Wilden, Miller Lead KONI Challenge Competitors to Sunday’s Season Finale

September 30, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It all comes down to this weekend. After 10 races across eight states and provinces in the U.S. and Canada, and nearly 2,000 miles of racing completed, the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge ends its 2009 season at Virginia International Raceway. The Bosch Engineering Octoberfest will be a four-hour combined Grand Sport (GS)/Street Tuner (ST) class race, the first time this format has been implemented.

Sunday’s race will feature the return of a reigning series titlist as well as the Camaro and Challenger to the series. Overall, both classes will crown new driving and team champions, who need only to finish their seasons the same way they started – with strong, consistent finishes.

Ken Wilden (Oakville, Ontario) has led the GS points since he finished third at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He won two races – at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – and finished eighth or better in every race.

Co-driving with Dean Martin (Westland, Mich.) in the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT, Wilden needs only to finish 13th to sew up the championship. That shouldn’t be a problem – the No. 59 has finished inside the top 10 in 16 consecutive races dating back to last year. Martin is third in the standings, having only missed the race at Homestead-Miami in his Rehagen Racing team’s bid at a first-ever title.

Christian Miller (San Jose, Calif.) wasn’t originally signed to contest a second season on the ST tour, but he hooked up with team owner Karl Thomson (Toronto) late last year to put together another season-long deal, one which included driving with veteran Randy Pobst (Atlanta). Together, the pair won twice, taking the point lead following their second victory of the season at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Now, Miller needs only to finish 28th in the No. 74 Skunk2/034 Motorsport Honda Civic Si at VIR for his first Grand-Am championship.

Like Wilden’s efforts, it shouldn’t be difficult. The only time Miller – who has started in the top two rows following each of his 10 qualifying attempts – and Pobst have finished outside the top 10 was in January’s Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway, where they finished 12th.

But five other drivers – three in GS and two in ST – still have the chance to steal those titles. In GS, JBS Motorsports teammates James Gue (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Bret Seafuse (Trumansburg, N.Y.) in the No. 37 Trumansburg ShurSave Ford Mustang GT trail by 18 points (292-274), as their ability to produce top finishes has been on par with Wilden’s. Gue and Seafuse won at Barber Motorsports Park, and like Wilden, have finished all 10 races this season in the top 10. However, Wilden owns more podium finishes, and would own the tiebreaker in the case Gue and Seafuse – who finished second in the points in 2008 – won at VIR, by virtue of more second-place finishes.

Matt Bell (Los Altos, Calif.) in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 kept his title chances alive after finishing second Sept. 18 in the Salt Lake City 200 at Miller Motorsports Park. His two victories this season tie Wilden, Martin and Billy Johnson (San Clemente, Calif.) for most in class, but a pair of finishes outside the top 10 early in the season has him fighting more specifically for another victory. Bell, 32 points out of the lead, and Bill Auberlen (Redondo Beach, Calif.) will drive together at VIR.

In ST, Miller’s only threat comes from the Subaru Road Racing Team and No. 111 Subaru of America Subaru Legacy co-drivers Kristian Skavnes (Sparta, N.J.) and Andrew Aquilante (Chester Springs, Pa.), who are 31 points (286-255) in arrears of Miller. Still searching for their first victory of 2009, Skavnes and Aquilante led the standings following Homestead-Miami Speedway, but have been chasing since New Jersey, where they finished sixth. They have top-10 finishes in eight of 10 races.

On the manufacturer side, Ford holds a two-point edge over BMW for the title, which with a victory in GS would snatch the title away. In ST, Honda has the lead, needing only to complete one lap in an effort to secure its first-ever Grand-Am crown.

Aside from the championship, the manufacturers will play a major role this weekend as well. For the first time this season, five different types of cars are entered for the GS race. In addition to the Dodge Challenger, which has recently completed several tests and deemed a “challenger for top finishes” by one of its drivers, Tom Nastasi (Stamford, Conn.), the new Camaro will be on track for the first time.

Stevenson Motorsports’ No. 6 Sunoco Chevrolet Camaro will be co-piloted by David Donohue (Malvern, Pa.) and Jeff Bucknum (Lake Havasu City, Ariz.), whose fathers took a similarly painted Camaro to a road racing championship in 1969. It marks the first time since 2003 a Camaro has been entered for a KONI Challenge race. Nastasi will be joined by Ian James (Paradise Valley, Ariz.) and Erich Heuschele (Detroit) in the No. 5 Blackforest Motorsports TPN Racing Dodge Challenger.

Turner Motorsport will bring its No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 for Lime Rock Park co-winners Joey Hand and Chris Gleason, while Kinetic Motorsports will bring four BMW M3s and 2007 team champion Automatic Racing two. Race-winning Porsche 997s from this season will come from TRG and Motorsport Technology Group, one of two Virginia-based teams entered. Horsepower Ranch will also bring its No. 61 Valvoline/Roush Ford Mustang GT, which won at Miller Motorsports Park with Johnson and Jack Roush Jr. (Livonia, Mich.).

APR Motorsport has been strong on the ST side, winning four of the last five races. Josh Hurley (Cooper City, Fla.) and Ian Baas (Noblesville, Ind.) one of those races in the No. 171 APR/Gunther VW Volkswagen GTI, and are fifth in driver points and third in team points. Their No. 181 APR/BBS Volkswagen GTI teammates, Dion von Moltke (Coral Gables, Fla.) and Mike Sweeney (San Luis Obispo, Calif.), have a season-high three wins. Hurley leads the MESCO Building For The Future Rookie of the Year point standings by 11 (227-216) over Bill Fenton Motorsports driver Bret Spaude (Bushnell, Fla.).

Also entered is Grand Prix de Trois-Rivi

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