Rookie Kirberg gains in confidence, points

Win at RFK puts him 7th in Challenge standings

Grand Prix notebook

Auto Racing

July 22, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Confidence hasn't been a problem for Marc Kirberg.

The rookie from Madera, Calif., has been a constant presence in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge, earning enough points to sit in seventh in the standings and take a substantial lead in the race for Rookie of the Year honors.

Kirberg may have solidified his grip on the award yesterday when he led from start to finish to capture the SPEED World Challenge Touring Race at RFK Stadium.

Kirberg, who drove the No. 37 BMW 325 is for SSF Imported Auto Parts, defeated runner-up Will Turner of Newburyport, Mass., by 2.970 seconds.

Kirberg, who picked up his first career win to accompany his first career pole position, said he was surprised by his performance.

"Qualifying for the pole and leading flag-to-flag, that's a textbook weekend," he said. "I am a rookie in this series, and I knew that the competition was going to be tough. I just wanted to consistently get into the top 10."

Turner, who races the No. 97 BMW 325i for Turner/H&R Springs, moved up one spot from fourth place in the standings.

"When I came into this race, I had three goals: to make it through the beginning, the middle, and the end," he said. "When I did the first lap, I didn't think I had a chance, but the crew came together and the car came together."

Rounding out the top five were Mike Fitzgerald, who drove the No. 81 Lexus IS 300 for Team FBR and finished 9.768 seconds behind the winner; Frank Selldorff, who piloted the No. 94 BMW 325i for Turner/H&R Springs and placed 10.333 seconds behind; and Chuck Hemmingson, who raced the No. 19 Mazda Protege for OPM Motorsport and finished 10.825 seconds behind. With the victory, Kirberg moved up to fourth in the points standings. Asked whether the confidence from a win makes him a more dangerous opponent, Kirberg said, "I was dangerous before. Now, I'm even more dangerous."

No home advantage

The home-track advantage that RFK Stadium offered to area drivers Marc Bunting and Joe Blacker never came to be.

Bunting, a Monkton resident, and his American Viperacing team finished last among 32 cars that started the Cadillac Grand Prix and last in the GTS Class. Bunting, who co-drives the No. 45 Dodge Viper GTS-R with Shane Lewis, completed just 34 laps in the 2-hour, 45-minute race.

Of course, Bunting may have figured the racing gods weren't in his favor when Lewis spun out during a morning practice session and hit a tire barrier. The damage wasn't heavy enough to prevent the American Viperacing team from competing, but the car did start late.

Hitting a wall was the least of Blacker's concerns. Blacker, an Ellicott City resident, and his AB Motorsport team couldn't get onto the track because of engine problems from Saturday.

After qualifying for yesterday's race, the engine in Blacker's No. 77 Pilbeam MP84/Nissan blew out. When the crew installed a replacement engine, the oil pressure indicator lit up, shutting down the car.

Neither Blacker nor Bunting were available to comment.

Neal Sapp of Ellicott City was the Baltimore area's best finisher, placing 25th in the SPEED World Challenge Touring Race.

Sapp, who drives the No. 55 BMW 325is for the duPont Motorsport team, started from the 14th position, but was bumped twice to fall back.

Still, Sapp, who won four of the past five races of last season, said his performance was satisfactory considering that his car was in only its second race.

"We made some headway with the car," Sapp said. "We've got some speed, and we found some things we were looking for in terms of handling.

Clarksville's Jon Winter, who drove the No. 50 BMW 325i for duPont Motorsport, was 30th.

Fans won over

If fan reaction is any indication of a race's popularity, the American Le Mans Series may have found another home in Washington, D.C.

"I think it's a phenomenal thing," Andre Sundstrom of Baldwin, Md., said of the city's ability to host a Grand Prix race for the first time in 80 years. "You've got Dover [in Delaware] for NASCAR people. But for the people who might be interested in something different, this kind of race is great."

Robert Crossling of Rockville said he hadn't been to a race in 10 years since he went to a NASCAR event in Dover.

"I was thinking that it's about time that D.C. had some major event in the nation's capital," Crossling said. "This is something that is very unique to us."

Even fans of other types of racing became enamored. Angela Proudfoot, a professional drag racer for the NHRA's sport compact division, attended yesterday's race with her crew chief, Chris Neidermire.

"It's really high-powered," said Proudfoot, a Washington, D.C., resident. "It's pretty exciting."

$500 fine is fine

The District of Columbia Regulatory Affairs Commission fined the American Le Mans Series $500 for a noise violation stemming from this weekend.

Chris Lencheski, co-founder of the National Grand Prix Holdings, said he knew about the fine Friday night and that his organization would pay it.

"Clearly, we will always have that issue [of noise], which there is no answer for," Lencheski said. "You just have to work within the boundaries that are there. We were pleased with the event and we think the racers were pleased as were the sponsors and fans."

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