Team GTI

"You're only as good as your last season"

Tentative Calendar and Event Report 2008
Last updated 28 November, 2008

Breaking News (24 September) - It appears that Team GTI will not be contesting the 2008 ARRC after all. Repair bills and increased fuel costs have used up enough of the season budget to prevent the team from defending the 2007 ITB title, although car owner Kirk Knestis has not completely given up hope. "If we can find a funded codriver for the endurance race that weekend, we might be able to pull it off, but it's tight."

Breaking News (25 July) - Team GTI has officially scrubbed plans to defend its ITB title at the Longest Day 24-hour enduro at Nelson Ledges, due to a lack of interest by qualified funded codrivers.

Virginia International Raceway
Alton, VA
23-25 February
National Auto Sports Association (NASA)
3-hour enduro

The Conover Motor Sports crew, driver Kirk Knestis, and his VW Golf "Pablo" returned to Virginia International Raceway to defend their 2007 overall victory at the NASA Charlie Gibson 300 3-hour endurance race. While they couldn't match last years surprise success, they did have a good weekend, finishing 10th overall and 1st in class - defeating a Lexus IS300 and a Porsche Turbo in the process.

The CMS-prepared Golf brought an advantage to this race, in the form of a fuel tank that would allow the team to run the distance without a fuel stop. This became the centerpiece of Cameron Conover's strategy: Stay out and keep moving (albeit more slowly than much of the competition) while others stopped for fuel and driver changes.

The race started in cool, dry conditions but the weather took a turn for the worse at about the half way mark. An initial patchy sprinkle of rain left portions of the track very slick, but Knestis opted to soldier on with dry tires, based on web-based weather radar that suggested the cell would pass.

It didn't.

When it became clear that (a) the next-closest ES class competitor was more than 4 laps behind, and (b) the weather was all but certain to stay wet for the duration of the race, the Conover crew stopped for a set of Hoosier rain tires and a chassis set-up more suited to the conditions.

The remainder of the race was much more comfortable for Knestis, who spent the final 20 minutes circulating on the rear bumper of the eventual overall winner.

Ryan Jenkins Photos

Virginia International Raceway
Alton, VA
8-9 March
Sports Car Club of America

Small issues with the car kept Team GTI from taking the fight to 2007 ARRC frontrunners Derek Lugar and Rob McCabe, down from Canada with their ITB Golfs. McCabe took class honors in the 90-minute ECR on Saturday after Lugar had an off, and the two swapped finishing positions in Sunday's SARRC sprint.

Kirk finished 3rd in the Saturday enduro, run on slicks in changing wet conditions, after pitting to repair a disconnected vehicle speed sensor - a fault that effectively shut the engine off at 5200 rpm. Time lost early in the race was never recovered, as he could gain no ground turning the same lap times as the class leader. Kirk then started from the back of the grid for the next day's sprint feature, having missed qualifying so Cameron Conover could effect repairs to a cracked strut tower discovered after ECR qualifying. His performance was on the upswing until fouled spark plugs slowed the car enough to drop him from 3rd to 5th at the end.

Virginia International Raceway
Alton, VA
10-11 May
Sports Car Club of America
Double SARRC

Team GTI had a very successful double SARRC race event at VIR over the Mother's Day weekend, taking home wins in both points races.

Kirk qualified 3rd of 5 ITB cars for the Saturday feature, and enjoyed a race-long battle with eventual 2nd-place finisher John Wilkins (BMW 320i). Team GTI's 16-second advantage at the checkered flag doesn't reflect how close the racing actually was.

Sunday qualifying went slightly better, leaving Kirk 2nd in class behind newcomer Phillip Antoine, driving Wilkins' Bimmer. Experience showed in that afternoon's race however, as Kirk stretched out a 40-second lead when Antoine was held up in out-of-class traffic.

The team credited this weekend's success to a somewhat unconventional suspension set-up put on the GTI's new Koni suspension by Conover Motor Sports: "It shouldn't have worked - it's lower than 'common wisdom' says it should be - but turn-in and balance were better than we've ever had here at VIR."

