DANVILLE, Va. – Jack Roush, Jr., along with co-drivers Colin Braun and Dean Martin, finished the six-hour KONI Challenge season-finale at Virginia International Raceway in fourth place; a season-high for the team, career-high for Roush, and tantalizingly close to that first podium finish of his fledgling Grand-Am road racing career. The team was the highest-finishing Mustang in the competition this afternoon.
This is Roush’s first full season of KONI Challenge competition, and he had the added stress of learning all the racetracks on the circuit as well as how the No. 59 ROUSH Performance Mustang handled on a road course and in race traffic. However, in preparation for this 2007 season, Roush competed in this same event last year to gain valuable seat time, and the benefit of previously knowing the racetrack certainly paid off with lap times that were up to seven seconds quicker than he posted last year.
Braun, recently signed to a developmental contract by Roush Fenway Racing, has considerable experience in Grand-Am competition, but all in faster Daytona Prototype class. This was his first time behind the wheel of a GS division car, but he quickly picked up the skills required to wheel the slower, heavier cars around the track.
Braun qualified the car in 18th position, but knew that there was much more he could get out of the vehicle. Per the class rules, as the car’s qualifier he had to start the race and quickly got shuffled back into 26th in a wild first lap that saw cars banging off each and going three wide through the tight turns.
On lap 39 the team made their first pit stop, changing tires and drivers. Roush took over the driving duties and put the car up into fifth position when a full course caution presented the opportunity for another pit stop.
Unfortunately, a jammed air gun on the right front slowed down the tire changes on this stop and the team returned to action, with Braun behind the wheel for a second time, in eleventh when the green flag flew on lap 63. Braun didn’t waste any time moving through the field, and took over the lead on lap 80. He only led for one circuit as his tires were very worn at this point and he was passed by a Porsche with fresher rubber. He led a second time on lap 85, again for a single circuit of the 3.27-mile natural road course.
"I didn’t have anything for him," Braun radioed into his pit crew as he fell to second, later following it up with another message that "I am definitely struggling with tires a bit." With temperatures in the upper 80-degree range, the track was extremely slippery and having old tires made it a very treacherous affair.
Still, Braun took over the lead a third time on lap 109 when, while third on the track, the top two cars pitted leaving him back at the front of the field. He stayed out for only four laps at the point before pulling in and letting Martin take the wheel, with four fresh tires and a full tank of gas. In total, Braun led the race three times for six laps.
Martin left the pit stall in sixth, thanks in part to fulfilling a 10-second penalty imposed by Grand-Am when an official called a man over the wall too early on a prior stop. Trying to make up the ground before the tires had come to temperature Martin slid off the racetrack in Turn 4 where, fortunately, there is a deep runoff area. He barely nicked the tire barrier with the rear bumper, put the Mustang back into gear, and rejoined the fray.
This offroad excursion may have done some damage to the suspension as Martin was reporting a clunk in the right front not long after going off the track. He had worked himself up into fourth and was in a spot that he really couldn’t gain on the cars in front, and had a 33-second cushion on the driver behind him so Martin opted to slow down the pace in order to ensure they would make it to the finish.
"We picked up some type of vibration so I just backed it down to save the car," he said after climbing from the cockpit. "There was nowhere for us to go (gaining or losing positions), and the car felt like it was really starting to go away. The smart thing was just to hold on to a fourth place finish and end the season without risking too much."
As for Braun, he had a smile on his face most of the day. "It was fun," he said of his first time behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang in GS competition. "I wish we could have had a top-3 finish but we did the best we could today."
Roush was also pleased with the way the season-ended. "We put together a solid effort today and they guys on the Rehagen Racing team did a super job getting the ROUSH Performance Mustang prepared and pitted. It’s a great way to end the year with a career-best finish and it was really fun to finally drive a racetrack that I had experience on. I want to make sure that Dean (Martin) and all the guys on the team know how much I appreciate the effort they put into the program this year. I am already looking forward to 2008 and am really excited to go back to these tracks armed with the knowledge that I have gained this year." Prior to this event, the team’s best finish was seventh at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
The No. 59 Ford Mustang, based out of the Rehagen Racing shop in Livonia, Mich., carries sponsorship from ROUSH Performance, ROUSH Brakes, Kenwood, ROUSH Filters by K&N, siteLevel, RacerBargains.com and Piloti. Last season this was the highest-finishing Mustang in the series.
Based in Livonia, Mich., "The Art of Performance Engineering" takes place at ROUSH Performance. To get a look behind the scenes at what goes on at ROUSH and how the vehicles are designed, manufactured and produced logon to . In addition to the Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3 Ford Mustang and F-150 styling, handling and performance upgrades, a complete line of performance parts and crate engines are offered. For more information see your local ROUSH dealer, visit or telephone toll-free (800) 59-ROUSH.