VIR Six-Hour Grand Am Cup Race Report
As it has been all year, the #75 Acura RSX was quick out of the box. Travis Walker qualified the car in sixth place in the 34-car field.
On the first lap the #70 Mazda RX-8 blew its engine in spectacular form. Fortunately the field made it through without incident. Our #75 RSX is shown second on the road here, just behind the silver BMW.
Driving into the night was great fun for our drivers. Here Karl Thomson works to keep ahead of the #29 RSX of Matt and Hugh Plumb.
Danville, VA -- October 11th, 2006
Kensai Racing with Compass360 headed to VIR with a single entry and a focused goal: to win. The team's sole RSX upheld the team's honor, ably piloted by season-long drivers Travis Walker and Karl Thomson, joined for this event by up-and-coming hot shoe Nick Wittmer, Canadians all.
The single RSX was fielded because the team will be campaigning two new Acura TSX cars in the coming season, and after the team's second RSX was destroyed (for the second time this year) at the Trois Rivieres event, it was clear that it wouldn't be worth the effort to build another new car for just one race.
And so the team's best drivers were selected for a final run at the podium with the trusty #75 RSX. As has been the case for most of 2006, the Kensai Acura was in the hunt in every practice session, and within the top five despite the inclement weather.
Opting not to risk the car during some of the really wet sessions -- given that clear skies were forecast for Sunday's race -- the team sent Walker out to qualify, where he placed a fine sixth of the 34-car field. It was only the second time all year that Travis qualified out of the top five, and once again demonstrated the quality level of preparation of the Kensai/Compass360 cars.
A six-hour race is a very long one for street stock cars, and the team knew that attrition would play as important a role as pit strategy and outright race speed.
Astonishingly, the race pace was very close to the qualifying one, with the top cars turning times within fractions of a second of their "fast laps" every lap. So much for the idea of conserving the equipment for the end!
Walker, taking the first stint, kept pace with the leaders, handing the car to Wittmer in third position. Nick, who had been quick all weekend, also did a fine job, and after cycling through the pit stops, found himself in fifth place. The team was surprised to find that Nick was low on fuel well before his scheduled stop, and took the opportunity to swap drivers in their second green-flag stop.
With Thomson in the car they continued to work the field, with the first yellow flag of the race coming just ahead of their next pit stop. Unfortunately, the team made a bad pit call which put Walker (back in the car) behind the leader, a lap down. He worked valiantly to keep ahead for the next hour, and when the next yellow flag fell, he was able to return to the lead lap, albeit at the back of the pack. It was a brilliant piece of pit strategy for the team, as it's not often you can gain a lap back!
The team elected to keep Travis in the car, stopping for nothing more than a splash of fuel, so that he could work his way through the pack. Which is precisely what he did, gradually pulling within spitting distance of the top five.
Pit strategy did end up playing a big part in the outcome of the race, with big changes happening on the very last lap. As other cars struggled with low fuel loads towards the end of the race, the Kensai/Compass360 RSX, which was out of sequence, passed three cars on the last lap, coming from seventh to finish a rather creditable fourth.
Despite deserving a podium finish for their fine drives, the #75 pilots were truly thrilled with the result for their Acura RSX. "These guys -- the team and drivers -- simply put together a remarkable effort this weekend," said Ray Lee, team Crew Chief. "Our drivers showed great maturity and made the car last the whole race."
Walker, meanwhile, was thrilled. "It was a great way to end this season, where we have had so many great moments. I asked Karl to give me a car that I could drive to the finish, and he delivered. Nick drove a really solid stint and was just great all weekend!"
Kensai will be prepping their new Acura TSXs (which were campaigned in 2006 by Tom Stewart) for the upcoming season. You can expect to see these cars atop the qualifying charts, and on the podium, next year.
The Kensai/Compass360 pairing resulted in three top-five finishes this season (Laguna (4th), Mid Ohio (5th) and VIR (4th), which helped Acura to take first place in the manufacturer's Championship.
2007 looks to be very interesting indeed.
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For more information on Kensai Racing contact Ray Lee, (905) 470-9000 or email ray at kensairacing dot com. Visit http://www.kensairacing.com.
For more information on Compass360 contact Karl Thomson, (416) 465-2299 x21 or email karlt at compass360 dot com. Visit http://www.compass360.com/racing.
For more information on the Grand Am Cup series visit http://www.grandamerican.com
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