ALTON, Va. (April 19, 2009) – Klaus Graf, of Dornhen, Germany, started last and drove through the field to earn his fifth career Muscle Milk ® SCCA® Trans-Am® win today at VIRginia International Raceway. Polewinner Tony Ave, of Maiden, N.C., and Edison Lluch Sr., of Lajas, Puerto Rico, completed the podium.
Graf was the provisional polewinner before his No. 6 Pickett Racing/Muscle Milk Jaguar XKR failed post qualifying technical inspection (wing height). As a result, Graf was moved to the back of the field. However, it only took Graf 11 laps to pass Ave for the race lead. He passed Ave coming down the back straight.
On the final lap, Ave tried one last time in his No. 10 McMahon Group/Stumpf Ford Ford Mustang to pass Graf for the lead between Turns Three and Four. But, instead of making a high risk move, that may have wrecked Graf, Ave conceded the position and Graf held on for the win. He won by 0.507-second over Ave.
“The guys prepared a fantastic car,” Graf said following his win. “The Muscle Milk car was perfect. I was able to maintain my speed, while overtaking and not hurting my tires too much, which is quite difficult to do if you have to pass a lot. I had a good run. I made up through the field quite quickly and then it got tougher when I got into the top five.
“I could see where he was good and I studied him [Ave] for a few laps. I saw that I was a little bit better on the back straightaway. I pulled alongside him there and outbraked him.”
“I got out and drove around because there was no need to go any faster,” said Ave, who now has four career Trans-Am podium finishes. “I was going to wait until Klaus got in second and try to keep the gap if I could. Then the caution came out and the gap closed. His tires were still working well and he’s got a good motor in that thing. He beat me on the straightaway. I was hoping we’d have a long run and I could run him back down. But, we kept getting cautions and that help and that helped his tire choice, which is what saved him.
“Over the final three laps, it looked like his tires were going away. I almost had him here [between Turns Three and Four]. I could have spun him out. But, I don’t want to race like that because I wouldn’t want him spinning me out. It was good. My guys did such good job. I am so proud of them. I work them way too hard.”
Graf put on an impressive driving display, which included setting a new race lap record with a 1:48.159 (108.839 mph). He broke the record set by Boris Said (1:49.030, 107.970 mph) in 2002.
Lluch, who started seventh and finished third in his No. 73 Don Q/El Tugue Chevrolet Corvette, had a scary moment during the race when he learned that his son, Edison Lluch Jr., had flipped his car multiple times in Turn Eight. Lluch Jr. was taken to the Danville Regional Medical Center for observation. Despite the circumstances, Lluch Sr. remained focused and earned his first career Trans-Am podium finish. In addition to his third-place finish, he was also awarded the Flowmaster Star of the Race Award.
“It was a finish that I inherited from all the drivers that did not make it until the end,” Lluch Sr. said. “It was just a matter of being there at the end. The car was great and we managed to go fast enough to finish third.
“I talked to my son on the phone [after the race]. He’s okay. His neck is O.K. His ribs are hurting, but he’s okay. He was discharged from the medical center here and he is on his way to the hospital for a medical checkup.”
Simon Gregg, of Ponte Verda Beach, Fla., finished fourth in his No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, while Tommy Drissi, of Los Angeles, was fifth in his No. 5 X-Men Origins-Wolverine Jaguar XKR.
Amy Ruman (Chevrolet Corvette), Jerry Kinn (Chevrolet Corvette), Glen Jung (Mazda RX-7), Denny Lamers (Ford Mustang) and Jordan Bupp (Chevrolet Corvette) completed the top 10.
Lamers, of Appleton, Wis., won the Sunoco Hard Charger of the race for his drive from 19th to ninth in the No. 66 McMahon Group/Stumpf Ford Ford Mustang.
Ave’s finish moved him into the Drivers’ Championship point lead, with 53, followed by Drissi (47), Ruman (45), Skeen (41) and Jung (35). Jaguar leads the manufacturers’ standings, with 18 points, followed by Chevrolet (10) and Ford (9).
The Muscle Milk SCCA Trans-Am Series heads north of the border for Round Three at Mosport International Raceway May 16-17.