DG-Spec Clinches World Challenge Team, Manufacturer, and Driver Championships
Drivers Stout and Shaffer Put in Solid Performance at VIR to Make History for Scion
TORRANCE, Calif. This past weekend at rounds 10 and 11 at Virginia International Raceway, the DG-Spec Scion team clinched every Touring Car championship possible in the World Challenge series. Even more impressive is that this happens with a race still to go at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.
"It's a strange feeling because the season isn't officially even over, so there was no massive celebration," said team owner and driver Dan Gardner. "Make no mistake about it though, this is a huge accomplishment that many people aspire to. Our program belongs to so many folks. Everyone can be proud of what we've accomplished together. Most people will only see the tip of the iceberg which is this season, but the truth is that these championships were built on years of development and devotion. I'm proud to have been the catalyst and the captain, but so many people have made this possible."
In more than 20 years of series history, no Toyota marque has ever won the championship, making the Manufacturer's title that much sweeter. The Manufacturer's Championship was clinched even sooner than the other two. Indeed, after Saturday's round 10 race (of 12 total), Scion was locked in as the champion, ahead of Volkswagen, Mazda, and Honda.
"We're thrilled to be a part of this and to be the first Toyota brand ever to win in over two decades...that's something really special." said Owen Peacock, Scion marketing chief. "Congratulations to Dan Gardner and the DG-Spec team."
The VIR event saw a new driver enter the fray for the team. Greg Shaffer took the wheel of the 36 car, while Robert Stout continued to pilot the series-leading 18 car. It was a roller coaster ride all the way, with crash damage and a few mechanical issues, but nothing different from what the team was used to.
On both promoter test day and the practice day, the team got off to a slow start, as the drivers figured out the cars and the track. Combined practice results showed Stout and Shaffer at sixth and tenth, respectively. It was a big field, but this was a place the team wasn't used to being.
Several changes were made to the cars throughout, and the drivers felt increasingly confident. Gardner assured the drivers there was more left, and both drivers put their heads down and thought about where they could gain speed for the first qualifying session.
After Saturday's Qualifying session ended, the team indeed has stepped up their game. Stout moved from sixth in practice to second with a blazing 2:12.6, just two-tenths of a second behind the pole sitter, Spec Miata champion Todd Buras. Shaffer moved from tenth to fifth with a solid 2:13.4 time.
The first race would prove to be extremely close, with Stout finishing less than two seconds behind Buras for second place. Shaffer would hold onto fifth, impressive considering an intermittent boost issue he was fighting. Both Scions were now back in the top five.
Sunday's Qualifying session went well for both drivers, as Shaffer and Stout qualified second and third respectively, again behind Buras's very fast turbo VW Jetta. The Scions' times were extremely close, with Shaffer outqualifying Stout by less than one tenth of a second. Both Scions were now in the front two rows for the start of the race.
When the lights went out Stout and Shaffer got rocketship starts and were both pulling on the leader. Stout went to the outside, and Shaffer saw a hole open up the middle. Shaffer got a great launch on the higher-class GTS Acura TSX and started to move in front of him. By the time the number 36 Scion had almost gotten past, repeated contact with the Acura turned Shaffer into the inside guard rail hard, ending his race and leaving his Scion immobile.
Despite the bad luck for the 36 car, Stout glued himself to Buras's bumper, and on the second lap took the lead. The Scion and VW would battle back and forth swapping positions, going nose to tail and side by side repeatedly. Buras was leading as a double yellow came out two thirds of the way into the race.
During the restart, with the help of some great radio communications from the crew, Stout launched hard, surprising Buras and taking a commanding lead. Again the two would battle back and forth, with Stout nudging Buras here and there. In the end, the VW would get the better of the Scion, but the margin of victory would drop to less than a second.
With the second place finish for Round 11, Stout would lock up the Touring Car Driver's Championship, making him, at just 18 years old, the youngest winner in series history.
"This was an incredible run," said Stout. "The effort started at our two test sessions before the first race in St. Pete, and this team hasn't slowed down yet. Dan put together a great crew with Brad Allen, Sean Morris, Dave Fredrickson and John McNulty. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys. They always made the car better no matter how late or long it took. I get the interviews at the end of the race, but this Championship is much larger than any one person. It starts with all of our sponsors and then carries on to this incredible team. I'm honored to return to them this Championship; it is truly all of ours."
In the Team Championship standings, the 18 and 36 cars also now find themselves at the top two steps on the podium, proving how dominant both DG-Spec cars were in Touring Car this season. With three outright wins, and a total of 12 podiums, this was no fluke.
"At Toyota Motorsports, we've seen great success in many different forms of racing, but champions all share something in common...they figure out a way to win when it counts," said Les Unger, national manager for Toyota Motorsports. "This DG-Spec Scion team is no exception, and it takes an unyielding will to be the best and capture all three championships. We're proud that a Scion-powered driver and team put a World Challenge championship feather in our caps for the first time."