James Gue and Bret Seafuse did what they set out to do – win the 2009 Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport (GS) season-ending Bosch Engineering Octoberfest on Sunday at Virginia International Raceway. However, Ken Wilden's sixth-place finish was enough to keep the points lead and take his first series title.
In the Street Tuner (ST) class, Christian Miller's car retired just over an hour into the four-hour race, but he was able to hold on to win that title, in a race won by Tom Long and Derek Whitis in the No. 145 Mazda/Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5.
Gue took the lead on Lap 83 of 108 and led the final 26 laps after taking control from Seafuse - who had led from Laps 66-82 at the point - during the JBS Motorsports team's final pit stop. Gue and Seafuse celebrated their second victory of 2009 in the No. 37 Trumansburg ShurSave Ford Mustang GT, as they led twice for a race-high 66 laps.
Seafuse – who stated before the race the goal was simply "to win" – started ninth, but Gue moved the car into the lead during his stint, and the two were never shuffled out of the top five.
Meanwhile, polesitter Wilden led the opening two laps, and he and co-driver Dean Martin participated in a different pit stop sequence, opting to stay out during the first of three caution periods while many of the leaders pitted. Martin led two laps during his stint, and Wilden was able to move into the top five during the race's final hour.
However, Wilden fell outside the top five at the beginning of the final hour, and was eighth on the race's final restart. Running conservatively enough to stay out of trouble, but aggressively enough to keep the championship lead, Wilden dropped to ninth in the first turn. He eventually finished seventh and was promoted to sixth following a penalty on Billy Johnson, showing emotion upon taking the checkered flag.
The final advantage for Wilden was nine points (317-309) over Gue – who pulled away on the final restart – and Seafuse, who had to settle for second in the championship for the second straight season. Last year, they finished six points behind titlists Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster.
"I wasn't worried (when they fell behind early in the race)," said Wilden, whose VIR finish tied his season worst. "I knew what our strategy was, and it played out. We just needed to do what we had to do, and we executed. On the first pit stop, we probably should have pitted with the leaders, but we knew we'd catch up again. We expected another yellow. On the championship, I'm just thrilled for the No. 59 Rehagen Mustang, 986 Cooling and Belesta.
"This is a really tight year for us and for Rehagen financially, and they really stepped up for me to come in here and show what we could do," Wilden continued. "Running with Dean is like having two pro drivers. Hats off to the crew, one of the best pit teams in the paddock. The car was flawless all year. We did not have one failure, and we didn't replace one body panel all year. I'm very happy and very pleased."
The championship was also the first for Wilden's team, Rehagen Racing, and the second consecutive for Ford, which defeated BMW by four points (348-344).
Disappointed with not winning the title, Gue was nonetheless content with winning the race. He held off Salt Lake City 200 race co-winner Johnson on the final restart and pulled away. Side-to-side contact between Johnson and Bill Auberlen in the No. 96 Motul BMW M3 allowed Terry Borcheller to jump ahead of both and into second, 1.305 seconds behind Gue. All 11 GS races this season finished with a margin of victory under five seconds.
"We came into this race knowing we had to win, and that's all we could control," Gue said. "I know the (No.) 59 guys had a rough time today, but they still had enough for the championship. But it's been a great year. We came up a little short in the championship, but I'm proud of Bret and all the guys. They did an outstanding job."
Borcheller co-drove with No. 28 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 driver Andrew Hendricks, making only his second career KONI Challenge start. Borcheller led 20 laps during the race's first hour. It was the best-ever finish for Fall-Line Motorsports.
Johnson was issued a 45-second penalty for the contact as well as blocking, dropping him and co-driver Jack Roush Jr. to ninth, the final car on the lead lap, and giving Dan DiLeo and Eric Foss third in the No. 8 Maxwell Paper Products Co. Porsche 997. It marked Maxwell's first-ever KONI Challenge podium.
Auberlen and Matt Bell finished fourth, while Charles Espenlaub and Charlie Putman took fifth in the No. 91 Sparco/Imported Car Store BMW M3. Bell finished third in the points standings, one point ahead of Martin.
Virginia-based Motorsport Technology Group and the No. 18 Evolution Motorsports Porsche 997, with drivers Ryan Dalziel and Payton Wilson of Chantilly, Va., finished 14th, one lap down.
The race marked the debut of the Chevrolet Camaro in KONI Challenge competition. Second-generation drivers David Donohue and Jeff Bucknum co-drove the No. 6 Sunoco entry fielded by Stevenson Motorsports - carrying the blue and yellow colors campaigned by Mark Donohue and Ronnie Bucknum for Penske Racing in the 1969 SCCA Trans-Am Championship. David Donohue qualified 13th and had the car up to third before turning the car over to Bucknum, who retired with clutch problems with 80 minutes remaining. They finished 23rd in class.
The race's three cautions – all for stalled cars – slowed the race's average to 88.093 mph.