GRAND AM (DAYTONA, FLA.) - KONI Challenge Series Competitors Ready to Race into 2008 Season


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The nearly four-month layoff is finally complete and Grand-Am’s KONI Challenge Series competitors will head for the season-opening Fresh From Florida 200 at 2:15 p.m. Friday (SPEED, at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8) at Daytona International Speedway looking for victory in one of the season’s biggest races.

Highlighted by the return of every 2007 driving, team and manufacturer champion from both the Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) divisions, the season kicks off with a three-hour combined race on the 3.56-mile track. Nearly 100 cars are expected to take the green flag.

Race sponsor Fresh From Florida will contribute its support to defending series team champions Automatic Racing and its four-car stable. Leading the way are reigning driving titlists Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal, crowned last year’s champs despite not winning a race. They’ll try to give Automatic Racing its first ever KONI Challenge win in the No. 09 Fresh From Florida/Imported Car Store BMW M3.

Other Automatic cars and drivers include Jon Miller and Joe Varde in the No. 99 Fresh From Florida/Weeden Consultants BMW M3, Nick Longhi and Joe Masessa in the No. 90 Fresh From Florida/Land Air/E Studio BMW M3 and Charles Espenlaub and Charles Putman in the No. 91 Fresh From Florida/Imported Car Store BMW M3.

Ford Mustangs gave Automatic Racing’s BMWs close competition all season, with Joe Foster and the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT holding the point chase tight until the final checkered flag. Foster again returns to challenge for the title, driving with Hollywood star Patrick Dempsey at Daytona. Joe Middlebrooks and Rick Skelton will drive the sister No. 54 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT.

The defending race winner is also a Mustang, but from the Blackforest Motorsports stable. David Empringham and Tom Nastasi hope to make it two straight in the No. 5 USG Sheetrock/Ramset Tools Ford Mustang GT. Nastasi was part of the winning duo in the first three races in 2007. Three other Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustangs are entered – the No. 2 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang occupied by Roberto Bengoa and Jose Carlos Santiago, the No. 3 US Army/Turner Law Firm with Terry Borcheller and Scott Tucker and the No. 6 Blackforest Motorsports with Greg Gimbert, Edmund Hennessy and Matt Varsha.

The Rehagen Racing stable, which scored a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season, brings a fleet of five Mustangs to Daytona this weekend, including the No. 60 Ford Mustang GT driven by Hugh Plumb and Mike Canney. Plumb was fastest in two of the three test days earlier this month.

Porsche also brings to Daytona several top names and teams which won last season and have run strong previously. BGB Motorsports and TRG each bring to the track experience and speed they hope turn into victory. Four BGB Porsche 997s will compete, with open-wheel veterans Alex Barron and Dan Selznick entered in the No. 38 The Room Store Porsche 997. Craig Stanton, who ended the season with three straight podiums and finished fourth in points, is in the No. 83 Performance Drink/Toro Veijo Motorsports Porsche 997. The team will also field the C-Max Racing machines with Dave Riddle and Kris Wilson (No. 25) and Scooter Gabel and Joe Safina (No. 26).

TRG, likewise, has three cars, with Andy Lally and Scott Schroeder in the lead No. 41 Cohen Financial Porsche 997. Duncan Ende and Spencer Pumpelly will share the No. 39 The DigiTrust Group/Adam’s Polishes Porsche 997 and Dan DiLeo and Bryan Sellers are in the No. 42 Maxwell Paper Porsche 997.

Automatic wasn’t the only strong BMW team in 2007, as Turner Motorsport closed the campaign with two straight team wins. Entered this weekend are Bill Auberlen and Matthew Alhadeff in the No. 96 BMW M3 and Don Salama and Bryan Ortiz in the No. 97 BMW M3.

Other multi-car efforts include Bullet Racing, Spirit of Daytona Racing, Motorsport Technology Group, Fall-Line Motorsports, Kinetic Motorsports and Ranger Sports Racing. In all 46 GS cars are pre-entered for the event.

Kensai Racing, the defending ST race-winning team, added ammunition to its stable by signing defending series driving champions Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood, one season removed from their championship run with Turner Motorsport. The pair joins Karl Thomson, who last season piloted the No. 76 Compass360.com/Skunk 2/Hawk Brakes Acura TSX to third in the point standings. Thomson knows the fastest route around Daytona, as he won the Fresh From Florida 200 last season after starting at the back of the field.

Filling the vacated No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i will be California natives VJ Mirzayan and Matthew Bell. Mirzayan competed part-time in KONI Challenge last season, posting five top 10s in six starts, while Matthew Bell is in his first season of pro ranks after several successful seasons driving BMWs.

While the storylines centered strongly on the seesaw battle between Kensai and Turner during the 2007 season, several other ST cars ran strong last year and expect to contend for the Daytona win this weekend.

ICY Motorsports/Phoenix Racing, Georgian Bay Motorsports, Fountain Motorsports and i-MOTO Racing won races in 2007 and bring multi-car efforts for a chance to shine. ICY/Phoenix, who will compete fulltime in 2008 with Subaru Legacys, showed fastest in two of the three January Test Days earlier this month, with the Nos. 111 and 141 each topping days. Chuck Hemmingson and Kristian Skavnes are in the No. 111 Subaru of America Subaru Legacy again after posting two wins in 2007. In the No. 141 Subaru of America Subaru Legacy are David Rosenblum and Andrew Aquilante.

Georgian Bay won at Barber Motorsports Park and Miller Motorsports Park with Eric Curran and Jamie Holtom in the No. 01 SCADAPack Chevrolet Cobalt, and return fulltime in 2008. Kirk Spencer and Ashley McCalmont will run the No. 00 T.T.L. Chevrolet Cobalt.

Fountain has new driver lineups, with Eduardo Gramisci and Peter London (No. 127) and Manny Matz and James Rowen (No. 128) in twin Hawk Brakes/Marren Injection/Rogue Engineering BMW 330s. Meanwhile, i-MOTO and Glenn Bocchino re-signed brothers Kumo and Nick Wittmer and added Peter Cunningham for a full-out attack on the driver and team titles.

HART also won two races in 2007 – at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Virginia International Raceway – with Shane Lewis and John Schmitt, and the pair returns in the No. 22 Red Line Oil/Honda of America Honda Accord fulltime in 2008.

Other multi-car lineups include Bill Fenton Motorsports, SDS Performance Racing, Team Cobalt California, Brass Mitchell Racing, Roar Racing, Classic-BMW Plano, GSM Motorsports, Performance Autosport, GS Motorsports, APR Motorsport and RSR Motorsports. Fifty-one cars are entered overall in ST.

The Grand American Road Racing Association, which operates and sanctions the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 and the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series, is the premier road racing organization in North America. The 15-race 2008 Rolex Series and the 11-race KONI Challenge Series calendars deliver professional sports car racing to key markets throughout North America in addition to being televised in the United States and Canada on SPEED and distributed globally through ESPN International. Learn more about Grand-Am at www.grand-am.com.

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