TOPEKA, Kan. (March 30, 2005) – RealTime Racing front man Peter Cunningham has climbed to the top of the podium 29 times in his 16 years on the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge circuit.-30-
Notching a ground-breaking 30th win this weekend in the No. 42 A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in St. Petersburg, Fla., would literally put Cunningham in a class by himself (only Cunningham and one other driver - his long-time RealTime teammate, Pierre Kleinubing, with 21 - has earned at least 20 SPEED World Challenge victories).
Then again, he’s been in that class so long, he probably could teach it.
The rarified air that the 42-year old competitor from West Bend, Wis., inhales as the continent’s most successful driver can’t be credited to his gaudy win total alone, although it could be considering he has won more road races than anyone else in North America (77 career road racing victories and 11 championships overall - 61 and eight of which have come while driving either an Acura or a Honda).
“It helps to have a reliable and competitive automobile,” Cunningham said. “We’ve met a lot of stiff competition from a lot of different models and teams over the years, but it is certainly harder now than it once was.”
The supporting numbers Cunningham has posted do more than imprint his name among the all-time greats. They cement it.
Coming into this season, his name topped just about every SPEED World Challenge chart imaginable, including podium finishes (65), top-fives (88), top-tens (106), fastest qualifier (28) and fastest race laps (15), all of which came in 132 starts.
The most impressive aspect of those numbers is the figuring in of the SPEED World Challenge factor. The series is built on the premise of parity; to have as many cars and drivers fight for the top spot each and every weekend. With that in mind, more than a third of Cunningham’s wins (11) have come since 2000, in an era that many believe to be the high-point for the series as far as competitiveness.
The level of success that has become almost standard to Cunningham over his career is something that many thought would never happen. But while he is somewhat humbled by his high marks, Cunningham isn’t totally surprised at what he has accomplished.
“No, certainly not,” Cunningham said when asked if he ever thought he would be at the top of so many statistical categories. “I was involved in the series before it officially started because I was running in the Escort Endurance Championship, which ran from 1985 through 1989. That series was the beginning of my professional career, and it was the beginning of what is now World Challenge.
“So, I’ve seen the series grow and evolve and improve over that time, and not until recently did it occur to me that I am at the top of those lists.”
This season, the RealTime stable took on a new, slightly bolder look and feel as the team decided to bring on a fifth driver in the form of 19-year old rookie rising star Brandon Davis, who RealTime hopes can bring home Rookie of the Year honors, and changed the Acuras’ livery to a sharper, more streamlined look while using the familiar neon orange, white and gray color scheme.
“Our previous paint scheme was certainly the most recognizable paint scheme,” Cunningham said. “And over the years, we had thoughts of wanting to change it up a little, but it always came back to how to change it because it was so recognizable and we didn’t want to lose that.
“We struck upon this paint scheme and were like ‘Yes! That’s it.’ We were very pleased with it because it is clearly a RealTime car. We didn’t lose that RealTime panache.”
Cunningham finds himself on the edge of the 30-win plateau after taking the SPEED Touring Car season opener at Sebring. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any stretch as Cunningham took the lead only after watching Kleinubing and Randy Pobst pull off course from in front with mechanical problems and defending Champion Bill Auberlen slide off to allow the Acura to slip past.
Still, it was a tribute to the clean-running style of Cunningham, who managed to stay away from trouble until the opportunity to win showed. Afterward, given a few days to reflect on the race, Cunningham was ready to redirect any praise toward his team rather than draw it to himself.
“We were cautiously optimistic going into Sebring that we might have a challenger because of the effort that was put forth by all of the RealTime crew,” Cunningham said. “All of these guys put in so much effort in hopes that it would pay dividends, but we knew that we still had to show up at the track and not coast.
“I felt terrible for Pierre, obviously. He certainly would have been in good position at the end had he not suffered a mechanical malady.”
With one win now under his belt this year, Cunningham also said he thinks that Sebring could be just what he and RealTime needed in order to have a successful season.
“We’re very pleased at the results from there,” Cunningham said. “But we know that the Mazdas and BMWs are going to come back at us, and we are going to have to be ready for that challenge. We look forward to it.”
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