MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 11, 2009) - Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., led Sunday’s Applied Computer Solutions Monterey Sports Car Championships Presented by Bondurant from start-to-finish and captured his fifth SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Presented by Toyo Tires Championship. Teammate Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., and James Clay, of Blacksburg, Va., completed the podium at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Kleinubing started his No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Acura TSX on the pole, and knew he had to win if he was to have a chance to secure the Drivers’ Championship and the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine for Acura. He did just that, taking the lead on the standing start and leading every lap to secure his second win of 2009, the 29th of his career.
Kleinubing beat Cunningham to the stripe by 0.610-second, averaging 72.615 mph.
“The start was the best scenario that could have played out for us,” Kleinubing said. “Peter [Cunningham] is the master of numbers and I’m sure he was doing his math every lap out there, but I just kept my head down and didn’t pay any attention to him. I made a little mistake on lap two going into Turn 11 and I think that made me more alert for the rest of the race. I knew what I had to do. I had to win and everything else had to fall in place. It did and I’m surprised to [win the Championship], trust me.”
Kleinubing came into the race 54 points behind Jason Saini and Acura was one point behind Mazda. With the pole and Saini’s eighth-place qualifying effort, Kleinubing picked up 15 points on the leader. Saini needed to get into the top five in order to win the title, but finished eighth in his No. 74 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6.
“I didn’t know the Championship scenarios, but everyone else on the team did,” Kleinubing said. “I just wanted to do my part. When we took the checkered flag, I waited a little bit until Turn Four, then I asked ‘did we win the Championship?’ You never know. Maybe everyone pulled over and let [Saini] by! I wasn’t thinking about anything other than winning the race.
“Coming into the weekend, I knew my chances were pretty slim. I was surprised at Jason [Saini’s] pace this weekend. They missed something and we had a great handling car.
“This feels awesome. I’m not letting Peter [Cunningham] run away with all the records. I’m keeping it a tight battle with him. Now I’ve got one more pole and one more win, so I opened up a gap on poles and closed on him in wins. We’re saving money too, all we have to do is swap doors and hoods [for Kleinubing to take No. 1 and Cunningham to return to No. 42] and we’ll be ready to go next year!”
As the team owner of RealTime Racing, Cunningham’s primary goal was to secure the Manufacturers’ Championship for Acura, entering the weekend one point behind Mazda. Kleinubing’s pole tied the Championship, meaning whichever brand finished ahead would take the title.
“We knew what had to happen,” Cunningham said. “We honestly didn’t think, coming into the weekend, that [RealTime] had a shot at the Drivers’ Championship, but we knew that we had a shot at the Manufacturers’ Championship and that was our primary objective today. We knew that we had to stay clean at the start and stay focused to the end.
Clay started second in the No. 36 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i, but struggled off the line, falling to fourth.
“My start was absolutely horrible,” Clay said. “I couldn’t get the line lock to come off of the car. I was sitting there, jiggling it, and went about 20 feet with the front wheels locked up before I finally got going. Luckily, I tucked in and managed to have a good race after that.”
From there, he waged a fierce battle with the No. 75 MAZDASPEED/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6 of Chip Herr. On lap eight, the two made contact, going into the Andretti Hairpin, allowing Nick Esayian to move past both into third place in the No. 34 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i. A four-lap caution from laps eight through 12 bunched the group back up, and on lap 15, Clay was around Herr, taking third from his teammate Esayian two laps later.
“I knew I had brakes on Chip [Herr] and I had a faster car,” Clay said. “I was having difficulty getting around him. He picked a mid-line coming into Turn One and broke earlier than I’ve ever wanted to brake there. I couldn’t do anything, but I almost turned it around there.”
Clay was able to catch the leading Acura duo, setting the Débaufré Fastest Race Lap of 1:38.112 (82.118 mph) in the process. While he was able to catch Cunningham, he was not able to make a pass.
“I had a great car and I could turn fast laps,” Clay added. “Catching up to Peter [Cunningham] is one thing, but getting around him is another. I don’t know that it was one more lap and I would have had him, I strongly doubt that was the case, but I wouldn’t have minded a couple more laps to give it a try.”
“James [Clay] turned his headlights on, because I think there was a lapped car he was warning and he left them on after that and it was very annoying,” Cunningham laughed. “I was going as fast as I could. I wasn’t sure if I could hold him off and I wasn’t sure how many laps were left, so I knew I just had to keep going and eventually the starter would show the white flag. We were very close coming into Turn 11 on the last lap, but James didn’t dive-bomb me or pull any Hail Marys, so I was safe.”
Esayian finished fourth to earn his fourth top-five finish of the season. Making a cameo appearance, and his first start since the season-opener at Sebring, Herr was Mazda’s top car throughout the race, and finished fifth.
Charles Espenlaub (MAZDA6), Seth Thomas (BMW 328i) and Saini (MAZDA6) finished sixth through eighth.
Making his first-career World Challenge start, Graham Downey, of Morgan Hill, Calif., finished ninth in the No. 7 Redstone/Blacktrax Honda Civic Si, advancing four positions and earning the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
Patrick Lindsey, of Santa Barbara, Calif., completed the top 10 and took the AutoWeek Move of the Race for his pass of Espenlaub and Thomas for sixth on lap 21 in his No. 57 StreetUnit.com/Snapitt.com MAZDA6.
Kleinubing tied Cunningham and Michael Galati in securing his fifth World Challenge Championship, although all of Kleinubing’s have come in the Touring Car class while Cunningham and Galati have won in multiple categories. Kleinubing finished with 973 points to Saini’s 960. Defending Champion Cunningham finished third, with 921, followed by Thomas (878) and Espenlaub (847).
Acura earned its eighth Manufacturers’ Championship, the 13th for American Honda in total. It finished with 72 points to Mazda’s 65. BMW finished third, with 42.
“Going into the race we knew it was a possibility and we just had to perform,” Cunningham added. “Acura has been in the series since 1997 in Touring Car and this is their eighth Championship, which is unprecedented. We’re proud that we get to run those cars because of their speed, handling and reliability.”
Sunday’s race will be broadcast Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. Pacific on SPEED.
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