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Third-place finish boost team's championship hopes; Thilenius and Lutz notch a solid eigth.
(Lakeville, CT) -- After an unexpected but not unwelcome win in the last Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge event at Virginia International Raceway, Compass360 Racing (C360R) brought together one of their strongest line-ups of the season in the hopes of further podium results at Lime Rock Park.
As they had earlier in the year at Homestead, the team signed veteran Honda racer and multiple-time Grand-Am champion Bob Beede, this time to co-drive with Ryan Eversley in the #75 Children's Tumor Foundation Honda Civic Si. "After our win at VIR, we brought Bob in to try and help Ryan close the points gap to the leaders," explained Team Principal Karl Thomson. "Lime Rock is Beede's home track, and local knowledge can often make a big difference here."
Although still struggling with a series-mandated restrictor fitted to the Hondas at the beginning of this season, the team felt they could use smart strategic calls as they had in VIR to make up some of the performance deficits to the other front-runners. David Thilenius and Zach Lutz would once again share their #74 JC Concrete Honda, while John Kuitwaard (who also counts Lime Rock as his home track) would join Andrew Novich in the #77 Dr. Kimberly Henry / Speed Secrets Civic.
"I said before Virginia that we are out to win races," said Technical Director Ray Lee. "We're back in the championship hunt but after some tough races to start the year, we have to focus on wins and podiums."
Qualifying once again was proof positive that the Grand-Am restrictor is doing its job too well, with Beede the top team car qualifying 13th, Thilenius (who rarely qualified outside of the top ten last year) in 20th and Kuitwaard in 21st of the thirty-three Street Tuner entries. Interestingly, first to 32nd place were separated by just two seconds, demonstrating just how competitive the Continental Tire series is.
The race on Saturday was under beautiful clear sunny skies, and the 33-strong field of Street Tuner cars offered the huge spectator turn-out an awesome show as the opening act of the Lime Rock Memorial Day weekend. Despite their qualifying positions, all three starting drivers made solid gains and moved through the field, with all three C360R cars being in close proximity after lap ten, with the team running order being Thilenius, Beede and Kuitwaard.
The race progressed with a couple of yellow flag periods to tighten the field, the team's starting pilots turned over their cars to their co-drivers. Andrew Novich was in a solid fourth position, ahead of team-mates Zach Lutz and Ryan Eversley, albeit on slightly older tires and on an aggressive fuel strategy. There was a lot of action during the next hour and with fifteen minutes to go, Eversley was in fifth position, Lutz tenth and Novich in twelfth when an huge incident between the top two cars, moving all three of the C360R cars into the top ten.
With eight laps to go and the finish in sight, #77's fuel pump expired, and Novich carefully pulled the car to a safe location on track. "The crew made a great call to leave me out and hope for enough yellow flags to extend our fuel window," noted Novich. "It would have worked perfectly, and so it's really tough to finish this way when we were so close." He and Kuitwaard were scored 24th.
This left Eversley, now in third, and Lutz, in eighth, to bring home their cars with just a few laps to go, which they did with typical aplomb. "What an amazing finish," enthused Eversley. "You hate to benefit at the misfortune of others, and I'm glad Andrew (Carbonell) and Owen (Trinkler) are okay after that wreck. But two podiums in a row is great for the team, so we'll take it."
Similarly, Lutz was thrilled with the best result so far this season for the #74 of he and Thilenius. "It's nice to be back in the top ten," joked Lutz. "Hopefully we can have it become a regular thing for the rest of the year."
The team continued its rewarding partnership with the Children's Tumor Foundation, welcoming a dozen children suffering from Neurofibromatosis (NF), their families and top local fundraisers to Lime Rock Park. The kids were a part of the loud crowd during the race and the podium celebrations, cheering their heroes Ryan and Bob as they accepted their trophies. Fans are encouraged to donate at http://racing4research.org.
The team has a brief few days at its Toronto, Canada base before loading up the Hondas for the next event, at Watkins Glen, New York, on June 3rd, where the Continental Tire race will start at 6:00pm and race into the darkness.