Acura, Cunningham Champions Again
RealTime Runs The Table in Season Finale
Oct. 16, 2005 – Monterey, Calif.
With a pole position in qualifying and a third place finish in the race at Laguna Seca, RealTime Racing gave Acura its fifth Manufacturers’ Championship in the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship, and earned team leader Peter Cunningham his fourth World Challenge Drivers’ Championship.
Both major championships were up for grabs coming into the final 2005 weekend, and the RealTime Acura team knew what they had to do to get the job done. As the race unfolded, the Drivers’ points situation was never in jeopardy, but the season-long fight for Manufacturers’ supremacy was not decided until late in the going.
At the one-third point, Cunningham was running third behind an Audi Quattro A4 Turbo and a BMW 325i—two cars that were not a part of either championship battle. But in his rear view mirror, he saw a pair of menacing Mazda6s—2003 SPEED GT Champion Randy Pobst and fast-approaching Jeff Altenburg, the two-time defending Laguna Seca Touring Car race winner.
The pace of the 26-lap all-green affair was heated, as Cunningham’s Acura TSX was being pushed beyond its limits and he was feeling the pressure. Altenburg, with only 35 pounds of REWARDS weight aboard, was on a tear, moving up from his eighth place starting spot. After dispensing of his heavier teammate Pobst (200lbs) on Lap 14, he was immediately on the RealTime driver’s bumper. The 220 pounds of success ballast that Cunningham was carrying was not doing him any good at this point in the contest, and within two laps, his Acura slid wide under braking in Turn 2 and allowed the Mazda through.
If the race had ended there, Acura and Mazda would have been locked in a tie for the Manufacturers’ Championship, but Acura would have prevailed on the tie-breaker because of more race wins. But it wasn’t over yet.
One of two things needed to happen for Mazda to take the title: If a) Pobst could also pass Cunningham or if b) Altenburg could move up one more position by passing the second place BMW, Mazda would secure their first World Challenge Championship.
But teamwork and fate intervened.
As the final third of the race commenced, Pobst was all over Cunningham. It appeared as though it was only a matter of time before the Mazda would find a way by.
But then the cavalry arrived. Enter one 19 year-old Denver University sophomore on a white horse. 2005 Rookie of the Year Brandon Davis had qualified his RealTime Acura TSX in the fourth position. After getting roughed up at the start, he fell to tenth. But he wisely bided his time and began clicking off fast lap after fast lap—quickly catching the two top points runners locked in their own battle for fourth.
Just when he wasn’t sure he could hold Pobst off any longer, Cunningham was provided with a car length or two of breathing room, as Davis and his unencumbered steed gave Pobst something else to think about. The rear was secure.
Meanwhile, Altenburg was continuing his drive to the front, and it became apparent that he was in position to pass the second place BMW. But with just three laps remaining, his third place Mazda suffered a flat left rear tire. Succumbing to a flat spot after 20-plus laps of brutality, Mazda’s charge was over.
Cunningham started the race with a 12-point margin over Randy Pobst for the driving title and took the checkered flag with 15 points in hand, 263-248. Acura, too, took the green flag with only a two-point advantage, but finished four points above Mazda, 77-73.
Davis finished fifth on the day and leap-frogged up two places in the Drivers’ Championship to end up fourth, after Altenburg and teammate Eric Curran faltered.
Pierre Kleinubing was well positioned to move up in the points race, needing only to beat Pobst to take over the second spot, or even win the championship if Cunningham ran into problems. Unfortunately for the three-time SPEED Touring Car Champion, his machine was just a bit off the race pace, as he soldiered through a locking brake problem to still finish in sixth for the race and maintain third in the Drivers’ Championship.
Second-year RealTime driver and rising star Nick Esayian was gunning for a strong result at Laguna to bump him up into the top-10 in points at the finale. After qualifying 15th, he drove another great race to place ninth—his third top-10 finish in the last four races. Even with the strong result, and due directly to the competitiveness of the championship, he actually dropped one spot to end the year in 12th. On the podium, Esayian presented a check for $5,000 to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charitable entity created to provide support for the families of fallen American Special Operations soldiers.
Curran was consistently third fastest on the Thursday test day, but experienced an ever-worsening electrical gremlin the rest of the weekend which brought his day to an unfortunate early end. As close as the points in the top-10 were, the team feared that Curran would plummet further down the points order, but when the checkered flag fell, they were pleased to see that he was the fourth of the RealTime drivers to place in the top-five for the year.
“In every championship RealTime Racing and its drivers have won, there has been some force fighting us every step of the way,” Cunningham said. “This year it was the Mazda6 drivers, especially Randy Pobst. We ran fender-to-fender all year long and never did more than exchange a little paint. At Laguna that policy continued—we each knew what our jobs were, but we didn’t stoop to unfair tactics. To go into a season-ending race with an equal opportunity to win or lose, and then to win, makes our trophies this weekend all that much more rewarding.”
Behind Cunningham’s pole position in qualifying, only .007 of a second ahead of Pobst, were RealTime teammates Davis in fourth, Kleinubing in sixth, Curran 10th and Esayian 15th quickest. The 11 fastest cars were under Kleinubing’s one-year old qualifying record.
“Qualifying was one thing, but because of all the REWARDS weight, we really had no possibility of winning,” Cunningham said. “I was driving as hard as I could, knowing the extra weight was taxing our tires and brakes. The outcome was incredible, though, and I’m just so pleased with every guy on the RealTime crew. They’ve worked incredibly hard and had the focus needed to win since well before the start of the season. I’m just delighted we were able to achieve our goals.”
Team Manager Nathan Bonneau shared his thoughts about the season for the five RealTime Acura drivers:
“PD came out of the box at Sebring with a win and then continued to deliver top-threes from there. And when he couldn’t find the podium, he still would be in the top-10. He didn’t always have the fastest car, but he was the mark of consistency, and that’s what wins championships in a points race.
“Pierre did his usual fantastic job in his ninth year as a RealTime pilot with three consecutive wins and two more podium finishes, but had to dig out of a big hole after his car had a glitch at the season opener. Brandon started the season with a pair of double-digit finishes, which is where you’d expect a rookie to be, and finished the year as a matured driver who could consistently run in the top five,” Bonneau noted.
“We apologized to Eric for his mechanical issues this weekend, but his contributions throughout the year were instrumental in beating all comers in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Nick upped his game from start to finish and started knocking off consistent top-10 finishes late in the season. The Touring Car Championship is ultra-competitive, but Nick is really starting to figure it out—and I know he looks forward to 2006 and beyond.”
The RealTime Acura team is sponsored by Acura, A-SPEC, Red Line Oil, Eibach Springs, Memphis Car Audio, buyBrakes.com, BOSCH, Sparco, Hawk Performance, Brembo, SportCompactCar, Valley Graphix, Total Auto Body, PACT and A-YES.