SCCA NEWS: SPEED World Challenge Continues the Mid-Ohio Tradition

Photo by John Thawley EXINGTON, Ohio (Jul. 19, 2007) - After a pair of wet and wild Toronto street races, SPEED World Challenge returns to more natural road racing terrain at Mid-Ohio.

There's no denying Randy Pobst is the man of the hour. He currently leads both the SCCA SPEED GT and Touring Car Drivers" Championships, has won three poles, four races and has led more laps in either category than any other driver. There’s just one problem: he is winless in five World Challenge starts at Mid-Ohio. He came close in 2004, finishing second and started on pole in 2005, but the pieces still haven’t come together for Pobst at Mid-Ohio. Which streak will end this weekend, the winning or the winless?

In SCCA SPEED GT, Pobst has the Cadillac duo of Andy Pilgrim and Lawson Aschenbach nipping at his heels. Although Pilgrim has won at Mid-Ohio in other racing series, he has yet to even climb the podium in a World Challenge race, finishing fifth the past two years. Aschenbach meanwhile, finished runner-up in his only series start here last year. That of course was behind the wheel of a Porsche. The defending SCCA SPEED GT Champion has already hit the podium three times this season in his new Cadillac CTS-V, but is still chasing his first win of 2007.

Michael Galati, who holds the record for most World Challenge Championships, also has the most Mid-Ohio wins on record, with three. Perhaps just as meaningful as his three victories was his drive here last year. Making his first appearance of 2006, Galati put the At Speed Volvo S60 on the podium with less than a dozen laps in the car before the race. With six rounds under his belt in the K-PAX Porsche 911 GT3 this time around, will he be the class of the field?

Tommy Archer just missed the podium at Mid-Ohio last year, which is becoming a theme of his season this year. Sitting fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, Archer did notch a win at Miller Motorsports Park, but podiums have been just out of reach the past two rounds.

Is Eric Curran back on track? The early SCCA SPEED GT Championship leader finally got the DNF monkey off of his back at Toronto where he finished seventh, albeit after three trips down pit lane. In three World Challenge starts, Curran has only cracked the top five at Mid-Ohio once, but the circuit was kind to Corvette last year and Curran knows how to toss high-horsepower around this track; he won the 1999 SCCA National Championship in American Sedan here in 1999.

Mid-Ohio was the perfect weekend for Lou Gigliotti last year. The Corvette ace topped both practice sessions, qualified on pole and won the race with nary a challenger. With three podium finishes already this season, there’s no reason to suspect he won’t be there this weekend.

In SCCA SPEED Touring Car, it made perfect sense that it took a little rain to end a drought. It’s hard to believe World Challenge’s winningest driver had gone 25 races without climbing the top step of the podium, but Peter Cunningham came through in the tricky conditions at Toronto to score his 30th-career win. With Pierre Kleinubing on the podium as well, the weekend was a sigh of relief for the RealTime Acura team, but do they still have enough time to catch Mazda?

The Randy Pobst/Jeff Altenburg duo remain one-two in the SPEED Touring Car Drivers’ Championship and Mazda currently holds a 15-point lead over Acura in the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine. Although none of the Tri-Point Mazda drivers have a World Challenge victory at Mid-Ohio on their records, both Pobst and Altenburg have won SCCA National Championships here.

One racer who can check the box for a Mid-Ohio victory is Chip Herr. The STaSIS Audi A4 driver claimed his first career-win here last year, only to follow it up with two more, giving him more victories than any other SCCA SPEED Touring Car driver in 2006. Herr nearly had win number two of the season at Toronto before a throttle problem pulled him out of the lead. The all-wheel drive Audis were remarkably strong at Mid-Ohio last year and with the powerhouse trio of Herr, Ian Baas and Adam Pecorari behind the wheel, this weekend has the potential to be even better.

James Sofronas is on target to his best SCCA SPEED Touring Car season yet. Sofronas is currently tied for third in the Drivers’ Championship with Kleinubing and also leads the SCCA SPEED Touring Car Toyo Cup. While Sofronas hasn’t had the best of luck at Mid-Ohio, his best finish being 10th in 2004, the BMW pilot’s best finishes this year have come at natural, flowing road courses (Lime Rock Park, Watkins Glen) similar to Mid-Ohio.

The wild card in all of this is Joey Hand, the latest addition to the BimmerWorld team. Wild is certainly the operative word as it describes Hand’s last race here with Grand-Am, when he launched his BMW into a cartwheel across the back straight that made him an instant YouTube celebrity. Hand’s weekend has already gotten off to a rocky start with a motor issue on test day, but lucky for him, he has one of the hardest working teams in the paddock behind him.

SPEED World Challenge at Mid-Ohio Presented by Trenton Forging kicks off practice on Friday at 11:15 a.m. (EDT) and again at 7:20 p.m. Teams will be praying for no all-night rebuilds as qualifying goes green at 7:25 a.m. on Saturday. The SPEED Touring Car race gets underway at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday, while the SPEED GT is set to launch at 4:15 p.m. Stick with through the weekend for live timing and lap notes as well as all the latest news from Mid-Ohio, and catch the races on SPEED, Saturday, July 28th at 3 and 4 p.m. (EDT).

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