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Jan 29, 2008 / reports

Walker and Thomson lead Compass360 to record finish

The Compass360 Racing team made Acura proud at Grand-Am’s Fresh From Florida 200, the opening round of the 2008 KONI Challenge schedule at Daytona’s famed high-banked track. When the checked flag fell, all three of the team’s Acura TSXs were in the top ten, with Compass360 leading the Team Championship, and two of its pilots tied for first in the Driver’s Championship.

Having signed talent from the top two Street Tuner cars in the 2007 season, Compass360 Racing certainly did their best to stack the odds in their favor. Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood, the ST-class champions, moved from a rear-drive BMW to the team’s front-wheel-drive Acura, joining team principal Karl Thomson, who finished a close second to the duo last year. Travis Walker, co-driving with Thomson, welcomed team-mates Christian Miller (recent Time Attack race winner who also drove a rival TSX for much of 2007) and Kevin York (an ex-Speed Secrets driver coach). To be sure, a very stout driver line up!

Qualifying results saw the team’s TSXs spread throughout the field, with Thomson placing his #76 car in a solid sixth position. Burrows, unfortunately, was hung up in traffic, and managed 16th in #74, while York put #75 in 25th.

The team, and drivers, know that qualifying is but one component of a successful race, and that car conservation, pit strategy and racecraft are important to ensure a good finish. And so, the race started very well indeed.

Thomson took advantage of a first-lap bunch-up just after the green flag flew, with a dramatic move from sixth to second by the third corner. He settled into the first part of his stint behind the first-place BMW of Toby Grahovec, with third-place Kuno Wittmer close behind. The three jostled for position throughout the first hour, and when a full-course yellow flag flew within their strategy, all three teams pitted, with the order being Kuno, Karl, and Toby.

Adam Burrows, in the #74 TSX, and Kevin York in the #75, both had made their way up through the field before the race’s second yellow flag period, handing their cars off to their co-drivers during flawless pit stops from the capable Compass360 Racing crew.

As the race wore on, Walker held a solid third place in #76, Hopwood was close behind in fifth, and Miller held sixth. With half an our to go, it looked very good indeed for the team.

But as always in Grand-Am’s KONI Challenge, the last thirty minutes of any race hold many surprises. On a restart after a yellow flag, Hopwood moved around two slow-moving GS cars at start finish to avoid causing a three-car wreck. Despite the fact that he let both cars back ahead of him before the first corner, Grand-Am officials deemed that he’d “jumped the start” contrary to the rules and was given a stop-and-go penalty. “What’s most disappointing about the penalty,” remarked Hopwood, “is that not only did I let the two GS guys by, but I lost so much momentum that I also let Peter Cunningham (a SPEED World Challenge champion) by as well, and that was for position.” It was something that would not only affect Hopwood’s race, but Walker’s as well.

With the #74 car of Burrows and Hopwood back in 14th place after the stop-and-go, Miller in the #75 car moved up to fifth. Walker was still third with Cunningham closing. With the end of the race looming, the HART Accord needed fuel, promoting Walker to second and Cunningham close behind. With a few laps to go, the two TSXs battled fiercely for position, coming upon a slower GS-class Porsche. The Porsche held up Walker at a critical point on the infield, which allowed Cunningham by; a full-course caution was called a few corners later, robbing Walker of his chance to get back around his rival.

Miller, meanwhile, was occupied in a battle of his own, a long brake pedal making it harder to fend off the hard-charging Eric Curran in his newly-turbocharged Cobalt SS. Hopwood, too, was battling through the field, bringing his car into the top ten.

With the white flag waving under yellow, the Compass360 Racing team celebrated its first three-car top-ten finish. Thomson (who won the event in 2007) and Walker took the final podium position; Miller and York notched a very strong first event together, with Burrows and Hopwood coming home ninth (a strong result but disappointing because they would have been top-five if not for the stop-and-go penalty).

It’s never over until you get through technical inspection though, and with the top two cars being penalized for having too much fuel capacity, the C360R drivers all moved up: Walker and Thomson are now tied for first place in the Driver’s Championship, and Compass360 Racing is leading the Team Championship. Miller and York are fifth, with Burrows and Hopwood eighth in the the Driver’s points.

“This is an amazing result for our team,” exclaimed Thomson. “It’s a testament to the hard work by Ray, Petr and the rest of our crew. They’ve spent a lot of time working on our Acuras in the off-season, and this just proves it was worthwhile.”

With a long wait until the next KONI race at Lime Rock in May, the team plans some new driver signings and sponsorship agreements in the next few months.

Grand Am celebrates with Compass360…