Cunningham's SPEED GT NSX fourth (the hard way) at VIR's season ender
Finishes second in 2002 GT Drivers' Championship
October 27, 2002 - Alton Virginia
RealTime Racing team owner and lead driver Peter Cunningham tried to do the impossible today at VIRginia International Raceway, and came close, driving the Vortech-supercharged Acura NSX to a fourth place finish in the season finale of the SPEED GT Championship series.
Although he took the checkered flag on the heels of Michael Galati's Audi S4 Competition, Galati's third place combined with Cunningham's fourth meant Galati won the series Drivers' Championship by 18 points over Cunningham, who finishes in the runner-up spot for the second year in a row.
For Cunningham to win the championship, he needed to score a podium finish, with Galati somewhere out of the top-10. The RTR NSX was consistently the fastest car on the 3.27-mile track during testing and practice, so optimism was high heading into qualifying.
"We qualified on the provisional pole, but with the special one-lap 'shootout' format in effect this weekend, that only earned us the right to go out last," he said. "When I set out on my flier, I knew what I had to do, and I was confident the door had been left open for me to snag the pole. Unfortunately, the engine lost power going into Turn One, and our day was done, so we were relegated to the tenth place starting spot."
Undaunted, Cunningham launched well from the standing start and had already made up ground going into the first corner, but was unceremoniously bumped off course by another of the silver Audis. After returning to the pavement when the pack had gone through, he now found himself out of the top-20, and had to work his way back to the front. It only took Cunningham until Lap Seven to get back to eighth place, where he stayed until Lap 15, then began to pick off cars one-at-a-time until he disposed of Jeff McMillin's BMW M3 to take fourth place on the 19th of 21 laps.
"Considering all the bad luck we had this weekend, we were actually pleased to end the season with a solid finish," Cunningham related. "If it weren?t for the extraordinary efforts of the RealTime crew, the car wouldn't have made it to the starting grid. We took the cards dealt to us and did the best we could with them."
The unexpected win by John Young in a Saleen meant five car manufacturers and five different drivers won GT Championship races during the 2002 season. The strength and size of the Porsche and Audi contingents also meant Acura finished third for the Manufacturers' Championship.
"I'm not satisfied with a third place for Acura," the sole NSX driver said, "but it is hard for a one-car effort to top a dozen Porsches and Audis on any given day, let alone throughout the season. And next year, BMW will be even stronger with a two-car effort backed by their US racing arm. Does that mean Acura can't win? Of course not. I never go into a race feeling defeated, only challenged."
The VIR GT race will debut on the SPEED Channel on Saturday, November 9, at 9pm EST, with a re-air Sunday, November 10 at 2am EST.