DANVILLE, Va. (Oct. 4, 2009) - Needing only to finish 28th, Christian Miller watched as several cars were withdrawn during the Bosch Engineering Octoberfest weekend, the season finale on the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge circuit, in regards to accidents or mechanical problems. When only 24 Street Tuner (ST) cars took the green flag for the start of the race, Miller was given the go-ahead to race for the victory.
Just over an hour into the race, Miller brought his No. 74 Skunk2/034 Motorsport Honda Civic Si to the garage area with a broken axle. He had apparently run over a curb hard enough to cause the damage. He would have liked to have finished the race - one in which he was classified in a season-worst 21st place after starting seventh - instead of sitting in the pits, but he was able to flash a smile after picking up his first series title.
The race was won by Tom Long and Derek Whitis in the No. 145 Mazda/Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5.
"Absolute reliability," said Miller, who finished the season with two victories and nine top 10s. "Everybody - Honda, Skunk2, Compass360, every single person involved with this team made this happen. We only won a couple of races early in the season, and every single race, the car has been flawless. We've stayed out of trouble and we were able to do the whole distance without scratching the car. New Jersey was amazing, we went 1-2-3 with the team, it proved how hard these guys work and what they can accomplish. From the team standpoint, that was probably the best one.
"I think the car has a soul, and knew that its job was done, and ‘alright, I'm tired, put me away now,'" Miller concluded. "Winning the championship is absolutely incredible. It's been a long time coming. I'm speechless about how I feel. I'm just thankful, thankful to my folks, and everybody in my life who's made this possible on a personal level."
In addition, Miller helped Compass360 Racing and Honda earn their first team and manufacturer titles respectively.
Andrew Aquilante finished fifth in the No. 111 Subaru of America Subaru Legacy with co-driver Kristian Skavnes, able to finish 15 points (296-281) behind Miller for the championship. Both Aquilante and Skavnes ran up front, with Skavnes leading after the first hour, and Aquilante and Skavnes second after the second and third hours. Yet, the final caution dropped them back to their final position, their sixth top five of 2009, after the No. 111 led 38 laps.
"We're racing against good teams and tough competition, and we came up short at the end," Skavnes said. "But the team did a great job and I'm proud of them. They did the best they could and we gave them a great battle."
Long took the lead from Randy Pobst on Lap 87 for ST competitors; he had previously taken second from Freedom Autosport teammate Andrew Carbonell after Carbonell experienced a miss in the engine. He held off Will Turner - who climbed from fifth to second during the final two laps - by 0.342 seconds.
Long ran up front for much of his stint, recording a race-high 35 laps led. He qualified fifth, then led 18 laps before Whitis took over. Then, he passed teammate Carbonell and finally Pobst with 17 laps remaining for the final lead change in ST.
For Long and Whitis, it was their first KONI Challenge victory. Long watched as Carbonell, whom the team hired earlier this year, win at Le Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières, and Long had several podiums both in ST and previously in GS before taking the checkered flag first.
"This Mazda MX-5 was amazing this weekend," said Long, who averaged 84.667 mph. "Our Performance Friction Brakes lasted the entire four-hour event and Derek Whitis had a fantastic middle stint. I was lucky to get a great restart there at the end. I passed a few cars to get us into contention."
For Turner's No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 328i co-driver Paul Dalla Lana, it was his first podium. Finishing third were Carbonell and Mark Pombo - two second-generation drivers - in the No. 146 Mazda/Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, followed by Pobst and Jamie Holtom in the No. 75 Skunk2/Speed Sport Life Honda Civic Si.
With his seventh place finish, Bret Spaude earned the MESCO Building For The Future Rookie of the Year honors, four points (240-236) over Josh Hurley. Spaude drove the No. 29 Southern Auto Auction Honda Civic Si with Bob Beede and Matt Plumb.
Virginia-based RRT Racing, with its No. 21 RRT Racing BMW 330i, finished ninth with drivers Barry Battle and Michael Dayton. Battle led seven laps.