GT Daytona McLaren 720S GT3
- Corey Fergus
- Paul Holton
Daytona, FL – Compass360 Racing's Acuras featured prominently in the opening round of this season's KONI Challenge at Daytona last weekend. The team's cars, which were at or near the top of the time charts at Grand-Am's Test Days earlier this month, again showed good speed out of the box.
Beau Buisson put his #75 Acura TSX on pole during Thursday qualifying, with team-mate Karl Thomson just a few tenths-of-a-second behind, good enough to net his #76 TSX the number two spot. Matt Pritiko, in his first time in a closed-wheel race managed an excellent twelfth place qualifying position in his #74 Acura RSX-S.
Unfortunately, during post-qualifying technical inspection, Thomson's #76 car was deemed to have illegal bodywork, which consisted of a "skinned" trunk lid that had its interior bracing removed. This meant the car was sent to the back of the pack for the race. The #75 car, which did not have this modification, was thankfully able to keep its pole position. The team, then, had the field pretty well covered, with cars starting first, 12th and second-last!
Friday's race started well, with Buisson leading the field for much of his stint, while Pritiko had an amazing start, managing to move up to fifth place within the first 20 minutes. Thomson, meanwhile, was working his way through traffic. Aided by the first yellow flag period of the race -- which bunched up the field -- he had the #76 TSX in third place at the one-hour mark of the three-hour race.
Two more yellow flags later, at about the half-way mark in the three-hour race, the crew went to work with their pit stops. Buisson was in first, and co-driver Travis Walker took over the #75 car, getting new front tires as part of his service. Thomson, after leading briefly, was in next and Billy Johnson got in, the team opting to simply change drivers and add fuel, leaving the original tires on the #76.
Pritiko was then called in, Floridian Eric Powell taking over driving duties. The #74 RSX showed significant signs of battle, with the rear bumper cover missing, and substantial damage to the left side, all the result of Pritiko being tagged by another car earlier in the race, which resulted in a spin and an accompanying fall down the leaderboard.
Things looked good for the team heading into the last half hour of the race. Walker's #75 was locked in a four-way battle with the Davis Team's #144 RSX-S of Bob Endicott and Ken Dobson, i-Moto's Nick and Kuno Wittmer in #31, and the #76 TSX of Johnson. The SPEED TV cameras provided exceptional coverage of the race to those watching in the pits, with the cars drafting each other and jostling for position on each and every lap. It was truly memorable racing and simply great television! Dobson led for a while, but had troubles in one corner which allowed both Compass cars to get past on lap 61.
Unfortunately, with three laps to go, a drive shaft on Walker's leading TSX gave out, which left the battle down to the three cars. Johnson deftly managed the traffic ahead and crossed the line less than half a second ahead of Endicott and Dobson, with the Wittmer brothers 15/100ths behind them. It was a hard-fought win right to the very end!
Powell, meanwhile soldiered on in the damaged #74 car, putting in a creditable performance and bringing the car home 19th in class. Walker and Buisson were classified 24th.
On one hand, the squad were thrilled to celebrate the win, but disappointed that Buisson and Walker weren't able to capitalize on their tremendous performance. "We were so close to having both TSX's on the podium today," said Crew Chief Ray Lee. "We knew the Acuras would be suited to the high-speed Daytona track, and we learned a lot at the Test Days earlier this month," he continued. "We're going to have to work hard to be competitive at some of the other tracks this year, as you can see the competition up front is really close."
The result also gives Billy Johnson his first pro win. It's Thomson's second, having won the season-ending Grand-Am race at Virginia International Raceway in 2005. "I'm proud to help the TSX take its first win in KONI Challenge competition," enthused Thomson. "It's a great way to start the season and it's really special to take this win with Billy as my co-driver."
"The Compass crew did their usual great job in preparing and running the cars," noted Johnson. "The pit strategy was perfect and the car drove really well. Karl gave me a car with lots of tires and brakes left," he continued, "which I really needed for that battle at the end. It was right down to the wire."
"Having four drivers that can put the cars up front and keep them there is pretty special," commented Lee. "We've put a lot of effort in taking our effort to the next level and the Daytona result is the fruit of that labor."
The team returns to their Toronto base to prepare the cars for the next KONI Challenge event at Homestead Speedway near Miami in early April.
The team thanks technical partners Kensai, Skunk2, Hawk Brakes, Fujita Air Intakes and Motul, as well as sponsors Tel-IT, Burry Signs and RacingFanatics.com. The team also thanks the nice folks at Jenkins Acura in Ocala, Florida, who hosted our race cars at a Customer Appreciation night just prior to the Daytona race.