Penultimate round of World Challenge championships heads to Atlanta
Only two rounds remain in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championship season and Round Nine, the Toyo Tires Road Atlanta Grand Prix Presented by Dish Network, is about to commence, rain or shine.
While Atlanta is making headlines for flooding, World Challenge drivers are aiming to make headlines for a race win at the penultimate round. The Drivers' Championship and Manufacturers' Championship in both categories are still up in the air, but time is running out to claim the 2009 trophies.
Though he finished off the podium at Road America, Brandon Davis continues to lead the World Challenge GT Drivers' Championship. Davis is the defending race winner at Road Atlanta, winning handily in the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang GT. This week he will sport the latest Mustang body style and have the support of three teammates: father Mike Davis (No. 11 ACS/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra), Nick Esayian (No. 20 ACS Express Racing Ford Mustang Cobra) as well as NASCAR star and World Challenge race winner Boris Said (No. 3 Applied Computer Solutions Ford Mustang Cobra).
With a win at Road America, Tony Rivera became the first repeat winner in the 2009 World Challenge GT season and moved up to second in the Championship. Driving the No. 97 Tax Masters/Brass Monkey Racing Porsche 911 GT3, Rivera and team appear to be back in the groove after a mid-season slump and are only 52 points back from Davis in the Championship.
James Sofronas is aiming to put a rough Road America race behind him this week. The Long Beach race winner broke an axle on the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 on the standing start at Road America, forcing him back to the pits for repairs and crossing the finish line in 15th. Round Nine will be critical for Sofronas; though he's yet to finish better than sixth at Road Atlanta in World Challenge competition, he'll need a strong performance this week to ensure he's still in the picture for a Championship at the season finale.
Thanks to the success of Rivera and Sofronas, Porsche continues to lead the World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship by 11 over Ford (55 to 44). Chevrolet is third, with 33, followed by Volvo (31) and Viper (18).
After a rocky start to the season, courtesy of a finicky transmission, defending Champion and Georgia resident Randy Pobst has finally found mechanical tranquility with his No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Pobst has now climbed to fourth in the Championship and though a third-consecutive Championship may be out of reach, a win at his home track would be a good consolation prize. Pobst's teammate Andy Pilgrim is only five points behind him in the point standings. Pilgrim earned Volvo's first win earlier in the season at New Jersey Motorsports Park, but his No. 8 K-PAX Volvo S60 seems to have recently caught the transmission bug that plagued Pobst.
After disappointing races at Autobahn Country Club and Mid-Ohio, Eric Curran got back to his podium ways in the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette at Road America, where he finished second. It was the fourth runner-up finish of the season for Curran who is now well overdue for a win.
Road Atlanta will see the return of the exotic No. 71 TRG Motorsports Mercedes Benz McLaren SLR. The car, which made its debut at Autobahn Country Club in July, finishing 14, will be driven by Spencer Pumpelly who resides in nearby Suwanee.
World Challenge fans will never forget last year's Touring Car race at Road Atlanta, when the Championship came down to a side-by-side battle between Kuno Wittmer and Peter Cunningham in the final corners. Friday's race likely won't decide the Championship, but it won't be lacking in drama.
Pierre Kleinubing finally broke a 16-race winless streak at Road America in the No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, but still trails Jason Saini in the Championship point standings by 46 points. Saini has won more races than any other Touring Car driver this season (three) in the No. 74 MAZDASPEED/StopTech/ProParts MAZDA6 but an eighth-place finish at Watkins Glen has stopped him from storming away with the Championship.
Defending Champion Cunningham finds himself third in the point standings as the series arrives at Road Atlanta. The driver of the No. 1 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX trails teammate Kleinubing by 42 points, a surmountable gap with two races to go, especially considering that Cunningham has won at Road Atlanta four times previously, more than any other driver entered this week.
Charles Espenlaub is in the midst of one of his best seasons yet. Espenlaub has put the No. 72 MAZDASPEED/StopTech/ProParts MAZDA6 on the podium three times this year and has qualified on the pole the last two races. If the post-qualifying coin flip goes his way this week at Road Atlanta, Espenlaub could grace the top step of the podium for the first time since 2005 at Mosport. The odds tilt even more in his favor when one recalls that the last three Touring Car races at Road Atlanta have been won by Mazda drivers.
Speaking of Mazda, the marque currently leads the Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine by two points over Acura (61 to 59), which means, unlike the last two seasons, the Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship will not be clinched early, and will go to the final round. BMW is currently third with 27 points.
Seth Thomas has not had the best of luck at his home track. In fact, the driver of the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i hasn't finished in the top 10 at Road Atlanta since 2005. Maybe getting his first two career wins this season (at Sebring and Watkins Glen) will give him the push he needs to take the checkered flag in front of the home town crowd.