ALTON, Va. (April 26, 2008) – Canadian Kuno Wittmer watched the competition fall off the course in front of him and held off the attacks of others to record his maiden win in SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car competition today at VIRginia International Raceway—the fifth-closest finish in series history. Teammates Seth Thomas, of Cumming, Ga., and James Clay, of nearby Blacksburg completed the top three.
Driving the No. 44 Acura/RealTime Racing/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, Wittmer started third and followed polesitter and early leader Chip Herr’s No. 97 Tindol Motorsports MAZDA6 for the opening 10 laps of the 21-lap, 68.67-mile race. As the top four cars, separated by just one second, entered Turn One, Wittmer’s teammate Pierre Kleinubing snuck by into second at precisely the same time that Herr slid wide and off course.
“Chip’s car was really quick, but I was able to hang onto him,” Wittmer said. “I saw Pierre behind me when he got by Charles [Espenlaub]. From then on, I just focused on Chip, because I knew Pierre wasn’t going to try anything dirty on me. Then Chip locked up in front of me, Pierre was alongside and I had nowhere to go, so Pierre went by and I went behind him.”
Kleinubing’s No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX inherited the lead, but was never comfortable as Wittmer and seventh-starting Thomas were in tow for the next eight laps. On lap 19, as the trio headed for the famed Oak Tree turn, Kleinubing slid off and brushed the tire wall. He re-entered the course in seventh, leaving only Wittmer and Thomas to fight for the win in the final three laps.
As he had done in previous laps, Thomas drafted alongside Wittmer going into Turns One and 14, but Wittmer always protected, keeping the No. 38 BimmerWorld BMW 325i at bay. To add to the drama, rain began to fall on portions of the undulating 3.27-mile, 17-turn circuit in the closing laps, but it was not enough to affect the finish. The BMW had a run on Wittmer’s Acura exiting the final corner, but Wittmer held him off to record a 0.090-second win, averaging 91.725 mph.
“It feels absolutely fantastic to win, especially with the way the race unfolded,” Wittmer, whose previous best finish was second place, said. “I had a great start and was right behind Chip off the start. I did bog a little bit and might have been able to take the lead into Turn One if I hadn’t, because Charles bogged and Chip bogged.
“It was a roller coaster ride. I was looking ahead of me, looking behind me; I wasn’t quite sure what to do or where to position myself. The rain made it a little bit slick in the braking zones, but we had enough of a gap on James that I was like ‘okay here we go, let’s put a good three laps.’ Then, Pierre went off and I don’t know if he broke or did it himself, but I’ll take it.
“Seth did a great job putting on the pressure. He was there every single time. I didn’t want to block, but I was definitely defending my position. The car was strong and I wasn’t going to give up that easily. So thanks to RealTime, BuyBrakes.com and Acura; without them, I’m not here.”
For Thomas, it was also a career-best finish, and despite coming up just shy of the win, he was all smiles. He was also presented the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing five positions throughout the race.
“I was sitting in Kuno’s draft, and you need that draft to get up there, but as soon as I’d pop out, I could feel the wind just stop my car,” Thomas said. “I was trying to get up next to him and trying to get up next to him, but then he’d get a better run onto the front straight. It was so close - it was awesome.”
Clay started sixth in the No. 36 BimmerWorld BMW 325i and came out on top of a battle with Charles Espenlaub’s No. 73 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/Racinghart MAZDA6 and Peter Cunningham’s No. 42 Acura/RealTime Racing/Eibach/Red Line Oil Acura TSX. The third-place finish equaled Clay’s career-best.
“It was an intense race,” Clay said. “Unfortunately, I was just sitting there watching. I got a lucky pass on Espenlaub going into the braking zone at Turn One. I think he gave it to me. Then I had Charles behind me and PD there. I got caught up in that race and got out of the draft. On these straights, without a draft, you can’t do anything, so I was just watching.
“It feels really good to have two cars on the podium. I was watching Seth up there and I was hoping he could get it done, but it was so tight, there was no room. They played a great game up there though. Seth’s first podium and me up here as well; it’s pretty awesome.”
Espenlaub, who started second, held on to finish fourth. Herr muscled his way by Cunningham on the final lap to complete the top five.
Cunningham, Kleinubing, Jeff Altenburg (MAZDA6), Payton Wilson (Dodge SRT-4) and Eric Curran (Acura TSX) completed the top 10.
Michael Galati earned the Racing Electronics Holeshot Award for moving up six positions on the opening lap in his No. 95 Mazda North America/Tindol MAZDA6. One of the fastest cars early in the weekend, Galati started 15th after mechanical issues slowed his qualifying pace and looked to be charging before an off-course excursion on Lap 11.
Coupled with a second at the season-opening round at Sebring, Wittmer’s win placed him atop the point standings for the first time in his career. The 25 year-old Montreal native now has 225 points—28 more than Kleinubing. Cunningham and Espenlaub are tied for third, with 178, followed by Thomas, with 176.
Acura extended its SCCA SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine lead to 12 over defending Champion Mazda, 19 to seven.
Today’s race will be broadcast Wednesday, April 30 at 1 p.m. (EDT). The series next travels to Miller Motorsports Park for Round Three, May 18.