In GTS, von Kluge drove his No. 19 Varsity Ford Ann Arbor/Steeda Ford Mustang Boss 302S to a 0.893-second win in his first appearance in World Challenge. Von Kluge also took advantage of the lap 18 restart, rocketing past defending GTS Champion Peter Cunnigham, Eric Foss and Paul Brown to move from fourth in class to the lead.
Brown gave chase in his Lucas Oil/K&N Filters Ford Mustang Boss 302S during the remaining five laps of the 23-lap race, while Foss and Cunningham battled for third. With a mostly clear track after the caution period, von Kluge held off Brown and took the checkered flag.
“I couldn't ask for anything better today,” von Kluge said. “The car worked great, the Pirellis worked great. The restart was a little bit crazy, they said there was going to be lights but there was no lights, so I just went when I saw tire smoke. The guy in front of me didn't go anywhere and I managed to make it around him so that was nice. Unfortunately there was a lot of cautions today, but I think that helped me.
“When you come to a series like this, you have to expect the competition to be fierce. RealTime and Peter come with very well prepared vehicles, and that's what you have to expect. The Boss Mustang really came through for me today, I couldn't ask for anything better.”
The battle between Cunningham's No. 1 Acura/RealTime Racing/HPD Acura TSX and Foss' No. 73 Traxxas/St. Jude Hospital/SPX Ford Mustang FR500S was reminiscent to World Challenge fans of several battles the pair contested in the Touring Car class during the 2009 season when Foss was on his way to the Rookie-of-the-Year title. Cunningham, the all-time World Challenge leader in wins and a six-time champion, slipped past the muscle car on the final lap to earn the podium finish. George Winkler piloted his No. 27 Winkler Automotive Service Ford Mustang FR500S to a fifth-place finish in the GTS class.
Aschenbach, the 2006 World Challenge GT champion and 2006 GT class race winner at St. Petersburg, survived the attrition in the Touring Car field to win the race by 6.146-seconds in his No. 71 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si. Starting third in class, Aschenbach spent the opening laps trailing polesitter Tristan Herbert's No. 33 Brimtek Motorsports Volkswagen GTI and Chip Herr's No. 07 Grid 1 Motorsports Mazda RX-8. While the two front-running Touring Cars trying to get an upper hand on the other, both ended up with flat tires that would remove each from contention. Herbert finished 13th in class, one lap down after a tire change, with Herr finishing 15th in Touring Car.
With the top two forced to pit and the three-car incident serving as a warning, Aschenbach used his experience to safely bring the car to the checkers for a season-opening win.
“It's just great to be back,” Aschenbach said in his return to World Challenge. ”It's an amazing series, it's an exciting series. There's nothing like sprint racing. It's nice that it's your car, it's not two guys' car. It's fun. I enjoy it, especially street racing. There are so many factors in a race like this – the walls, the pavement changes, the other cars. There were so many cars on the track today, and I'm just super excited to be back. I can't thank Karl Thompson and the whole Compass360 team for having me this year, and with this Honda I think we have a shot to race for the championship this year.
“The start was really smooth for us and the whole Touring Car class. There wasn't much carnage where we were, a couple of GTS cars were mixing it up in front of us and that made it interesting. Chip and Tristan were going at it.Tthey were bumping each other pretty good. I was pretty happy with where I was, just watching what was going to happen. Sure enough, they ended up getting together enough to cause some flats. It's a shame, obviously I would have liked to fight them for the race, but its part of racing. Sometimes you just have to cool down a little bit and take what the car will give you at that point and time and stay clean. It was a bit hectic, but we just tried to stay smart and keep at it.”
While Aschenbach used his series experience to earn the win, neither of the two drivers who joined him on the podium had a previous start in World Challenge. Ronald Zitza, who makes his home just a couple of hours away in Orlando, finished second in the No. 60 Zotz Racing Volkswagen Jetta. Ray Mason finished third, driving the No. 69 TLMUSA.com/Columbus Truck Honda Civic Si.
Defending GT class Team and Manufacturers' Champion K-Pax Racing and Volvo have added the Touring Car class to their list of challenges for 2011 with a pair of K-Pax Racing Volvo C30s. Aaron Povoledo finished fourth in the No. 88 machine for K-Pax in the season-opener. Povoledo also earned the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award for making up the most places on the opening lap.
Patrick Seguin finished fifth in Touring Car behind the wheel of the No. 80 Theberge Homes/capsparts.com Honda Civic Si.
Devin Cates earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award in the No. 23 Cutaway Creations/Cates Engineering Volkswagen GTI after improving 15 overall positions and finishing eighth in Touring Car.
In addition to the Pirelli tires that have lowered lap times all weekend for the World Challenge machines, a new qualifying rule for doubleheader weekends went into effect for 2011. During doubleheader weekends with just one qualifying session, the grid for the second race is set by fastest lap times during Saturday's race.
With the fastest lap of the race in a time of 1:16.163 (85.080 mph), Pobst will start Sunday afternoon's race from the overall and GT class pole, followed by Long, Sofronas, Skeen and Crescentini.
Brown earned the pole for the GTS class with a fast race lap of 1:23.232 (77.854 mph). von Kluge, Udell, Foss and Cunningham complete the first five in the GTS race.
Aschenbach is the only one of Saturday's race winners to also earn the top starting spot for Sunday after a fast race lap of 1:26.653 (74.781 mph). Herr, Herbert, Sandberg and Zitza turned the next fastest times and will be the first five Touring Cars on the grid.
Sunday's Round Two is scheduled to begin at 4:55 p.m. ET.