TOOELE, Utah (July 15, 2006) – Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., captured his second-straight SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car win, the 26th of his career, after fending off Randy Pobst in the closing stages in the inaugural Larry H. Miller Dealers Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park. Eric Curran, of East Hampton, Mass., finished third.
Starting from his record-tying 29th pole, Kleinubing led the field away from the standing start in his No. 42 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX and led each of the 13 laps in the 58.318-mile contest to win by 1.228 seconds, averaging 83.366 mph.
The entire field battled 100-plus degree ambient temperatures, and the first half of the race ran fairly conservatively, as the drivers preserved their equipment for a late battle to the finish. Not all drivers emerged from the opening stages unscathed, though. Third-starting Peter Cunningham (No. 1 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX) and Dino Crescentini (No. 74 Tri-Point/Mazdaspeed Mazda 6) made contact, sending them each to pit lane for repairs.
While both of those drivers would continue, others were not as fortunate. James Clay broke a rear axle in his No. 36 BimmerWorld BMW 325i at the start and was promptly rear-ended by Dan Aweida’s No. 66 3R-Racing Dodge SRT4. While each driver pulled their car into a safe location neither driver was able to continue in the race.
Kleinubing led the No. 73 Tri-Point/Mazdaspeed Mazda 6 of chief Championship protagonist Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., by as much as 2.7 seconds in the opening laps, with Curran’s No. 43 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura RSX, Jeff Altenburg’s No. 72 Tri-Point/Mazdaspeed Mazda 6 and Charles Espenlaub’s No. 97 Sparco/Oakley/Tindol Motorsport Mazda 6 in tow.
With five laps remaining, Pobst decided it was time to go, setting, at the time, the fastest race lap as he began to close on Kleinubing. Pressure began to come from behind the Mazda driver as well, with several drivers trading fast lap before it finally landed with Espenlaub.
With four laps to go, Pobst had the interval under a second and the top five were within five seconds of one another. Try as he might, Pobst could never find the right opportunity to make a move stick. The five cars crossed the finish line in the order they ran much of the race in, separated by only 3.944 seconds.
“RealTime Racing did a great job again,” Kleinubing said race-winning Acura. “This car was unbelievable in the race today. It was definitely better than Randy’s [car] on handling.
“In the beginning Eric [Curran] was pressuring Randy and was probably faster than him at that stage in the race, which helped me open the gap. Once Eric used up his car, Randy closed the gap. Toward the end, when he was next to me, I just had a better car.”
Pobst returned to the podium for the first time since his win in Round Two at St. Petersburg. While pleased with his second place finish, he would have preferred to have anyone other than Kleinubing finish ahead.
“At the start I did not do a good job,” Pobst said. “I bogged it. But, fortunately I was able to hold off the masses into turn one and chase Pierre [Kleinubing]. Well, Pierre was getting away and Eric Curran was right on me. So, I had to try to fight off Curran until he started overheating and then he kind of let me go, that really let me focus on lap times. My Mazda got a little better and a little better. I was looking at Pierre and thought ‘Hey, I think I’m catching him.’ We set up the car to be good at the end and it was getting faster. Plus, I was learning how to drive it better. I am very pleased and frankly, I wanted to get another solid finish.”
Curran earned his first podium finish of the year. Like last year, he is gaining momentum mid-season, and no doubt looks forward to the next round in Denver, a race he won one year ago.
“I had a car that could have potentially beat Randy today,” Curran said. “But, with this heat, it did not allow for real close racing. I watch the temperature gauge climb to 240 when I was right behind Randy. So, I could not stay in his draft because of that. So, that put us back and the way this season has gone, I am very happy with third place.”
Altenburg took his fourth top-five finish of the season with a fourth today. If it weren’t for a startline crash at St. Pete, which also claimed Curran, he would be in the hunt for the 2006 Championship as well. The fifth place finish for Espenlaub equaled his season-high.
Brandon Davis finished sixth in his Acura TSX, followed by Seth Thomas, who had a season best in his new BMW 325i, Nick Esayian’s Acura RSX, Robb Holland’s Dodge SRT4 and Christian Miller’s Volkswagen Jetta.
Holland earned Piloti Rookie of the Race honors for his drive in the brand-new No. 67 Fila/3R-Racing Dodge SRT4. It is the best finish for an SRT4 in SPEED Touring Car competition.
Jon Prall earned both the B&M Shifters Holeshot Award for advancing six positions at the start and the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for moving up a total of 12 positions in the race to finish 13th.
Kleinubing, who has finished on the podium in each of the first five races, now leads Pobst in the Drivers’ Championship at the season’s midpoint by 18 points, 164 to 146. Despite finishing 18th, Cunningham held on to third in points, with 117, followed by Chip Herr, who finished 11th, with 104, and Altenburg, with 97.
Acura increased its point lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER as well. It now leads Mazda 40 to 34, followed by BMW and Audi, with 11 each.
Today’s race will be broadcast Saturday, July 22 at 3 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED Channel.
The next race for the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship will be Aug. 11-13 at Road America for Round Six of the 10-race Championship.
For more information, please visit www.world-challenge.com.