WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (July 3, 2009) – Seth Thomas, of Cumming, Ga., captured his first-career SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car pole for Saturday’s Toyo Tires Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Lala Motorsports Round Five race, part of the Camping World Grand Prix Weekend at Watkins Glen International. Charles Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., will start second.
Driving the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i, Thomas took advantage of a good draft from teammate James Clay on his first flying lap to turn a 2:06.803 (96.527 mph) around the 11-turn, 3.4-mile circuit. The lap held up for Thomas’ first-career World Challenge pole in his 55th attempt and is BMW’s first World Challenge pole since Bill Auberlen at the 2006 season-opener in Sebring.
Following qualifying, Thomas won the traditional coin toss, meaning the top five would not invert for the start, securing his first-place starting position.
“Everyone’s always waiting on their first pole, so if feels good to finally get it,” Thomas said. “We’ve already got the first win out of the way at Sebring. I think the coin toss might have been more pressure.
“We headed down the front straight and coming out of Turn One I had a good run through the Uphill Esses and down the back straight. I was closing in on James [Clay] at a very fast rate and I just had a better tow. That was the difference. If he hadn’t let me by, we might not be sitting pole we might be back in third, fourth or fifth. It was all about that draft and a spring change we made for qualifying.”
Thomas’ Watkins Glen pole has extra meaning for the BimmerWorld team, as all three team cars were seriously damaged in the same accident that effectively ended the 2008 Touring Car race after damaging the pit lane attenuator.
“It’s not so much redemption for what’s been happening this year, but it’s also to come back to Watkins Glen after the great race we had going last year before it ended in a pile of parts. It’s about coming back for redemption at a track you love, having a good race and getting a great finish. Starting off with a good qualifying, I think we’re in a position to do that.”
Espenlaub, who led practice in his No. 73 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6, got close to Thomas late in the session, but came up 0.102-second short with a best time of 2:06.915 (96.442 mph).
Espenlaub’s late charge foiled a BimmerWorld one-two, as Thomas’ teammate, Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif., recorded his career-best qualifying effort of third in the No. 34 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i. Esayian’s lap of 2:07.373 (96.095 mph) placed him second for the majority of the 30-minute session before Espenlaub’s late-session lap bumped him to third.
Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., also charged late in the session in his No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, turning the fourth fastest time of 2:07.506 (95.995 mph). Andrew Aquilante, of Phoenixville, Pa., completed the top five in his No. 35 Phoenix Performance Inc. Subaru WRX with a fast lap of 2:07.566 (95.950 mph).
James Clay (BMW 328i), Peter Cunningham (Acura TSX), point leader Jason Saini (MAZDA6), Kuno Wittmer (Acura TSX) and Toby Grahovec (Acura TSX) completed the top 10.
Round Five of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship is set to make its standing start Saturday, July 4, at 6:20 p.m. (EDT). Live lap notes, timing and scoring and streaming audio will be available at www.world-challenge.com.