Bill Auberlen resisted late pressure from Spencer Pumpelly to secure victory in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race at the Circuit of the Americas.
Paul Dalla Lana, Auberlen’s co-driver in the #94 Turner Motorsports BMW M3, had kept the yellow and blue machine in contention throughout his race opening stint but it was Auberlen, a veteran BMW racer in the US who proved too strong for the rest of the GS class field.
He first took the lead on a restart with an hour-and-a-quarter of the race remaining, passing Rum Bum Racing’s Matt Plumb atop the hill in turn one. However, he had fallen back to third, behind Daytona winner Billy Johnson and Pumpelly before the race was slowed by a third and final full course caution – brought out by a pair of stationary ST class cars around the 3.4 mile Austin track.
Just as when he took the lead Auberlen took advantage of the restart to take back second, passing Pumpelly in the BGB Motorsports Porsche Carrera before passing Johnson for the lead as he slowed with what would be diagnosed with a fuel feed issue, bringing his – and co-driver Jack Roush Jr.’s – race to a premature end.
The final 20 minutes of the race were taken up by a fantastic dice between Auberlen and Pumpelly – every bit the equal to Auberlen. The pair exchanged the lead at least once while in the closing laps of the race, though when Pumpelly was only briefly ahead before Auberlen retook the lead. Auberlen went on to win, though the near four second margin was a product of the lead battle encountering slower traffic, rather than a drop in pace from Pumpelly.
“We tested here, and that definitely paid off in spades,” commented Auberlen. “This place is pretty hard to get your arms around, and we came up with an unusual setup. It’s like a road course setup on one side, and an oval track setup on the other. We definitely had an advantage. It was great racing with Spencer, we were back and forth for the lead at one point. But then Spencer got caught up in traffic, and that allowed me to pull away.”
Brett Sandberg and Charles Espenlaub completed the podium for Fall–Line Motorsports, ahead of the Rum Bum Porsche that briefly led in the hands of Nick Longhi before he handed the car off to Matt Plumb.
Michael Marsal and Tonis Kasemets, in fifth, were the best of the Aston Martin teams in the a race when the pole sitting Multimatic Motorsports Vantage of Jade Buford and Scott Maxwell failed to lead a lap in finishing in 18th place.
Buford lost the lead on the opening lead to Lawson Aschenbach, who had qualified the #01 CKS Autosport Camaro in second. Aschenbach held the lead throughout the opening stint of the race, he and Buford breaking away from Longhi in third place. The #01 remained in the top ten after Eric Curran had taken over the driving duties. However, a technical issue would mean the car ended the race in the pits.
The ST class also – even more dramatically – so came down to a late race battle, Steven McAleer driving from third to first on the final lap to win for C.J. Wilson Racing.
Around the vast open ranges of the F1 venue the nimble Mazda MX-5 seemed the car to have. McAleer and Marc Miller took one into victory lane, Tom Long and Derek Whitis finishing second in another run by Freedom Autosport. Chad McCumbee had qualified his MX-5 – also run by C.J. Wilson Racing – on pole, but lost the lead to Corey Fergus on the initial start, though he took it back on lap six. Miller who had started third followed into second two laps.
After completing the opening stint first and second the two CJWR cars pitted in tandem under the first caution, dropping new drivers McAleer and Jason Saini down the order for the restart. But, as the strategy unwound under subsequent cautions, and blessed by the fastest cars in the class on the day, the pair worked their way back up to first and second, McAleer leading in just his second CTSCC start.
The final restart, however, looked to be the spanner in the works for the team. From second Saini spun down to 16th, McAleer falling from the lead to fifth, Terry Borcheller taking the lead in his Burton Racing BMW with Long’s MX-5 giving chase in second.
“On that last restart I got held up by an Aston Martin,” explained McAleer, “and that allowed a few of the front-wheel drive cars to get by. I was getting a little desperate because I was running out of time. On the last lap, the guys were yelling on the radio, ‘We’re on the podium, don’t do anything stupid.’ For me to be up here after winning the race is pretty unbelievable.”
The battle between the class leaders kept their lead in check as McAleer fought back into third to set up a thrilling climax to the race. He passed Long for second in the opening corners of the final lap, taking the lead from Borcheller further round the lap, Long following through to second, Borcheller dropping to third at the checkered flag.
“It’s supposed to end up the other way, but it’s fun to be back on the podium,” said Borcheller. “It’s great for the team to be in this position. They’ve worked hard through a lot of adversity for a long time. I’m not happy getting passed like this, but I’m happy to be on the podium.”
Jayson Clunie and Pierre Kleinubing were fourth in another Mazda, an i-MOTO run Speed 3 with early lead Fergus and co-driver Owen Trinkler completing the top five.
Underlining the performance of the MX-5 around the twisting circuit Jason Saini was able to recover to seventh after his costly spin on the restart.
The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge season continues at Barber Motorsports Park on April 6.