DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2009) - In a fierce battle during Friday's season-opening Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway in the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge, Bill Auberlen led 22 of the final 25 laps to give himself and Matt Bell the victory in the three-hour race.
Auberlen passed Ken Wilden on Lap 70, then fought off Hugh Plumb for a lap before the caution flag flew on Lap 72. That gave Auberlen his second GS victory in three races and Bell his first-ever GS triumph in his first career class start. The duo drove the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3.
Meanwhile in ST competition, Lawson Aschenbach took the lead from Kristian Skavnes on Lap 71, and kept him at bay just moments before the yellow flag flew for Steve Jenkins' stalled car on the backstretch. Aschenbach took over from Pete Iannucci, who was making his first-ever auto race start after competing previously only in karting. The duo drove the No. 00 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt.
Auberlen took over from Bell during the first pit stop and coming off the race's fifth caution, he earned the lead on Lap 50. He held the lead for the next 18 laps - which included two four-lap caution periods - before the Ford Mustangs showed their power.
Plumb and Wilden both drove past Auberlen on Lap 68, putting the Fords up 1-2 and attempting to give the Mustangs their third GS victory at the track in five seasons. However, it wasn't meant to be.
The Mustang pilots got together on Lap 70, and Wilden drove past into the lead. Auberlen subsequently passed Plumb and set his sights on Wilden. Then, the Ontario-native - who has finished on the podium in each of his five starts with Rehagen Racing - made a mistake coming out of the bus stop, giving Auberlen a chance.
Auberlen, who took the outright lead in overall KONI victories with 12, jumped to the top of the banking and pulled alongside Wilden's No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT. Plumb pulled up behind Auberlen and the two drafted past, with Auberlen taking the lead at the line. Just moments later, the final of eight caution periods ended any chance for the Mustangs - which had led every practice and qualifying session during January - to regain the point.
Plumb drove the No. 61 Horsepower Ranch Ford Mustang GT to second with Jack Roush Jr.; the pair shared the podium in the season finale at Virginia International Raceway last October but with different teams. Wilden joined polesitter Dean Martin, who led a race-high 23 laps, one more than Auberlen.
Fourth was Billy Johnson and Tony Buffomante - making only his third career KONI start - in the No. 18 Motorsport Technology Group Porsche 997, while No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shur Save Ford Mustang GT co-drivers Bret Seafuse and James Gue finished fifth despite a spin by contact early in the race.
Defending race winner Craig Stanton took sixth in the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Revo Technik/Performance Drink Porsche 997, driving with Tim George Jr.
In ST, five cars raced within a second of each other in the final 10 laps, but like the GS race, the final caution put an end to the battle. No driver led more than four laps during the final 14 laps, as Aschenbach traded the paint with second-place finisher Skavnes and third-place finisher Travis Walker.
Skavnes dived under the white line on Lap 69 to take the lead away from Walker, making his first start in KONI since last June at Mosport International Raceway. He led until lap 71, when Aschenbach made a move in the tri-oval that bolstered him into the lead and his third career KONI victory in four starts, all with Georgian Bay. Iannucci, meanwhile, spent much of his time in the top five driving the No. 00.
Skavnes and ST polesitter Andrew Aquilante finished second in the No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy, while Walker and Matt Pritiko were third in the No. 76 Compass360 Racing Skunk2/CanadianRacers.com Honda Civic Si. Aquilante led the first 29 laps, a race-high, while Walker sat atop the standings for 14 circuits. Aschenbach led for 10 laps.
Fourth were No. 01 Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt drivers Ashley McCalmont and Kirk Spencer, while outside front row starter David Thilenius and rookie Bret Spaude took fifth.
The race had eight cautions for 31 laps - including four caution periods for 15 of the event's opening 24 laps - and the race averaged 87.155 mph.
The next race on the KONI Sports Car Challenge circuit will be March 14-15, with split-class races making up the Grand-Am Fan Appreciation Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.
Kristian Skavnes (No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy): "That was not NASCAR (going below the line to pass in the trioval, this is KONI Challenge and we can do that. Then it went back to NASCAR style, drafting 101. I had about a two-car length lead on the group and they came back and drafted by me again. We went down to turn one, it was three and four wide a few times. Everybody drove clean. This was the hardest race I've ever driven. Everybody gave everyone just enough room. We still traded a little paint, but no hard feelings. We ran out of gas right at the finish line, and ran out of brakes - the pedal was right to the floor on the last lap. Lawson did a great job. I would have done the same thing. He went by me just before it went full-course caution, and that was the end of the race."
Andrew Aquilante (No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy): "We're very disappointed, but the Subaru symmetrical all-wheel drive and boxer engine was running great. We almost had it. If there was a 10-second difference in that caution, we probably would have had it. But oh well."
Tv time Jan 31, 4:00 PM ET, SPEED