July 7, 2002 - Elkhart Lake WI
SPEED World Challenge series Touring Car points leader Pierre Kleinubing and his RealTime Racing team leader, Peter Cunningham, drove their Acura Integra Type R's to second and third place finishes in the 65-mile Touring Car race at Road America Sunday.
The finish increased Kleinubing's lead in the points by 11 to 28 points - he's going for his fourth title. Cunningham moved to second place, with a three-point margin over Paul Bonaccorsi, who won the race by .384 seconds over Kleinubing in a thrilling drag race out of Turn 14, up the hill to the checkered flag. It was Mazda's first win after 18 months of development on the Protege.
In the Manufacturers' Championship, Acura also moved to within one point of BMW; as the highest-finishing BMW was fourth.
RealTime also entered an Integra for Mike Bergman, who qualified 27th and finished 16th. "Mike's qualifying speed was less-than-representative of how well he went in practice," Cunningham said. "Who knows where he might have finished had he started closer to the front?" Fred Meyer started his RTR Integra in 39th and picked up 12 spots to finish 27th - his best finish this year.
"This was a very exciting race," said Cunningham. "The whole weekend was great, with all our friends and family here to cheer us on, which really helped a lot. Pierre and I worked on our bump-drafting to get the Integras to the highest-possible finish. The horsepower in the Mazda was too much for us to overcome, but considering the other three drivers in the top five didn't finish in the points, we were able to pick up some ground."
Kleinubing started on the pole with Cunningham fourth in their Integras. Kleinubing held the lead for two laps before being passed by Bonaccorsi in Turn One. He briefly fell to third place on lap seven, but regained the second spot and stayed on the tail of the Mazda driver until a last-lap charge in Canada Corner failed to recapture the lead.
Cunningham fell back to sixth halfway through the first lap, but moved to fourth place by lap seven, and third place by lap eight. On the restart after the event?s only full-course yellow, Cunningham gave Kleinubing a little kick-start past another competitor, helping the RTR cars stay in front of some of the higher-horsepower competitors.
"Our Integras aren't the fastest thing in a straight line, but they do have excellent handling and brakes," Cunningham added. "That was how we made many of our passes, plus the combined experience in SPEED World Challenge competition that Pierre and I have."
Qualifying for the 50-minute race was, as SCCA Pro Racing put it, "bizarre," even moreso than the 13-minute GT session that preceded it. It lasted, essentially, one lap.
One car pulled off course in Turn Five, another slid to a stop to avoid hitting it, and most everybody else slowed, too. But not Kleinubing and Cunningham, who bump-drafted their way through the melee, and set quick times in their first and only hot lap. Moments later the field was black-flagged when another competitor went on his roof, thus ending the session.
Kleinubing put the lead RTR Acura on the pole, for a series record 23rd time in his World Challenge career, and the third time this season. Cunningham was eight-tenths of a second slower, in fourth.
"I?ll take the pole any way I can get it," said Kleinubing. "Peter and I went out and worked together right from the start and turned in a fast time. If the session had gone the full distance we probably would not have been able to keep it."
The next race will be July 20-21 on a new circuit built in the parking lot of RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Both Cunningham and Kleinubing like their chances on the 1.69-mile, nine-turn circuit. Between the two, they have 12 wins and 23 podium finishes on temporary circuits in World Challenge racing.
"This may be one event where running both categories will help me," Cunningham said, "because I?ll have twice as much practice and qualifying track time as the other competitors."
Road America's SPEED Touring Car race will be televised on the SPEED Channel, Saturday, July 27, at 8 p.m. EST.