 17-lap, 68.815-mile race.
“I think this will sink in at some point,” Clay said about his first win. “Racing with Pierre [Kleinubing] is always fun and interesting. The first time I got in front of him was maybe five years ago and he pecked at my bumper, pecked at my bumper and it bothered me. After that race, I realized, ‘this is not that big of a deal’ and I got over it.
“I was able to go by, stretch out the lead and keep it.”
Kleinubing and third-starting Chip Herr’s No. 97 Mazdaspeed/Tindol Motorsports MAZDA6 looked to have the measure of the field early, as the pair put a two-second gap on the battle for third. On the restart, however, Jim Daniels got a run on the two in his No. 75 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6 as the pack headed into Turn One.
Daniels bumped Kleinubing’s rear bumper under breaking, tossing the Acura into a drift, which the four-time series Champion somehow saved. With the Acura sideways in the track, the remainder of the frontrunners checked up, allowing Kleinubing to maintain the lead. Daniels was not as lucky, falling to seventh.
“After the hit on the restart, [the car] just wasn’t the same,” Kleinubing said of his bumper sticking out on the side. “It had a little more drag back there at the right rear wheelwell and I could definitely feel it.
“The save was a little bit of luck, but I’ve got to thank the SCCA for allowing the sequential gearbox, because there’s no way I would have caught the car without it.”
On the penultimate lap, Kleinubing bobbled in the Carousel, allowing Saini to pull alongside. The two ran cleanly through the Carousel and drag-raced to the daunting Kink. Neither driver willing to lift, they went side-by-side at speed through the Kink and down the back straight before Kleinubing re-took the spot under breaking into Canada Corner.
“I made a mistake in eight and Jason got alongside me, and I’m like ‘oh boy, here we go,’” Kleinubing said. “We went side-by-side at the Carousel and through The Kink and I almost thought we weren’t going to make it. He gave it back to me at Canada and I was able to open it up a little bit on him after that. It was exciting to watch for sure.”
“When [Kleinubing] came back on after going wide, he really tried to defend me,” said Saini. “I got up alongside and I wasn’t going to let it go. We came up to The Kink and I maybe had a fender on him. I didn’t want to lift because then Chip [Herr] would have gotten by. I stayed in it. Pierre gave me room and I gave him room and we made it.”
Saini, who started second in the No. 74 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6, was cognizant of the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER, in which Acura holds the lead over Mazda.
“The car wasn’t quite as good in the early stages as I’d hoped,” Saini said. “Acura’s been running really good this year and there’s a manufacturer’s battle to think about. I really wanted to get a Mazda by the front Acura.
“Maybe that’s going to start happening more now. You can go side-by-side through The Kink.”
Kleinubing and Saini’s battle allowed Clay to get away and also permitted Herr to close back up to the podium finishers. Right behind Herr, completing the top six were the Acura/RealTime/Eibach/Red Line Acuras of Milwaukee’s Peter Cunningham and Eric Curran. Cunningham turned the race’s fastest lap, with a 2:29.135 (97.715 mph) on lap 10.
For BimmerWorld, it was the successful recovery from its worst weekend as a team at Watkins Glen two rounds prior, where all three team cars were nearly destroyed in the same race-ending accident.
“The body shop and the guys have put so much work in to get the cars ready,” Clay said. “All three cars wrecked – for everyone, it just sucked. To be able to come back two races later and have such a strong weekend shows that the guys really have it in them and have what it takes to win.”
Clay’s teammate Seth Thomas (BMW 325i), James Sofronas (BMW 325Ci), Nick Esayian (BMW 325i) and point leader Kuno Wittmer (Acura TSX) completed the top 10.
Patrick Lindsey earned both the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing seven positions in the race and the Racing Electronics Holeshot Award for advancing three positions on the opening lap in his No. 57 Horton Motorsports/Sloan Securities MAZDA6. Lindsey started 19th and finished 12th, but was running as high as ninth before a tangle with Daniels dropped him back.
Despite his 10th place finish, Wittmer held on to the Drivers’ Championship point lead by three over Cunningham (765 to 762). Kleinubing gained on his two teammates, with 760, followed by Herr (672) and Rookie leader Saini (621). Acura leads the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by Racer over Mazda, 69 to 51.
Today’s race will be broadcast Wednesday, Aug. 20 at 1 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED.
The series next travels to Mosport International Raceway in two weeks. For more information, please visit www.world-challenge.com.