Monterey was graced with clear, blue skies for the weekend – absolutely perfect weather for the 10th and final race of the 2006 SPEED World Challenge Touring Car season at world-renowned Laguna Seca. With the manufacturers’ championship having already been determined at Road Atlanta, all eyes were focused on the race for the driver’s championship … and what better track to test the skills of the drivers and to crown a series victor. Located in rolling hills just east of Monterey nestled between the California mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the track is set in an ancient dry lake bed and is as technically challenging as they come, complete with the infamous turn 8/8a “Corkscrew”.
Going into qualifying, the point standings had Pierre Kleinubing in first with 261, Randy Pobst with 250 and Chip Herr with 211.
Qualifying got under way at 9:25am Saturday and as in Friday’s practice sessions, drivers took advantage of the perfect track conditions with the top 10 qualifiers all posting times below the qualifying lap record of 1:37.008 set last year by Peter Cunningham. Qualifying was halted for a period as James Sofronas, doing double duty for the weekend competing both in Touring and GT, spun off on an oil-slicked turn 10 in the BMW 325i. Here’s the list of the top 10 qualifiers for the Sunday race:
1. Eric Curran – Acura RSX (1:35.599; 84.277mph)
2. Randy Pobst – Mazda 6 (1:35.767; 84.129mph)
3. Jeff Altenburg – Mazda 6 (1:35.828; 84.075mph)
4. Pierre Kleinubing – Acura TSX (1:36.170; 83.776mph)
5. Peter Cunningham – Acura TSX (1:36.232; 83.722mph)
6. Charles Espenlaub – Mazda 6 (1:36.603; 83.401mph)
7. Nick Esayian – Acura RSX (1:36.673; 83.340mph)
8. Brian Smith – Dodge SRT-4 (1:36.769; 83.258mph)
9. Dan Aweida – Dodge SRT-4 (1:36.887; 83.156mph)
10. Chip Herr – Audi A4 (1:36.914; 83.133mph)
The race for the championship got under way shortly after 10:30am Sunday. Off the standing start, Curran took the hole shot with Pobst close behind, Altenburg, Kleinubing Cunningham and Espenlaub in hot pursuit. Chip Herr vaulted up a number of positions in his quest for the overall driver’s championship. Drama unfolded soon after on lap 3 as Pobst ran wide onto the gravel after turn 5 damaging the right front tire and wheel and had to limp into the pits for repairs – and as a result it ended his chase for the overall driver’s championship.
From there things settled out with Curran running up between a five- to 10-second lead, Altenburg settling into second and Kleinubing, Cunningham and a hard-charging Herr battling it out for third, fourth and fifth. With a daring pass on lap 10 through turns 2 and 3, Cunningham firmly slotted himself into third and left Kleinubing and Herr to battle it out for fourth and fifth positions and the crown for the overall driver’s championship. And while Herr tried a number of times to pass, Kleinubing shut the door every time. The 26-lap race ended with Curran, Altenburg, Cunningham, Kleinubing and Herr rounding out the top five … and with that Pierre Kleinubing claimed his 4th SPEED World Challenge Driver’s Championship. Here’s the final race results:
1. Eric Curran – Acrua RSX (1:36.804, 83.228mph)
2. Jeff Altenburg – Mazda 6 (1:36.591, 83.411mph)
3. Peter Cunningham – Acura TSX (1:36.868, 83.173mph)
4. Pierre Kleinubing – Acura TSX (1:37.279, 82.821mph)
5. Chip Herr – Audi A4 (1:37.193, 82.894mph)
6. Charles Espenlaub – Mazda 6 (1:37.176, 82.909mph)
7. Seth Thomas – BMW 325i (1:36.799, 83.232mph)
8. Nick Esayian – Acura RSX (1:37.205, 82.884mph)
9. Dino Crescentini – Mazda 6 (1:36.708, 83.310mph)
10. Kuno Wittmer – Mercedes-Benz C230 (1:37.549, 82.592mph)
And here’s the Top 3 2006 drivers:
1. Pierre Kleinubing – RealTime – 286 points
2. Randy Pobst – Tri-Point – 267 points
3. Chip Herr – STaSIS – 232 points
And so ends the 2006 World Challenge Touring Car season … rumors abound as to the schedule for the 2007 season with whispers that stops at Charlotte (with NASCAR), Indianapolis (with F1) and Toronto (with Champ Car) are in the works. Catch this final race of the season on SPEED Channel Oct. 28th. And pick up Modified Mag for on-going news from the series throughout the off-season.