CANADA (July 8, 2007) – SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge’s winningest driver, Peter Cunningham, ended a 25-race drought Sunday, holding off Ian Baas in the final corners to win Round Six of the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Championship at the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto. Pierre Kleinubing finished third.
Driving the No. 42 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, Cunningham, of Grafton, Wis., captured his 30th career win and ended a streak dating back to March 2005 at Sebring.
The race started under damp conditions with all cars on wet Toyo Proxes tires. Polesitter Kuno Wittmer, of Montreal, Quebec, got away cleanly in his No. 44 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura RSX and led the all-wheel drive Audi A4s of Baas and Chip Herr from the standing start.
Baas was the first driver to fall victim to the conditions, going into the Turn Three runoff area before a lap was complete, falling back to 15th. Wittmer was the next victim of Turn Three on lap five, promoting Herr to the lead. Just five laps later, Herr, who started third on the grid in his No. 17 PFAFF/STaSIS/Clear Capital entry, began to experience throttle issues, allowing Cunningham by, into the lead.
Meanwhile, Kleinubing, who started 18th after the splitter on his No. 1 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX was found to be too low after Saturday’s qualifying session, was charging through the field. As Cunningham moved into the lead, defending series champ Kleinubing had sliced through the field on the damp track to take second.
As the circuit began to dry, the two Acuras paced the field, but Baas was on a charge. The No. 18 PFAFF/STaSIS/Clear Capital Audi was into fifth by lap 10 and around the Mazda 6s of Charles Espenlaub and point leader Randy Pobst into third by lap 14.
On lap 24 of the 28-lap event, Cunningham caught Kleinubing off guard as they entered Turn Six and Kleinubing tapped his team owner, sending him into a slide. Cunningham gathered his car up, and Baas was able to capitalize, moving around Kleinubing as they exited the corner.
In the closing laps, the Audi shadowed the Acura. On the final lap, Baas made his move and the two ran side-by-side through the final corners, banging off each other as they came on the front straight. Cunningham beat Baas to the stripe by 0.538-second, averaging 76.642 mph in the 49.14-mile event.
“It feels amazing,” Cunningham said of being back on the top step of the podium. “I wasn’t sure what it was gonna’ take to get another one. It’s been a year and a half. Nathan Bonneau, my team manager, said that if I didn’t win a race this year, I was done, so I’ve been under a lot of pressure! I figured I’d better get it over with now before we get to these tracks that Pierre is so good at.
“I was in the right place with the right car at the end of the race. I think Pierre had the car at the beginning of the race, but as it dried out, my setup was just slightly different than his. I seemed to have a little bit better traction, particularly coming through those last three corners onto the pit straightaway.
“At one point, I thought maybe I’d have to let Pierre go because of how quickly he caught me. But I put my head down and was able to pull away from him in some parts of the track, but he’d catch up to me in others. But I just hung in there and maintained the position.”
For Baas, it was a career-best finish on a day that started off a little too eventful for his liking.
“Big mistake on my part at the start,” Baas said. “What can I say? I just went too deep in the corner. I saw the race flash before my eyes. But I was able to get it turned around. I went two turns later and there were two cars that got together and I got into them and then I got plowed from behind! I came to another stand still.
“The early caution and restart helped and the all-wheel drive is definitely an advantage. Obviously, in the wet it’s good. But when it dries and you’re on wet tires, things are slick. So it’s an advantage then as well.
As they entered the final lap, Baas felt he may have missed his opportunity at the win.
“On the second to last lap, I made a move and I couldn’t do it, so he gapped me and I knew that it was a mistake. I should have just taken my time and waited for the right opportunity.
“On the last lap, I knew I had the run on him in the last three turns and tried to do it. He did what any driver would do and held his line. When you try to fit two cars on one line, you’re going to get some rubbing. It happened. Nobody got hurt from it other than some sheet metal.”
Kleinubing captured his fourth podium of the year, and the weather was a welcome sight for a driver who was unhappy after qualifying.
“I was most discouraged after yesterday,” he said. “I wanted to pack my things up and go home. When I saw the rain this morning, I was actually pretty happy, because I knew it was going to give me a chance to pass a lot of people that, maybe, I wouldn’t have been able to pass today. I’m pretty happy. I’ll take third place starting from 18th any day.”
Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., maintained his series point lead with a fourth-place finish in his No. 73 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development Mazda 6, and Wittmer recovered to finish fifth.
Jeff Altenburg (Mazda 6), Michael Galati (Mazda 6), James Sofronas (BMW 325Ci), Nick Esayian (Acura TSX) and Jason Martinelli (BMW 325Ci) completed the top 10.
Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., picked up a trio of awards with his No. 29 Global Motorsports Group BMW 325Ci for his run from 19th on the grid after losing an engine on the first lap of practice to finish eighth. Sofronas captured the B&M Shifters Holeshot Award for passing the most cars on the opening lap, the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for passing the most cars in the entire race as well as the Toyo Tires Cup.
Martinelli, of Roxbury, Conn., was the Piloti Rookie of the Race, finishing 10th in his No. 8 Techmark Autosport BMW 325Ci.
Pobst extended his Drivers’ Championship point lead to 17 over teammate Altenburg, 198 to 181. Kleinubing and Sofronas are tied for third, with 146, and Cunningham has moved into fifth, with 137.
Mazda maintains its solid point lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine, with 47, followed by Acura (32), Audi (19) and BMW (17).
Today’s race will be broadcast on SPEED Saturday, July 14 at 11 a.m. (EDT). Check local listings for replays.
The series next travels to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Round Seven on July 22.