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Jul 23, 2009 / news

C360R Retains KONI Championship Lead with 7th Place at Barber

After putting in strong team performances in the first half of the 2009 Grand-Am KONI season, including an historic podium sweep in New Jersey, Compass360 Racing showed up last week at the beautiful Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama ready for another top Street Tuner-class finish.

Christian Miller looked to retain his championship lead with co-driver Randy Pobst in the #74 034Motorsports / Skunk2 Honda Civic Si. Two Grand Sport-class BMW drivers joined the team for this round, as the GS and ST races were run on separate days. Matt Bell, who has impressed in his Turner M3 all season, joined Mesco Rookie of the Year contender Bret Spaude in the #75 Skunk2 / Hondata car, while Glenn Bocchino returned to front-wheel drive with Canadian touring car veteran Benoit Theetge in the #76 Honda.

Qualifying proved to be a one-lap flyer, with the normally-long-lasting Hoosier tires being at their optimum on the first or second pass across the line. At the end of the fifteen-minute session, Miller was third behind the astonishingly quick VW of Josh Hurley and championship contender Andrew Acquilante in his Subaru. Spaude pushed hard, but his quick laps was spoiled when he touched the grass after the high-speed chicane, putting him in 10th place, with Theetge right behind in 11th.

Despite heavy weather threatening during the practice sessions, Saturday’s race was run in the bright southern sunshine and a seasonally-unusual temperature in the mid-80’s. The track surface remained hot, however, which meant that tire conservation would play an important role in the race. At the start, Miller did well and remained in the top three, while Spaude and Theetge made their way up the grid.

Crew Chief Ray Lee brought the #76 in during an early yellow to try a different strategy and Bocchino took over from Theetge. While the strategy very likely would have yielded a good result, Bocchino brought the car into the pits mid-race with a blown gearbox, which meant retirement for them.

Meanwhile, the team’s other two cars had executed pits stops, with Bell at the helm of #75 and Pobst in #74. Both cars displayed a tendency to oversteer, and Bell in particular was caught by SPEED’s cameras putting on a pretty creditable drifting clinic. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the fast way ‘round, and at the checkered flag, Pobst was 7th and Bell 10th.

“Those VW’s are just so darned fast,” remarked Pobst. “I can honestly say we had nothing for them this weekend.”

The seventh place result means that Miller retains the lead in the Driver’s Championship, now 18 points ahead (231-213) of the Subaru Road Racing Team duo. Compass360 leads the Team points by the same amount, and the team’s amazing run so far means that Honda is ahead of Volkswagen by 20 (249-229). Compass360’s other cars are also well-positioned, with #75 in fourth and #76 11th.

The Grand-Am KONI race at Barber will be shown live on SPEED TV on Saturday, July 25th at noon. Expect to see some great on-track action as well some good-natured fun with the SPEED hosts.