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Aug 17, 2009 / reports

Compass360 Racing Extends Championship Lead at Trois-Rivieres

Compass360 Racing (C360R) extended its lead in the Grand-Am KONI Street Tuner championship with solid top-ten results at this weekend’s frantic race at the legendary street course in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. The event is a highlight on the KONI Challenge schedule and is a favourite of most teams, with the local fans being some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable anywhere.

With this event’s race only ninety minutes in length (compared with the usual KONI race length of two-and-a-half hours), it was clear that a variety of pit stop strategies would be employed. In order to score points, each driver is required to spend a minimum of thirty minutes on track, which meant that the championship contenders would have to pit after the thirty-minute mark. The C360R team did exactly that for current Championship leader Christian Miller, who handed his #74 Honda Civic Si over to Quebec Touring Car legend Benoit Theetge.

Crew Chief Ray Lee called a different strategy for the #75 Civic of Team Principal Karl Thomson, pitting after a handful of laps and handing over to Marc-Antoine Camirand, who is tied for the most race wins at the circuit. “We hoped to gain some track position by using this strategy,” explained Thomson. “Since I’m not in the points hunt this year, it made sense to get Marc-Antoine out as soon as our fuel window opened.”

The #76 Honda of brothers Gary and Tom Kwok pitted closer to the half-way mark, with the team hoping for a good result of all cars in the top-ten. Unfortunately, while running in seventh, the #76 car tagged the concrete wall in the last turn coming onto the front straight, damaging the front suspension and putting an end to a very promising run for the Kwoks in their first time in KONI Challenge competition.

Meanwhile, Theetge and Camirand were running nose-to-tail in fourth and fifth, respectively. Both knew that brake management would play a key role in the outcome of the day’s race and done their best to keep a front-running pace while using as little brakes as possible.

With fifteen minutes to go, Theetge found himself on backing plates. With Miller’s main rivals (Subaru’s Acquilante and Skavnes) having experienced troubles earlier in the race which had put them two laps down), Theetge knew his role was to bring the car home and gain as many points as possible for his co-driver. He let Camirand by to make a run for the podium while consolidating his own position.

Camirand made up ground on the third-place Mazda of Tom Long, valiantly attempting to pass until the last five minutes when he, too, felt the brakes go metal-to-metal. He wisely backed off, and at the checkered flag, it was Camirand and Thomson in fourth, with Theetge and Miller finishing sixth.

“I am very happy,” laughed Marc-Antoine to an enthusiastic crowd. “Benoit and I are the top Quebec drivers here, and we had a great battle for the fans. I would have liked to be on the podium, but that will have to wait until next year when I hope to drive with Compass360 again.”

The sixth place finish for #74 extends Miller’s championship lead over Acquilante/Skavnes to 25 points (256-231), while Honda remains ahead of Volkswagen in the Manufacturer’s Championship by a somewhat narrower margin of 16 points (277-261). “We pushed as hard as we could today,” remarked Miller. “Having to wait until thirty minutes probably hurt us a little over the guys who pitted early. But we’ll take the points!” Indeed, this result means that the #74 car has finished in the top ten (winning twice) in every race this year except the first, at Daytona, where it placed 12th.

With two races to go, the KONI championship is very tight, as it’s been for the past few years. The series heads west for the next event, at Miller Motorsports Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 18th-19th, where the battle will continue.