It all came down to the final race of the season to decide the drivers’ championship, and in thrilling fashion MAZDA6 driver Jeff Altenburg finished fourth on the day to claim his first overall World Challenge win. The RealTime Acura team swept the podium with Peter Cunningham capturing first, Kuno Wittmer finishing second and Brandon Davis finishing third.
The 20-minute qualifying session for the final race of the season got under way Saturday morning at 9:25am and Randy Pobst in the Mazdaspeed Motorsports MAZDA6 edged out Cunningham in the Acura TSX to grab the pole position for the race on Sunday. “I think that the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a MAZDA6 track,” Pobst said after qualifying. Here’s how the top 10 lined up for the final race of the season:
1. Randy Pobst MAZDA6 Mazdaspeed Mtspts Development 1:35.857 @ 84.050mph
2. Peter Cunningham Acura TSX Cert. Pre-Owned Acura/RealTime 1:35.882 @ 84.028mph
3. Ian Baas Audi A4 STaSIS/ClearCapital/Livermore 1:36.081 @ 83.854mph
4. Pierre Kleinubing Acura TSX Cert. Pre-Owned Acura/RealTime 1:36.093 @ 83.843mph
5. Brandon Davis Acura TSX Cert. Pre-Owned Acura/RealTime 1:36.253 @ 83.704mph
6. Kuno Wittmer Acura RSX Cert. Pre-Owned Acura/RealTime 1:36.269 @ 83.690mph
7. Chip Herr Audi A4 STaSIS/ClearCapital/StevensCrk 1:36.451 @ 83.532mph
8. Jeff Altenburg MAZDA6 Mazdaspeed Mtspts Development 1:36.488 @ 83.500mph
9. Nick Esayian Acura TSX Cert. Pre-Owned Acura/RealTime 1:36.741 @ 83.282mph
10. Seth Thomas BMW 325i Bimmerworld 1:36.895 @ 83.149mph
Off the standing start on Sunday, Ian Baas used his Audi A4’s all-wheel drive advantage to lead the field through Turns One and Two, but was quickly re-passed by polesitter Pobst and Cunningham. As Pobst continued to lead the field through the first lap at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course, his teammate and point leader Altenburg hit trouble on the crowded opening lap, clipping a curb in Turn Six, causing a flat tire. As the race went full-course yellow for the No. 92 Sorted Performance Dodge SRT-4 of Stan Wilson stuck in Turn Six, Altenburg hit the pits. He re-entered in 18th.
Pobst maintained the lead on the lap four restart, but the full-course yellow came out again only two laps later for the No. 95 Mazda North America/Tindol MAZDA6 of Michael Galati who was stuck in the gravel at Turn Six. On the lap nine restart, Pobst again defended his lead, as Kleinubing made his way past Cunningham for second. Kleinubing immediately put the pressure on Pobst for the lead while Altenburg charged through the field, needing to finish fourth or higher while Pobst led, in order to claim the Championship.
The full-course yellow came out for the third and final time on lap 14 when the No. 96 Tindol Motorsports/Pesco Inc. MAZDA6 of Charlie Putman was caught out in the gravel at Turn Eight. By this time Altenburg had moved up sixth. On the lap 16 restart, Kleinubing continued to fill Pobst’s mirrors and Altenburg jumped to fifth, needing one more spot to earn the Championship should Pobst win the race. As the laps ticked by, the battling Pobst and Kleinubing began to pull away from the rest of the field.
On lap 21 of the 25-lap, 53.712-mile race, Kleinubing went to the outside of Pobst into Turn Two, but ran wide, allowing Pobst to hold the lead. The next time around, Kleinubing again went to the outside. This time, Kleinubing’s left front hit Pobst’s right rear, spinning the Mazda across the Acura’s nose. Several cars including Altenburg sped by as Pobst attempted to rejoin the field. Altenburg now had the Championship in hand, running fourth, while Pobst was shown in seventh.
Race officials quickly ordered a black flag for Kleinubing’s contact with Pobst and requested the car in pit lane. Kleinubing did not answer the call with one lap to go and was still the lead car when the checkered flag waved, with Cunningham close behind. With a 30-second penalty assessed to Kleinubing, Cunningham was declared the winner, who crossed the finish line only 0.819-second ahead of Wittmer.
Following Pobst’s clash with Kleinubing, Altenburg’s fourth-place finish was enough to capture his first ever SPEED World Challenge Championship. Crossing the line in sixth, Pobst finished the Championship runner-up, 18 points behind Altenburg. “I knew I had a job to do obviously, Randy was on the pole and I was in eighth,” Altenburg said. “If Randy stayed there, I knew I needed to be fourth. The start was a little hectic and going into Turn Six, we were going two-by-two and I dropped a wheel on the curb and I figured that I was out. I congratulated Randy over the radio and I thought I was going to park it, because I thought the suspension was broken. I came in the pits and the team put a new tire on it and I went out and it felt remarkably good. It was tough coming through the field but I pretty much settled in, in fifth place. Believe me, [I was doing] all the calculations in my head and I knew that if I was fifth and Randy won that we’d be tied and he’d win the tiebreaker. I was driving my heart out and the car was working amazingly well for what had happened to it. It feels incredible to win the Championship and it feels like it was a long time coming. I feel a little vindicated in justifying Mazda’s faith in me over the years. Believe me, I’m very, very proud. With this series, with RealTime and Bimmerworld and STaSIS and all the teams that have been in this series over the years, it’s top notch and to come out on top of this series means a whole lot to me, because of the people we’re competing against.”
Here’s how the top 10 finished in the overall drivers’ championship:
1. Jeff Altenburg, MAZDA6 277pts.
2. Randy Pobst, MAZDA6 259pts.
3. Kuno Wittmer, Acura RSX 230pts.
4. Pierre Kleinubing, Acura TSX 225pts.
5. Peter Cunningham, Acura TSX 220pts.
6. Chip Herr, Audi A4 210pts.
7. James Sofronas, BMW 325Ci 205pts.
8. Michael Galati, MAZDA6 174pts.
9. Charles Espenlaub, MAZDA6 161pts.
10. Brandon Davis, Acura TSX 153pts.
Mazda clinched the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship back at the Round 9 race at Road Atlanta. The automaker wins its first-ever World Challenge Championship by 18 points ahead of Acura:
1. Mazda 69 pts.
2. Acura 51 pts.
3. Audi 42 pts.
4. BMW 31 pts.
The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car finale airs on SPEED, Sunday, October 28 at 3pm (EDT). Teams now head into the off-season and begin preparations for the 10-race 2008 schedule. Although the official schedule has yet to be released, rumored stops include Sebring, Long Beach, Charlotte, Miller, Mosport, Cleveland, Toronto, VIR, Road America and Road Atlanta ... pick up a copy of Modified or log on to www.modified.com for World Challenge series news.