Kleinubing’s teammate, series point leader Peter Cunningham, finished third but had to fight his way through several encounters, winning nearly every one of them including a pair of hotly-contested, multi-lap shootouts first between him and the No. 73 Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsport Mazda 6 manned by Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., and finally the Charles Espenlaub-driven No. 97 Sparco/Oakley/Tindol Motorsport Mazda Protégé ES.
“I got a pretty good run on [Espenlaub] at one of the restarts,” Cunningham said. “I had him going into turn one and he raced me up the hill and got [third] back. Later, we were getting close and making bids to race hard. The next thing that happened was I got into him a little bit at turn six when he braked really early.
I locked my brakes up, hit him kind of square and didn’t try to pass him as sort of an apology. We continued our battle, wringing the neck of both of our cars, driving over every curb and pounding the crap out of the cars. We continued that until we caught traffic in the esses.”
It was there, Cunningham said, that he found his way to get ahead.
“He went left and got caught up and I passed him on the other side,” Cunningham said. “He went off the road and back on again, and we bounced off of each other a couple of times and continued on through turn five. I had the advantage at that point.
Though disappointed, Espenlaub showed respect for SPEED World Challenge’s leader in all-time victories.
“I figure that if I have to get edged off the podium by someone it might as well be a guy like Peter Cunningham,” Espenlaub said. “That was fun, but I wish the race had ended one lap earlier.”
After nearly four laps of trading third place back and forth, Cunningham outlasted Randy Pobst as Pobst’s Mazda 6 slowed considerably on lap 21 with a reported leaking tire, which dropped him to a ninth-place finish.
Espenlaub, of Lutz, Fla., finished fourth--his best finish of the year, after starting third. Chip Herr, of Litiz, Pa., wound up fifth in the No. 18 The Drew Bledsoe Foundation/STaSIS Audi4.
On the strength of his third podium finish in three events, Cunningham remains on top of the SPEED Touring Car Drivers’ Points Championship list with 83. Altenburg trails by 10, and with his win, Kleinubing moved up to third with 64. BimmerWorld’s Matt Richmond finished seventh at Road Atlanta and is fourth in points, with 64. Eric Curran started tenth and made his way to sixth in the Round Three race and is the third RealTime Racing driver in the top five, with 57 points.
With Kleinubing’s win, Acura extended its lead in the SPEED World Challenge Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine. With 25 points, Acura leads Mazda (21), BMW (10) and Ford (1).
The SPEED World Challenge Touring Car season takes a break after running the first three rounds in the past five weeks. Round Four of the 2005 season, the SPEED World Challenge Presented by Trenton Forging Quality Formed Solutions, is set for May 20-22 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
The event, which aired live on SPEED Channel, will re-air Tuesday, April 19 at 4:30 p.m. (EDT).
For more information, including complete event recaps from Road Atlanta and other series info, visit www.world-challenge.com.