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Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport (GS) point leader Ken Wilden will start on the pole for the final race of the season, the Bosch Engineering Octoberfest at Virginia International Raceway.
Wilden, driving the No. 59 Rehagen Racing/986 Driver Cooling Ford Mustang GT, turned in a record qualifying time of 2:02.611 (96.011 mph) during Saturday's qualifications to lead the KONI Challenge field to the start of the four-hour race at the 3.27-mile, 17-turn track, which begins at noon ET Sunday.
In the Street Tuner class, Owen Trinkler piloted the No. 197 Cruise America/4 Winds RV Mini Cooper S to the pole with a time of 2:10.113 (90.475 mph), as the car was re-added to the field following an incident during Friday's promoter testing day.
Wilden holds an 18-point lead (292-274) over James Gue and Bret Seafuse, drivers of the No. 37 Trumansburg ShurSave Ford Mustang GT. Seafuse qualified ninth in the Mustang, as he and Gue seek to upend Wilden, who has held the championship lead since the second race this season.
Needing only to finish 13th on Sunday, Wilden and co-driver Dean Martin have finished in the top 10 in every one of their starts this season. Wilden and Rehagen Racing are seeking their first career Grand-Am driving and team championships respectively, while Ford is aiming for a second consecutive manufacturer title.
"I gave it my all," Wilden said. "I didn't feel like I was risking the car, because that's not what we're here to do this weekend, but I wanted to give it a good effort. I think I was aggressive where I needed to be, and I was calmer in the tight stuff, and I think that paid off. I'm pleased for Rehagen and Ford - it's great to give them the last pole of the year. Hopefully, it will be a nice place to start the race, so we can get off to a good start and stay away from all that stuff in the back and I can run a good race.
Starting alongside Wilden will be 2003 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype champion Terry Borcheller, who turned a time of 2:03.279 (95.491 mph) in the No. 28 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3. It marked the highest-ever starting position for Fall-Line, as Borcheller and co-driver Andrew Hendricks were added as a late entry to the field.
"We've been on a really steep learning curve with this car and with Andrew (Hendricks)," said Borcheller, who usually finishes the race. "'The whole purpose of this race was to get him some time in preparation for next year, whatever decision we make is going to involve KONI [Challenge]."
Qualifying third was Wilden's teammate, No. 52 Columbus Truck & Equipment Ford Mustang GT driver Bryan Ortiz (2:03.318; 95.461 mph), another late entry. Ortiz will share the Mustang with Ray Mason. Fourth was Charles Espenlaub (2:03.517; 95.307 mph) in the No. 91 Sparco/Imported Car Store BMW M3 he shares with Charles Putman, while Dan DiLeo (2:03.696; 95.169 mph) was fifth in the No. 8 Maxwell Paper Products Company Porsche 997 he shares with Bryan Sellers and Kendall Smith.
Trinkler's No. 197 was withdrawn early Saturday morning after damage from an accident Friday. Though Trinkler was added to the team's No. 196 Mini Cooper S, the team worked diligently to piece the car back together and re-added the car to the entry list in time for it to practice Saturday afternoon. Trinkler then took the No. 197 out and earned the car's best time on its second lap.
"I know we've got a good car, but I know the Subaru is going to be better in the longer runs than us," said Trinkler, who earned his second pole in the last three races. "We can run a quick lap right out of the box, but we're going to slow down a little bit. We're happy - another pole for us this year."
Trinkler's front row compatriot will be Andrew Aquilante, who shares the No. 111 Subaru of America Subaru Legacy with Kristian Skavnes. Aquilante clocked in a time of 2:10.601 (90.137 mph) and will look to end the season with the team's first victory of 2009.
Aquilante and Skavnes trail Christian Miller by 31 points (286-255) in the ST driver championship heading into Sunday. Miller qualified seventh in the No. 74 Skunk2/034 Motorsport Honda Civic Si, and needs only to complete 30 minutes to earn his, Compass360 and Honda's first driving, team and manufacturer titles.
"It's nice to be up front," Aquilante said. "We've got our Subaru Legacy running pretty well here, and we'll see what happens. We've got to be prepared for everything tomorrow, and the crew has to be prepared as well, to make repairs if something happens."
Said Miller: "It's a long race, so qualifying up front is nice just to be away from any bad luck that can come from being in the middle. My hat's off once again to the team. Every single race this season Compass360 has given me a flawless car, and I haven't had a single problem all season.
"It's a four-hour race, we'll do what we can," Miller added. "For tomorrow, 'Don't crash the car' is the message I've been given repeatedly. It's a half-hour of racing, and then go and have fun."
Third was Andrew Carbonell (2:10.671; 90.089 mph) in the No. 146 Mazda/Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 he shares with Mark Pombo, while Ian Baas (2:10.764; 90.025 mph) was fourth in the No. 171 APR/Gunther VW Volkswagen GTI he shares with MESCO Solutions Building For The Future Rookie of the Year points leader Josh Hurley.
Fifth was Tom Long (2:10.767; 90.023 mph) in the No. 145 Mazda/Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 he shares with Derek Whitis.
Dion von Moltke escaped injury when his No. 181 APR/BBS Volkswagen GTI caught fire late in the day's final practice session. It was one of three cars that did not qualify. APR Motorsport hopes to put the car - which has a season-high three victories behind von Moltke and co-driver Mike Sweeney - on the starting grid Sunday.