Photo courtesy of Tom Hoppe, Web Ninja

Carolina Motorsports Park
Kershaw, SC
24-25 May
Sports Car Club of America
SARRC Double Regional

Team GTI went to the Memorial Monster double regional hoping to score some SARRC points, and came away with two wins' worth. It might have been the zoomy new Conover Motor Sports logos (pictured, right), the great weather, or the relatively thin ITB field but regardless, the points are in the bank.

SARRC standings have become a priority since, with plans already in place to run the IT SPEC*tacular and American Road Race of Champions (ARRC), Team GTI will be in the running for the Improved Touring Triple Crown - the closest thing to a national championship offered for IT cars.

Photo courtesy of Conover Motor Sports

Summit Point Motorsports Park
Summit Point, WV
13-14 June
Sports Car Club of America
12 Hours at the Point 12-hour enduro

Three-fourths of the driving squad from the 2007 12 Hours at the Point - Jon Kofod, five-time Team GTI driver Phil Phillips, and team owner Kirk Knestis - returned for 2008, and were joined by mid-Atlantic ITA standout Chris Perera to capture another major enduro class victory.

Unpredictable weather conditions and a run-in on the track with an overly optimistic passer presented challenges, but the team persevered to a four-lap lead over ITB rivals York Motorsports and their MkII Golf.

Ryan Jenkins Photo

Road Atlanta
Braselton, GA
19-20 July
Sports Car Club of America

This event was intended to be an introduction to Road Atlanta for owner Kirk Knestis, in anticipation of a trip to the 2008 ARRC this fall. Codriver Chris Perera, returning after a very successful debut at the Summit Point 12 hours entered the ProIT race, while Kirk was slated for the SARRC and ECR groups...

It turned into a very busy weekend for Kirk, Chris, and Conover Motor Sports. The car owner finished 1st (okay, only) in class but 14th overall of 45 starters in the 90-minute ECR, and 2nd of four ITB cars in the SARRC sprint race. "Dr. Khaos" felt good about his progress at the challenging Road Atlanta venue, crediting CMS driver coach Bowie Gray for his relatively quick progress.

Kirk had left the paddock for the long drive home to West Virginia when he heard the unfortunate news by telephone - that Perera had been in a tangle in one of the several really treacherous points on this historic course during his race and "kind of rolled the Golf".

In truth, the damage assessment and anecdotal reports from observers suggest that it was more of a "flip" than a "roll," as only the driver's side seems to have touched the ground. The driver was unhurt in the incident, Cameron Conover of Conover Motor Sports is confident that required repairs will not be extensive, and all parties are looking forward to the IT SPEC*tacular in three weeks.

Postscript - Witnesses' reports and "forensic analysis" of the damage, back at CMS Global HQ in Burlington, NC, illustrate that the Golf was in fact never on its roof. The best explanation appears to be that the driver's-side rear stub axle sheered off during Perera's spin (perhaps coming back onto the track), which tipped the car on its side. After sliding some distance on the pavement, it actually tipped back onto its wheels, coming to a stop upright.

Brian Cembor Photos

Mid Ohio Sports Car Course
Lexington , OH
8-10 August
Sports Car Club of America
2nd Annual IT SPEC*tacular

Kirk Knestis struggled in his Mid-Ohio debut at the IT SPEC*tacular, never getting the Golf near the front of what was certainly the strongest ITB field assembled in the USA so far this season.

The unique format of this event rewards a team that's fast right out of the trailer and consistent through the qualifying session, both 40-minute races, and the "qualifying race" that separates them. Knestis, being new to the track, started the weekend short on the first account by qualifying only 15th of the 21 entries - well off the times set by pole sitter Beran Peter (Wayland, MA) in his similar Golf and pace-setters Vaughan Scott (Porsche; Royal Oak, MI) and Chris Schaafsma (MkII Golf; Wheaton, IL). Saturday's race saw Knestis' fortunes improve however, as he moved up to 10th in class and turned lap times within 1/2 second of the top 5 in class. Some success in Sunday morning's qualifying race would put him within shouting distance of the pointy end of the field...

