After nine rounds of intense competition in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, the 2009 season will come to a close this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. While both rookie titles have been decided, the drivers' and manufacturers' championships in both classes will be decided in the ACS Monterey Sports Car Championships Presented by Bondurant. The races will air on SPEED on Tuesday, November 3 at 2 p.m. ET.
Some may argue that Brandon Davis has the World Challenge GT Drivers' Championship all but wrapped up with only one race remaining, but with 135 points available in a race weekend and only a 62-point defect between Davis and Tony Rivera, the possibility for an upset remains.
Davis recently scored his seventh podium finish of the season at Road Atlanta sporting the latest bodywork on the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun MicroSystems Ford Mustang GT. Rivera, in the No. 97 TaxMasters/Brass Monkey Racing Porsche 911 GT3, finished just behind Davis, in fourth. Though Rivera has one more win that Davis on the season, Davis has been far more consistent finishing in the top five at all but one race. Rivera also has a Mazda Raceway win on his resume, driving in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge, while Davis hasn't found much luck in World Challenge GT competition here, his best finish is 16th.
ACS Express is pulling out all the stops to give itself the best shot at a Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championship by entering four cars this weekend, two of them driven by Trans-Am aces. Continuing his stint from Road Atlanta, Boris Said, of Carlsbad, Calif., will drive the No. 3 Applied Computer Solutions Ford Mustang Cobra and newly crowned Muscle Milk® SCCA Trans-Am® Champion Tomy Drissi, of Los Angeles, will drive the No. 20 ACS Express Racing Dodge Viper. The more cars ACS can place in front of Porsche on Sunday, the better chance Ford has of surpassing the German marque in the SPEED World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine. Ford currently trails Porsche by nine points (58 to 49), followed by Volvo (41), Chevrolet (40) and Viper (18).
Long Beach race winner and Californian James Sofronas would be glad to add another California win to his resume this weekend. Better still, he could take the win that seals Porsche's Manufacturers' Title for the second year in-a-row. Sofronas' very first win in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 at New Jersey Motorsports Park last year, clinched the 2008 Title for Porsche a round early.
The weekend holds a lot of potential for K-PAX Racing. Andy Pilgrim is the most recent race winner in World Challenge GT and the defending GT winner at Mazda Raceway when the series last visited in 2007. His teammate, defending World Challenge GT Champion Randy Pobst, was the GT race winner at Mazda Raceway in 2006, and the polesitter for both the GT and Touring Car race in 2007. The only question mark remaining is reliability, as the No. 1 and No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60s haven't both made it to the finish line since Round Seven.
The car that won the World Challenge GT race here in 2007, the Cadillac CTS-V, makes its return this weekend. Local driver, Chad Raynal, of San Jose, will make his World Challenge debut in the No. 64 Raynal Racing/RWR Car Cadillac CTS-V. Another notable entry this weekend, also driven by a San Jose driver, is the No. 49 Driving Ambition Acura NSX piloted by Kip Olson.
After finishing second for the fifth time this season at Road Atlanta, Eric Curran must be aching for a win. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca may just be where he gets it; better late than never, right? Curran won the Touring Car race here from the pole in 2006 and still holds the Touring Car qualifying lap record and average speed record for Mazda Raceway from that event. His outings here in GT haven't been quite as successful, but the Marsh Motorsports/Whelen Engineering team has made great strides to make the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette more reliable this season.
Congratulations are already in order for Bill Ziegler, driver of the No. 05 Swisher Racing/GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3, who has sewn up the World Challenge GT Rookie of the Year honors.
Just as ACS is bulking up to help Ford in the World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship, Mazda is adding another weapon to its arsenal in hopes of claiming the 2009 World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER magazine.
With Eric Foss already a lock for Touring Car Rookie of the Year, Mazda and Tri-Point Motorsports are placing him in the brand new No. 3 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA3 for this weekend's finale. With the new Touring Car rules and new body-style MAZDA6 not meshing well, Mazda is planning to incorporate the MAZDA3 as its new World Challenge Touring Car platform.
That leaves the No. 75 MAZDASPEED/StopTech/ProParts MAZDA6 with an empty driver seat. Who better to fill the spot than World Challenge ace Chip Herr? Absent from World Challenge competition since the season opener at Sebring, Herr will pilot the third MAZDA6 in the Tri-Point stall in hopes of helping Mazda claim the Manufacturers' Title. With only one point separating Mazda and Acura (63 to 62), whichever finishes ahead of the other, will claim the crown.
Like Davis' lead in the World Challenge GT Drivers' Championship, some say that Jason Saini has the Touring Car Drivers' Championship locked up entering this weekend. But, as mentioned previously, a 54-point lead with 135 available in a weekend, does not a clinch make. Finishing eighth at Road Atlanta two weeks ago, Saini was lucky that his main rival in the Championship, Pierre Kleinubing, got a flat tire on his No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX during the race and was forced to pit, resulting in a season-low 10th-place finish for him.
World Challenge did not race at Mazda Raceway in 2008, Saini's rookie year, so he's not put the No. 74 MAZDASPEED/StopTech/ProParts MAZDA6 through its race pace here yet, but the last time he did race here, in 2007 with MX-5 Cup, he won, en route to taking that series' Championship. Kleinubing, on the other hand, would like to forget his last World Challenge race here, which was another to-the-wire Championship battle. His clash with Pobst's Mazda late in the race while battling for the lead brought a stiff penalty.
The winner of that last Touring Car race? Kleinubing's teammate and defending World Challenge Touring Car Champion Peter Cunningham. Cunningham may be on the verge of lose the No. 1 on the side of his Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX, but more important to him, as the owner of RealTime Racing, is ensuring Acura holds onto it's Manufacturers' Title. The dream scenario would be a repeat of the Touring Car race at Mazda Raceway (minus the Kleinubing penalty) with RealTime Acuras sweeping the podium. Cunningham's chances of leading his brigade the finish are strong; the five-time Champion has more starts at Mazda Raceway than any other driver in the field and has won here three times (2007, 2001 and 1990).
Speaking of podium sweep, World Challenge witnessed one at the last race, as Seth Thomas, in the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i, lead the BimmerWorld/GearWrench team to its first one-two-three finish at his home track of Road Atlanta. It truly was a fairytale story for Thomas, James Clay, Nick Esayian and the whole team. Have they come back down from the clouds in time to prepare themselves for the season finale? Only time and the scoreboard will tell.
The new World Challenge Touring Car 2 class will have two entries this weekend. Scion will make its series debut this weekend with Californian Scott Webb driving the No. 18 Jackson Dawson Communications Scion tC. Though Mazda is no stranger to World Challenge, the RX-8 is, and Tommy Chen, another Californian, will introduce the car to World Challenge when he pilots the No. 08 Autoworld/SpeedtrailUSA Mazda RX-8.