Thursday
May172007

SCCA NEWS: SPEED World Challenge Invades Utah

Photo by John Thawley TOOELE, Utah (May. 17, 2007) - This weekend, SCCA Pro Racing's SPEED World Challenge Championships return to the vast motorsports oasis in the Utah desert otherwise known as Miller Motorsports Park. Falling a full two months earlier on the schedule, teams are relieved at the prospect of sub 90's temperatures, but still daunted by the sheer size and speed of this relatively new facility.

The motivation for building this massive 4.5-mile, 24-turn road course is clear: bigger is better. Fans and teams alike are pampered with covered grandstands, luxurious garages, jumbo TV screens and a killer view of the Rocky Mountains. Flying along at 100-plus miles-per-hour however, drivers don’t have time to appreciate things like this. Instead, it’s the 40 to 50 foot-wide racing service, 3,500 foot-long front straight and endless runoff areas that put a smile on their faces.

SCCA SPEED GT

Coming into the weekend, Eric Curran already has plenty to smile about; he’s won the opening two rounds of the SCCA SPEED GT Championship and leads the Drivers’ Championship by a comfortable 38 points over Andy Pilgrim. Looking back on the performance of the Corvettes at this track last year, a Curran hat-trick could be in the cards, but is 80 lbs. of REWARDS weight enough to hold him back?

Lou Gigliotti hopes so. Another Corvette pilot, Gigliotti was the inaugural racewinner at Miller last year, taking the pole and holding off both Leighton Reese and Ricardo Imery to take the checkered flag. Gigliotti could certainly use a repeat performance this weekend to neutralize the DNF he suffered at Sebring.

Gigliotti’s main threat in Utah last year were the Porsches, and K-PAX teammates Michael Galati and Randy Pobst have what it takes to continue that theme a year later. Galati has a score to settle with Miller Motorsports Park, since last year a clutch failure ended his race as the rest of the field left the starting grid. Pobst, on the other hand, stood on the podium here in 2006, albeit the SCCA SPEED Touring Car podium. Pobst and Galati continue to run both classes which could be an advantage this weekend considering the track time needed to master a 24-turn course, but may also wind up a disadvantage in terms of fatigue.

K-PAX has added a third car and familiar face to their lineup for the remainder of the season. Known to most fans as the driver of the 3R Racing Dodge SRT-4 in SCCA SPEED Touring Car, Robb Holland will make his SCCA SPEED GT debut this weekend in a Porsche 911 GT3.

Cadillac’s Pilgrim finished on the podium here in 2006, but he has some work to do this weekend to chip away at the point deficit between himself and Curran. At his side is defending SCCA SPEED GT Champion Lawson Aschenbach, who has his own score to settle this weekend after finishing outside the top-ten for the first time in his SCCA SPEED World Challenge career at Long Beach.

Despite being the most popular car in SCCA SPEED GT, the Dodge Vipers have gotten the season off to a rocky start. Sitting seventh, Tommy Archer is currently the highest-placed Viper driver in the Championship, with Rob Foster the only other Viper in the top ten. Archer needs to pick up the pace this weekend and have a more successful Utah Grand Prix than last year if he wants a shot at the title.

SCCA SPEED Touring Car

Following a one-two finish at Sebring, Tri-Point Motorsports drivers Jeff Altenburg and Randy Pobst sit atop the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Championship. The Mazda 6 duo was also successful at this track last year, with Pobst finishing second and Altenburg fourth. They are joined by a third driver this weekend, rookie Roberto Santos, who will have a sharp learning curve ahead of him, but an excellent pair of mentors.

Defending SCCA SPEED Touring Car Champion Pierre Kleinubing did his best to break up the Mazda party in his RealTime Acura TSX at Sebring, but ultimately settled for third. His sights will be set much higher for Utah, where he went unchallenged lights to flag last year to capture his second win in-a-row. RealTime team owner Peter Cunningham, currently fifth in the point standings, wasn’t as fortunate. After qualifying third, early contact sent Cunningham into the pits for a new wheel. Further on-track incidents followed and the four-time World Challenge Champion ended the day in 18th, his worst finish of 2006.

An all-wheel drive car thrives on elevation changes, so it could be said that the STaSIS Audi A4s are out of their element at the relatively flat Miller Motorsports Park. Last year nary an Audi could be found in the top ten. With only one round in the books so far, a podium isn’t crucial for Chip Herr, but he will need to keep his nose clean and turn in a better result than last year to stay on target for a Championship.

Charles Espenlaub may have finished fifth here last year, but the Tindol Motorsports driver was the quickest SCCA SPEED Touring Car on the track, setting the race’s fastest lap in his Mazda 6. Espenlaub’s speed is undeniable and was showcased at Sebring in March when a blown motor in qualifying put him 23rd on the starting grid. With a fresh motor and tires, Espenlaub picked off a remarkable 12 positions on the opening lap, on his way to a sixth-place finish.

BimmerWorld drivers Seth Thomas and James Clay got the season off to a good start at Sebring, qualifying fourth and sixth. Unfortunately, both BMW drivers encountered some bad luck during the race. For Clay, it was contact on the opening lap that required a pit stop for a new tire, while Thomas was plagued with an electrical problem that shut off the car several times during the race. Thomas brought his ailing BMW home in 10th, while Clay tried his best to catch up to the field, finishing 19th. The duo hopes for a smoother weekend at Miller Motorsports Park, which was particularly unkind to Clay last year. The BimmerWorld team owner was out of the race before it started when his car stalled on the grid and was hit from behind.

The Dodge SRT-4 cracked the top-ten for the first time here a year ago. Perhaps there’s something about the desert air that agrees with the sole domestic model in SCCA SPEED Touring Car, at least that’s what Sorted Performance teammates Stan Wilson and Hal Brown are hoping. The pair currently lead the Piloti SCCA SPEED Touring Car Rookie of the Year standings.

The Utah desert is about to get a whole lot cooler as the SCCA SPEED World Challenge haulers pull into Salt Lake City, ready for another intense round of racing.

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