Sadly, fate intervened. Following a pace lap that left the ITB field strung out around the track, Knestis had a huge run on the rows ahead as Cameron Conover shouted "green, green, green!" over the in-car radio. While his competitors certainly disagreed at the time, witnesses support Knestis' contention that he did not improve his position before the flag (the definition of a "false start" under SCCA rules) and the timing was such, that he was into the top six and on the inside line by the time the field reached Turn 1. This maneuver might have paid dividends too, had 5th-place qualifier Dave Gran (Newington, CT) not locked up, perhaps assisted by a patch of track still wet from overnight rains, and spun his Honda right in the blue Golf's path. In the process of almost completely missing the now-sideways Prelude, Knestis collided with the VW of innocent bystander Aaron Stehley (Minneapolis, MN) and ended up in the gravel trap with substantial body damage as the field headed off to complete Lap 1. Knestis was able to extract himself but was resigned to 12th at the end, assisted by some in-class attrition.

Under the SPEC*tacular rules, this is where he started the last race of the weekend, following some banging of panels and a suspension re-alignment by Conover's crew. Race stewards made sure the pace lap was under control for this one but Knestis was on the move again on the first lap - dispatching David Gills' Ford in the Keyhole, and both Todd Lincoln's Mercury and Tom Kelly's Golf under braking for Turn 7. Kelly defended well, however, leaving Knestis on the dirty outside line for the notorious cresting left they call Madness - and oversteering into the grass at the exit. Again, the field streamed by. Knestis rejoined at the back, clawed past several cars, and with the wind pretty much out of his sails, ended up mired again in 12th - destined to be tied for 14th in the overall weekend points total.

The event itself was a great success and perhaps the Improved Touring social event of the year - some consolation to a team that was well and truly beaten, and beaten up on, over the course of this weekend. Congratulations go to Peter for taking the SPEC*tactular title, and to Scott and Schaafsma for their 2nd- and 3rd-place finishes respectively.

Roebling Road Raceway
Bloomingdale, GA
20-21 September
Sports Car Club of America
SARRC Invitational Challenge (SIC)

Kirk Knestis and Conover Motor Sports Team GTI finished the sprint racing season 2nd in the South Atlantic Road Racing Championship (SARRC) divisional points points chase, behind Toyota driver Jay Marlowe. Knestis had to beat Marlowe at the SIC to take the title but came up short, finishing third behind Marlowe's Celica (1st place) and Deuce Keane (2nd, Honda Accord). Volvo driver Derek Moore was expected to be competitive but was penalized during the race for passing under a yellow flag. Marlowe and Keane swapped top spot in the two qualifying sessions but Knestis wasn't able to challenge them on outright pace.

CMS principal Cameron Conover was doing his rain dance so hard, the crew had concerns for the health of his back, but the wet weather held off until the race following ITB's Group 5 points-earner, leaving Knestis without his favorite ally. "We should be pleased to be so high up the SARRC points," said the disappointed Team GTI driver, "but I'm sorry not to have been able to put Cameron's hardware up front today. I guess 'consistent' is going to get beat by 'consistent but faster' pretty much every time. Congratulations to Marlowe for his title."

Virginia International Raceway
Alton, VA
31 October - 1 November
Sports Car Club of America
Charge of the Headlight Brigade 13-hour enduro

Team GTI captured its first major club racing enduro class win here in 2004 and came to VIR this year confident of a good finish. Unfortunately, longtime team codrivers Greg Amy and Phil Phillips joined Kirk Knestis in an great come-from-behind effort that left them just seconds short of a class win.

A full story and more excellent images are available here.

Ken Neher Photo

Last updated 28 November, 2008

Project GTI is headquartered at Conover Motor Sports, Burlington, NC
All photos © Copyright Kirk Knestis, unless otherwise indicated


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