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.
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.
Matt Bell (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3): “This is really the perfect way to start the season off. The M3 was easy to drive, fun to race, and highly competitive. A typical Turner car. I just tried to be as efficient as possible and not make any aggressive moves at the start. The car was a bit loose, but I just kept focused on conserving as much of the car as possible for Billy while still setting a good pace. The competition at this level is really fierce, so to take a win my first time out is just amazing. Billy ran a great race, and the Turner guys did a fantastic job with this car, so I’m thrilled.”
Check out the race on TV this coming week…it will be televised on Jan 31 at 1PM PST on Speed Channel (the channel shown at the shop on both our LCD large screen TV’s…come join us and watch this crazy race.