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CORE basking in class victory

Highlands Today Special to Highlands Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 06:49 PM
MONTEREY, Calif. -

Six hours of racing turned into two minutes of thrills as CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun won Saturday's LMPC class of the American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patrón at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Braun, driving the No. 05 Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 Prototype Challenge machine made a thrilling outside pass of the then-leading No. 9 car of ex-Indy 500 pole winner Bruno Junqueira with less than two laps left in the race, using a slower GTC car as a "moving pick," catapulting him into the first spot in the LMPC class and third overall.

"Those last few laps were really exciting, racing Bruno (Junqueira) and I knew that Tom (Kimber-Smith) was coming from behind," Braun said. "It was important to push really hard and I was trying to set Bruno up in traffic. Finally he ended up going one way, I tried to go the other way and it ended up working out. Bruno is a great racer and I appreciate him racing me clean." 

The win marks the first for the No. 05 car for the 2012 season, and the first-ever American Le Mans Series victory for Braun and team founder and owner Bennett. Although CORE autosport had won both driver and team championships in 2011 with Bennett co-driving the No. 05, it was only after Saturday's six-hour event that he was able to stand on the top step of the podium.

"This is a dream come true," Bennett said. "I drove the wheels off of this car during my stint.  And Colin put together a smokin' move at the end of the race and here we are. I'm so happy. It's just an unbelievable result."

At one point during the race, the No. 05 machine was more than two laps down to the lead PC car, but smart pit strategy by lead engineer Gary Davies, fast pit stops by the crew led by mechanics Eric Van Bibber and Jay Ribas, as well as hard driving by Braun and Bennett made up the difference.

"In the middle of the race, after my first stint in the car if you would've told me I would've won the race, I would've said 'no way,'" Braun said. "I wasn't sure we could do it when we were a few laps down." 

The sister No. 06 Soloson Import machine, driven by Alex Popow and Tom Kimber-Smith finished in third spot after holding the PC-class lead for more than half of the race, putting the rest of the field more than one lap down in the process. Due to long caution periods over the race that bunched up the field, the No. 06 drivers lost their expansive lead and with one lap to go, Kimber-Smith was in fourth spot. Hard driving allowed him to get by the car ahead and the No. 06 drivers were able to bring home a podium finish.

Competition was very tough among the nine PC-class entrants in the event — after a full day of racing around the legendary 2.238-mile, 11-turn track, the top three cars were a mere 1.725 seconds apart.

The 2012 ALMS season has been filled with wins and podiums in for CORE autosport. 

The season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring was won by lead driver Popow in the No. 06 machine, as well as the second round on the streets of Long Beach, with the No. 05 of Bennett and Braun pairing taking third spot in both events. 

Thanks to consecutive wins and podium finishes in the three 2012 ALMS rounds, CORE autosport holds a comfortable lead in the 2012 ALMS PC driver and team championships.

"This win shows the kind of solid team that CORE autosport is," Braun said. "It's easy to be able to come in, fit in and be part of the group. I can't be happier."