MONTEREY, Calif., (October 21, 2007) – In a Championship-deciding race packed with action, Peter Cunningham, of Grafton, Wis., captured the win at the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Finale, part of the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Acura swept the podium with Kuno Wittmer, of Montreal, Quebec, finishing second and Brandon Davis, of Denver, Colo., finishing third. Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., won his first World Challenge Drivers’ Championship, finishing fourth.
In one of the most exciting races of the season, Cunningham crossed the finish line behind teammate Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., but still collected his 31st World Challenge victory.
Ian Baas, of Noblesville, Ind., got a great start from third on the grid in his No. 18 STaSIS/Clear Capital/Livermore Audi A4 and led the field through Turns One and Two, but was quickly re-passed by polesitter Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., and Cunningham.
As Pobst continued to lead the field through the first lap at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course, his teammate and point leader Altenburg hit trouble on the crowded opening lap, clipping a curb in Turn Six, causing a flat tire. As the race went full-course yellow for the No. 92 Sorted Performance Dodge SRT-4 of Stan Wilson stuck in Turn Six, Altenburg hit the pits. He re-entered in 18th.
Pobst maintained the lead on the lap four restart in his No. 73 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development MAZDA6, but the full-course yellow came out again, only two laps later for the No. 95 Mazda North America/Tindol MAZDA6 of Michael Galati who was deep in the gravel at Turn Six.
On the lap nine restart, Pobst again defended his lead, as the No. 1 Acura Certified Pre-Owned Acura TSX of Kleinubing made his way past Cunningham for second. Kleinubing immediately put the pressure on Pobst for the lead while Altenburg charged through the field, needing to finish fourth or higher while Pobst led, in order to claim the Championship.
The full-course yellow came out for the third and final time on lap 14 when the No. 96 Tindol Motorsports/Pesco Inc. MAZDA6 of Charlie Putman was caught out in the gravel at Turn Eight. By this time Altenburg had moved up sixth.
On the lap 16 restart, Kleinubing continued to fill Pobst’s mirrors and Altenburg jumped to fifth, needing one more spot to earn the Championship should Pobst win the race. As the laps ticked by, the battling Pobst and Kleinubing began to pull away from the rest of the field.
On lap 21 of the 25-lap, 53.712-mile race, Kleinubing went to the outside of Pobst into Turn Two, but ran wide, allowing Pobst to hold the lead. The next time around, Kleinubing again went to the outside. This time, Kleinubing’s left front hit Pobst’s right rear, spinning the Mazda across the Acura’s nose. Several cars including Altenburg sped by as Pobst attempted to rejoin the field. Altenburg now had the Championship in hand, running fourth, while Pobst was shown in seventh.
Race officials quickly ordered a black flag for Kleinubing’s contact with Pobst and requested the car in pit lane. Kleinubing did not answer the call with one lap to go and was still the lead car when the checkered flag waved, with Cunningham close behind.
With a 30-second penalty assessed to Kleinubing, Cunningham was declared the winner, who crossed the finish line only 0.819-second ahead of Wittmer.
“I enjoyed the race today,” Cunningham said. “It seemed like Ian Baas had a mechanical problem coming out of Turn Two and we passed him between Two and Three. He did have the lead going into two.
“It appeared that Randy [Pobst] had a very good car and was pulling me. It also appeared that I was holding up Pierre [Kleinubing] a little bit. Certainly, Pierre had a job to do and put the bit between his teeth. On a restart, he got a little jump on me and we went side-by-side into Turn Two and rather than argue with him like we had before, I tried to hand it to him on a platter and fall in behind him.
“For a time, under green, Pierre was really chasing down Randy hard and the two of them were having a very good race. It seemed like my car was getting better and better as the race wore on and I might have had a little more for them at the end and certainly could pounce on them if they got into each other.
“I didn’t get the chance to get by Pierre, but after Randy spun due to the contact, I was in second and that’s where I thought I had finished.”
Driving the car that won this race last year, Wittmer finally captured a long overdue podium in his No. 44 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura RSX. The finish pushed Wittmer to third in the Championship standings.
“I had a great car and we were communicating a lot on the radio about the positions in the Championship,” Wittmer said. “At one point, they told me I was fourth in the Championship, but I was also fourth in the race and the podium was right there.
“I’m very pleased with how things turned out and I’m very pleased with second place. The team and Acura have done a great job all year and to finish it off with second place is a great way to end the season.”
After falling behind Altenburg briefly in the closing laps, Davis reclaimed the third spot on the final lap, earning his top-three of the season and giving Acura a podium sweep in his No. 43 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/Real Time Racing Acura TSX.
Following Pobst’s clash with Kleinubing, Altenburg’s fourth-place finish in the No. 72 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development MAZDA6 was enough to capture his first ever SPEED World Challenge Championship. Crossing the line in sixth, Pobst finished the Championship runner-up, 18 points behind Altenburg.
“I knew I had a job to do obviously, Randy was on the pole and I was in eighth,” Altenburg said. “If Randy stayed there, I knew I needed to be fourth. The start was a little hectic and going into Turn Six, we were going two-by-two and I dropped a wheel on the curb and I figured that I was out. I congratulated Randy over the radio and I thought I was going to park it, because I thought the suspension was broken. I came in the pits and the team put a new tire on it and I went out and it felt remarkably good.
“It was tough coming through the field but I pretty much settled in, in fifth place. Believe me, I’ve been doing all the calculations in my head and I knew that if I was fifth and Randy won that we’d be tied and he’d win the tiebreaker. I was driving my heart out and the car was working amazingly well for what had happened to it.
“It feels incredible to win the Championship and it feels like it was a long time coming. I feel a little vindicated in justifying Mazda’s faith in me over the years. Believe me, I’m very, very proud. With this series, with RealTime and Bimmerworld and STaSIS and all the teams that have been in this series over the years—it’s top notch, and to come out on top of this series means a whole lot to me, because of the people we’re competing against.”
Behind Altenburg and Pobst, Wittmer ends the season third in the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Drivers’ Championship with 203 points, followed by teammates Kleinubing and Cunningham, with 225 and 220 points, respectively.
Returning to World Challenge competition for the first time since Sebring, Dino Crescentini, of Malibu, Calif., finished fifth in his No. 74 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development MAZDA6, just ahead of Pobst.
Adam Pecorari (Audi A4) and Nick Esayian (Acura TSX) finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Esayian was the highest-placing Toyo Tires Cup driver, earning the Toyo Tires Cup Award.
Finishing ninth, Andrie Hartanto, of San Francisco, Calif., earned the Piloti Rookie of the Race Award as the highest-finishing rookie in his No. 88 PRIMA Honda Civic.
Matt Richmond, of Mooresville, N.C., completed the top ten and earned B&M Holeshot Award for advancing seven positions on the start, as well as the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing 11 positions during the race in the No. 37 BimmerWorld BMW 325i.
Mazda clinched the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER a round early at Road Atlanta. The automaker wins its first-ever World Challenge Championship by 18 points ahead of Acura. Audi finishes third with 42 points, followed by BMW with 31 points.
The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car finale will air on SPEED, Sunday, October 28 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT). Results, photos and news are available at www.world-challenge.com