CLEVELAND (June 25, 2005) – Three-time series Champion Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., won his third-straight race of 2005 and the 24th of his career when the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championships took to the track for Round Five, as part of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank weekend. Polesitter Charles Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., finished second, while three-time series Champion Peter Cunningham, of West Bend, Wis., finished third.
Driving the No. 43 A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, Kleinubing got a run on both then race leader and teammate Cunningham and second place driver Espenlaub going into turn one on the last lap with Espenlaub sandwiched in the middle. Kleinubing made contact with Espenlaub, sending Espenlaub into Cunningham and both drivers into the turn one grass, while Kleinubing continued on to the win by 5.013-seconds at an average speed of 88.029 mph.
“I saw a gap on the inside,” Kleinubing said explaining the last lap contact. “So, I thought I would be a little cautious, get on the brakes a little earlier and I will make it through on the inside. I knew that they were going all the way to the outside. I felt like I barely touched Charles [Espenlaub], but then when I looked in the mirror I saw them both fly off into the grass. Maybe it was little more than a touch. The only reason why the brakes would have locked up was because the track was dirty on the inside of turn one entrance.
“It was my mistake and I take blame for it. It is definitely not the way I want to win one of these things, but I guess I just have to take it that way today.”
Espenlaub, who led most of the race from his first-career U.S. Air Force Reserve pole position in the No. 97 Sparco/Oakley/Tindol Mazda 6, went a little wide between turns nine and 10 to allow Cunningham to take the lead on the next to the last lap of the race. Espenlaub quickly looked to retake the position from Cunningham when Kleinubing made contact with him. Once Espenlaub successfully navigated the turn one grass, he went on to equal his career-best second-place finish.
”In the beginning, it was a little tight,” Espenlaub said of the race start. “I tried to keep the pace to keep the tire under me, but the Tindol Motorsports Mazda 6 performed perfectly the whole race. I just made a little mistake on the next to the last lap, watching him [Cunningham] a little closer than I should have and I got a little wide. Peter got a run on the inside of me. I was checking for Pierre [and didn’t see him] so I thought it was just between Peter and I. Then as we turned in [turn one], Pierre and I touched a little bit on the inside, then Peter and I got stuck with each other and headed toward the grass and rhubarb. But, fortunately we were able to finish second.”
Cunningham looked poised to battle Espenlaub throughout the race, as he briefly took the lead on lap four, but then quickly lost it on lap five. Espenlaub continued to put on a solid driving display, while opening up a more than two second lead, before lapped traffic forced Espenlaub to slow down allowing Cunningham and Kleinubing to close the gap to less a second with two laps to go. On the last lap of the race, Cunningham found himself on the outside of Espenlaub when the contact occurred as the trio went three-wide and Cunningham had no place to go but to follow Espenlaub into the grass. From there, it would be a race out of the grass for position with Cunningham bringing his No. 42 A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX home in third.
“It was very competitive the whole race,” Cunningham said of his battle with Espenlaub. “Early on I had an opportunity to get by Charles [Espenlaub], which I did. And, got a point for at least leading a lap. But, then on the next lap he drove right by me. I had nothing for him. But, I tried to keep as much pressure on him as I could throughout the race. I have to hand it to the RealTime crew because my Acura TSX was just absolutely incredible from start to finish.
“The next thing I know Charles and I were out in the dirt,” Cunningham said of the last lap contact. “[After Cunningham went off] the car was overheating. The radiator was full of rhubarb and all kinds of other vegetables. I was lucky it happened on the last lap, because I don’t know what would have happened if I would have had to push it.”
Soon-to-be newlywed Seth Thomas, of Cumming, Ga., drove his No. 38 BimmerWorld BMW 325i to a fourth place finish, while also winning the B&M Holeshot award for advancing nine positions on the first lap and winning the Sunoco Hard Charger of the Race award for advancing 11 positions throughout the race.
Jeff Altenburg, of Ellicott City, Md., finished fifth in his No. 72 Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsports Mazda 6.
Local drivers Freddy Baker, of Bedford, Ohio, and five-time World Challenge Drivers’ Champion Michael Galati, of Olmsted, Ohio, finished ninth and 11th, respectively. Matt Richmond, formerly of Shaker Heights, but now resides in North Carolina, finished eighth.
Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., established a new race lap record with a time of 1:24.100 (90.149 mph), en route to winning the urbanracer.com Hot Lap award.
Cunningham’s (136 points) SPEED Touring Car point lead has been reduced to nine over Kleinubing (127), followed by Altenburg (117), Eric Curran (97) and Espenlaub (94).
Acura leads the SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship presented by RACER Magazine with 43 points, followed by Mazda (31), BMW (20) and Ford (1).
This afternoon’s race can be seen on SPEED Channel at 4 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, June 26. The SCCA SPEED Touring Car Championship heads to Lime Rock Park July 1-2 for Round Six, as part of the American Le Mans Series New England Grand Prix.
For all weekend information, including live timing and scoring, visit www.world-challenge.com.
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Link to story: http://www.scca.com/News/News.asp?Ref=335