JOLIET, Ill. (July 26, 2009) – Jason Saini, of Fort Worth, Texas, led from pole to checkers to take his second SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car win of the season in the Grand Prix at Autobahn Presented by Mazda. Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., and Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., completed the top three.
Part of the Harrah’s Autobahn Grand Prix Presented by Mazda weekend, the 17-lap, 60.52-mile race began with its trademark standing start and polesitter Saini getting the jump in his No. 74 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6. Saini led a two-car Tri-Point Motorsports breakaway, with teammate Eric Foss in tow in the No. 75 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6. The two pulled out to a four-second lead over Cunningham until a lap-13 full-course caution was called to remove Seth Thomas’ BMW 328i, which was parked just off course at Turn Two with a mechanical issue.
On the ensuing double-file restart, Saini kept his spot, but admittedly went a little deep into Turn One, causing the field to stack up behind. Foss went wide, allowing Cunningham and Kleinubing to get by. As they exited Turn One, Kleinubing’s No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX made contact with Foss, whose car exited the course and fell down the order.
Saini was unfettered, cruising away to a 1.149-second win, averaging 74.679 mph in his third-career win, the second of this season.
“This is actually the first track this year that we’ve been able to come and test at as a team before the event,” Saini said. “In the end, I think that was the difference for us this weekend. We kind of lost our way at the beginning of the event and the car was not to my liking. We made some changes and went the wrong way, but brought it back before qualifying and it was as we tested, just fantastic. All the credit to the team, Tri-Point, and Mazda for putting this together. The car was awesome into the corner, out of the corner—it was just hooked up today.
“When the caution came out, I thought ‘oh no!’ Eric [Foss] and I had built a good lead and I was looking forward to battling with him in the last couple of laps for the win. We were trying to get a Mazda one-two, but it wasn’t to be.
“Unfortunately, I messed up the restart a little bit. I got in a little deep into Turn One and stacked everybody up. I think that’s what probably caused the mess, so I apologize for that.”
Saini was ecstatic to win in the first trip to Autobahn for the series, an event largely organized by Mazda.
“It’s an awesome facility with all the member buildings around,” Saini said. “There’s a large Mazda contingent in the Chicago area, with John Doonan being here and being so instrumental in this race. We also have Richard Fisher here from Autobarn Mazda, who has been so instrumental in my efforts. Today’s result just shows that the hard work from the last several races is paying off.”
Cunningham started fourth in his No. 1 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX and followed third-starting teammate Kuno Wittmer for several laps before getting by in Turn Two for third on lap five. Despite turning the Débaufré Fastest Lap of the Race with a 2:39.855 (80.172 mph), Cunningham was unable to put a major dent in the gap to the leaders until the caution came out.
“As things settled out, it looked like we had the third-place car today and then the yellow came out and we asked ‘is this going to be a good thing, or a bad thing,’” Cunningham said. “The way it worked out, being on the inside of the second row, I was in a good position. The two leaders went in ‘on fire’ trying to get her woed down and I was able to take advantage. I could have rammed Jason [Saini] in the back in Turn One, but I just breathed it a little and rode his bumper a little bit.
“I certainly was going to give it everything I had at that point, but he had a really good restart lap. The next couple of laps, I took back a little bit of what I lost but it was not quite enough and it’s second place for Acura.”
Cunningham’s pass for second was named the AutoWeek Move of the Race.
Kleinubing started sixth and ran there for much of the race, moving up to fifth on lap 10 after Andrew Aquilante’s Subaru WRX blew a head gasket. The restart gave Kleinubing the opportunity he was seeking, and when both Foss and Wittmer got into the marbles on the outside of Turn One, he was able to make his move.
“On the restart, Jason [Saini] went deep and Eric [Foss] and Kuno [Wittmer] ended up out in the marbles,” Kleinubing said. “I don’t think Eric expected me to be on the inside there and he didn’t give me much room and I jumped the curb and we touched. We kind of wheel-locked toward the grass and finally he let me go and I was in third.
“I struggled this weekend. I’d never deny that. The car was never really to my liking and I really like to attack the corners, which you can’t do here. I just don’t really like this place.”
Following the race, series officials fined Kleinubing 10 driver points and $500 for the contact with Foss.
Charles Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., started fifth in the No. 73 MazdaSpeed/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6 but fell back to seventh at the start. He also benefitted from the restart with three laps to go and moved up to finish fourth.
James Clay, of Blacksburg, Va., started ninth in his No. 36 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i but moved up throughout the race to finish fifth at a track that seemed to favor the front-wheel drive cars. It was Clay’s first top-five finish of the season and he was named the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing four positions.
Foss recovered to finish sixth. Nick Esayian (BMW 328i), Wittmer (Acura TSX) and rookies Joel Weinberger (Acura TSX) and Robert Roth (Acura TSX) completed the top 10.
After entering the weekend with a three-point lead, Saini left Joliet with a 52-point lead (613 to 561) over Cunningham, followed by Kleinubing (557), Thomas (529) and Wittmer (517). Behind Acura by eight points just two races ago, Mazda has now tied its rival atop the World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine, with 43 apiece. BMW is third, with 24.
Sunday’s SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Grand Prix at Autobahn Presented by Mazda will be broadcast on SPEED, Aug. 18 at 2 p.m. (EDT). The series next travels to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Round Seven, Aug. 7-9.
For more information about the series, please visit www.world-challenge.com. Follow the series on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SPEEDWC.