Jason von Kluge clinches 2010 Mustang Challenge Championship
Going out with a bang the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge series grand finale kept fans on edge from nearly start to finish. With a thrilling race eventually won with an impressive drive from Ben Crosland, the battle for the series crown entertained with several breathtaking moments. In the end, Jason von Kluge prevailed despite finishing two places behind rival Tony Buffomante to become the 2010 Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Champion.
“It feels good, but I think it’s going to take a little time to sink in,” said newly crowned champion von Kluge. “Early on I had the pace to get around Tony (Buffomante) and Ben (Crosland), but they were going at it pretty strong and at first I was afraid to mix it up with them. Then Ben slipped past Tony and I really wanted to be on the podium and finish ahead of Tony. He’s been my rival all year long, but that part didn’t work out as planned. I probably didn’t need to race him as hard as I did. We got the championship and I’m really happy. I want to thank all the guys who helped me do this, and Varsity Ford, Green Filters, and Steeda for their support. I’m very grateful to be here and I can’t wait to celebrate! ”
The Series arrived for the double-header at Miller Motorsports Park with von Kluge and Buffomante equal on points. Winning race 1 from the pole, von Kluge seized the lead to enter the second race with nine points in his favor. Buffomante needed to win big if he was to wrestle the title away for his own. At the start of race 2, Buffomante made a brilliant start, charging up the front straight, waiting for the last absolute inch to brake, and took the lead from Crosland and von Kluge.
Now, Buffomante’s Capaldi Racing Mustang FR500S was exactly where he needed to be, but would he keep it? Over the opening laps Crosland ducked and dived looking for any opening, while von Kluge too was intent on not letting Buffomante get out of his sight. For the first five laps the trio routinely went into corners two and three abreast.
“I got a very good start and I thought this could be interesting, but I was holding those guys up to be honest. I tried to position myself through the corners to defend as much as I could without weaving. I thought Jason (von Kluge) was going to take it easy behind, but he was just a lot faster and I was trying all I could to hold him up. Congratulations to him and his crew. They worked their butts off all season long and deserve the championship. I’d like to thank my Dad and all the guys at Capaldi Racing. I drove my guts out for them. We’ve had a great year and a lot of fun,” said Buffomante
Finally, working lap 7, Crosland got his chance and went under Buffomante through turn 5. von Kluge took a look but wasn’t close enough, and now the title rivals were running nose-to-tail.
Crosland was clearly on a different plane, and he soon set off into the sunset.
“I said yesterday that driving through the field like I did, I’d never had so much fun,” said Crosland, who is still in his senior year of high school. “But, taking the lead and staying up front like we did today, that might be a little bit better! This is a great way to finish the season and the series, I’m very happy to win here at Miller because it is the home race and with it being the last race, it means even more. Congrats to Jason for the championship and thank you to the team and all my sponsors that have helped me get here, this feels great!”
Behind, thrilling battles were taking place all through the 20-strong field. As Crosland was taking the lead, Kyle Gimple and Dean Thomas latched onto the leading train. A little further back Mike McGovern, Dan Aweida, Brad Adams, George Winkler, Craig Capaldi and Michael Zuieback formed a tight train of their own.
At this point, von Kluge needed only to shadow Buffomante to secure the title, but he wasn’t interested in simply securing the title. He wanted to put an exclamation point on it, and he was determined to get around Buffomante. On lap 14 the two title contenders went through turn 1 door-to-door with Buffomante holding station. On the next lap, von Kluge tried again to muscle his way by, only this time he went a little wide at the exit of turn 4, allowing Gimple to sneak through for the final podium position.
From there, the trio settled down into a tight, but respectful, formation the rest of the way to the finish.
Just behind them, another close battle developed between Thomas, who had slipped a bit away from the second through fourth place battle, and McGovern who had caught up, leaving Aweida behind. McGovern managed to slip past Thomas on lap 16 after the two had sparred for the better part of five laps. Disappointingly for Thomas, the Mustang Challenge Shootout winner making his professional debut, the end to his storybook run came to an end prematurely when the right front wheel bearing gave out, forcing him to limp to the finish. Despite his troubles, he set the second fastest lap of the race after Crosland.
“This has been a phenomenal experience from start-to-finish. I’ve learned so much. After seeing how I did in qualifying, I wanted to finish in the top 10 on Saturday (finished 8th) and finish in the top 5 today, and if not for a mechanical issue, that would have happened. I feel bad for my crew, because they worked so hard for me. Nevertheless, it’s been a dream come true.”
Finally, Crosland crossed the finish line to score his second win of the season with an advantage of 11 seconds over Buffomante. Finishing two places behind Buffomante, von Kluge earned the title he had battled his rival all season long for by a margin of just five points. Not to be overlooked third place remained with Gimple.
“I got a bad start and had to work pretty hard to get by several cars. My engine temps were also running a bit high so that made me a little down on power. But, I finally caught up with the leaders after getting around Dean. Jason (von Kluge) tried to make a move on Tony (Buffomante) and went he went a bit wide, I was able to slip through,” said Gimple who drives the No. 81 ICY Racing/Autoweks Mustang.
“That was the best possible way to finish the year and the series,” said Mustang Challenge Series Director Lynda Randall. “It was an incredible race, and I’m very proud of how close, but how clean, the race was. The guys did a great job once again and we really had a great weekend. The drivers and everyone involved with the series now feel like family and we are all very grateful to have been involved.”
At the finish, fifth through tenth places belonged to McGovern, Aweida, Adams, Winkler Zuieback and Capaldi.
Post race awards went to Kyle Gimple for being the Sunday Group Management Rookie of the Race with a donation made in his name to the Austin Hatcher Foundation. Craig Capaldi gained the most position over his starting spot; thus, earning him the BF Goodrich “Take Control Award”. For his spectacular start, Tony Buffomante, won the “We’re Going Green” Award for Green Filters USA.