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Shelby Blackstock wins BMW Performance 200 at the Daytona International Speedway

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On Friday, Jan. 24, Fall-Line Motorsports co-drivers Shelby Blackstock and Ashley Freiberg claimed their first IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge victory in the BMW Performance 200 when the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 originally scored as the winner was excluded from the race due to a technical infraction.

Freiberg became the first woman to win overall in Continental Tire Challenge history. It also was the first Continental Tire Challenge victory for Blackstock, the son of singer/actor Reba McEntire.

“It’s awesome,” said Blackstock, whose previous best Continental Tire Challenge result was a third at Kansas Speedway last year. “I can’t thank the Fall-Line team enough. They gave me an awesome car and made awesome calls to put me in position. I’m pretty speechless right now. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get to celebrate on the podium, but I couldn’t be happier.”

“Ashley might be a little spoiled now. It took me more than two years to finally win one, and she wins in her first start. I hope she doesn’t think this series is easy. But she did an awesome job today.”

Freiberg is the fourth female class winner in the Continental Tire Challenge, coming nearly a year to the day after Lara Tallman took a Street Tuner (ST) class victory in the 2013 BMW Performance 200, also at Daytona International Speedway.

“I can’t describe the feeling – it’s everything I could ask for,” Freiberg said. “I’ve got to thank Fall-Line for putting me in one of their cars. Shelby helped me a ton, and he really drove the wheels off the car. It's definitely awesome. I’m pretty realistic and I understand that wins are not easy to get – especially winning at Daytona with all its history. That makes it all the more sweeter.”

Blackstock and Freiberg led what turned out to be a 1-2 sweep for Fall-Line Motorsports, as John Edwards and 18-year-old Trent Hindman took second in the No. 46 Trim-Tex/Criocco Ozzimo/Atlas Acon/DFL Interiors BMW M3.

“We wanted to just come out in the top five, get the strong points and move on," stated Turner Motorsport driver Bill Auberlen. "Don’t go for that last ditch pass and wind up in the wall and get no points. It’s better to come out of here with good, strong points."

Third place went to Michael Marsal and Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 ahead of 15-year-old Kaz Grala and Hugh Plumb in the No. 03 Rum Bum Racing BMW M3. James Davison and Joel Janco completed the top five in the No. 09 TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin Vantage.

Although most people will only remember the first few places in the event, the 68 car field was filled with more than a few championship quality teams who, for one reason or another, didn't quite make the podium at the world center of racing. Many of the racers were happy to just be able to cross the finish line in a car that was still running, and survive the grueling event virtually unscathed.

Despite an almost improbably short lead time of just a few weeks to prepare, Bodymotion Racing was able to check off its first major objective of 2014 with the No. 12 Ray Catena Auto Group Porsche 911: it took the checkered flag. The Mike Bavaro-owned operation had been out of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSCC) for six years and came to the BMW Performance 200 season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) with the primary goal of reintroducing itself to the highly competitive GS class. After two-hours and 30-minutes of racing on the 3.56-mile road course, the No. 12 of Andrew Baxter (Rumson, N.J.) and Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) had done so finishing the race on the lead lap, 18th in the 68-car field.

"We're proud of Andrew Baxter in his inaugural IMSA race and congratulate veteran Shane Lewis for their outstanding performance in today's BMW Performance 200," offered Bavaro. "Both drivers were able to compete with a brand new Porsche. We are honored to represent the Ray Catena Automotive Group in this historic first United Sportscar Racing weekend. The team executed two penalty free stops to keep the No. 12 car on the lead lap, ultimately finishing 18th overall. We laid the foundation for a strong season ahead and are excited to head to Sebring."

Baxter took the green flag in the Ray Catena Porsche and drove a challenging but mishap free stint. Lewis, who is a six-time winner in the series, drove the final leg of the race. Despite a car that was not ideal for the cool conditions at Daytona, the multi-time 24-hour race winner was able to avoid the multiple accidents that spotted the race's final laps to see the checkered flag.

"You know, every new car has its teething problems," said Lewis. "We had a few of those leading into the race. Bodymotion built a heck of a car but we all put this deal together pretty late in the off-season so we didn't have much time to run the bugs out of it. But, we saw the checkered flag and we were on the lead lap of a field of almost 70 cars. That's a pretty impressive debut in my book. It shows where we are going. Andrew did a heck of a job. He didn't let the track or the competition faze him at all. That's pretty impressive for someone visiting this place for the first time. He showed a lot of respect but he didn't let it get to him. That's the kind of teammate I want! The Bodymotion guys did a terrific job with the Ray Catena Porsche and I'm really looking forward to getting to Sebring."

Jeff Mosing followed up his first career pole by joining Eric Foss in taking their first ST victory, also the first for Murillo Racing, in the No. 56 Mosler Motorcars BMW 328i.

“What we did today was three years in the making,” Mosing said. “I’m real excited to be running with such a competent team. Ken Murillo is a real magician when it comes to setting up BMWs.”

Foss passed Greg Liefooghe for the lead in the chicane at the end of the Daytona Superstretch with 15 minutes remaining, leading a group of five cars battling at the front. While Foss was making his move, Ryan Eversley and Michael Valiante tangled at the entrance of the chicane and spun. Eversley was able to continue in the No. 75 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si, but Valiante could not continue in the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si, bringing out the race-ending caution.

“Greg was doing an awesome job, and raced me real close and clean,” Foss said. “I got a little nervous when I saw the Cayman coming up (Cory Friedman in the No. 24 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche), but everything worked out. Ken Murillo is the best engineer I’ve ever worked with. He knows what it takes to take a car to the finish line.”

Liefooghe and Tyler Cooke took second in ST in the No. 81 BimmerWorld Racing BMW 328i. Friedman and David Baum finished third in class, their best finish in the Continental Tire Challenge.

Freedom Autosport, with drivers Randy Pobst and Andrew Carbonell, powered their No. 26 MX-5 to a respectable 12th place finish; the highest-finishing Mazda in the ST class. The team ran as high as second after the driver change, a testament to Freedom’s superior crew and strategy.

Both Pobst and Carbonell were optimistic about the season’s kick-off, especially since it marked the first time they have driven together. Carbonell, who has been with Freedom Autosport since 2008, found himself giving MX-5 advice to Pobst.

“To be paired with Randy is such a great experience,” said the 24-year-old Carbonell. “And obviously there’s so much to learn from him. He’s been racing for so many years. It’s kind of funny: him coming in and asking for my help with this car! It was a great weekend. The cars are good and I’m looking forward to this year.”

Pobst, who qualified sixth, remarked, “What a challenge! This week was my first time driving a Freedom Autosport MX-5, and Andrew really helped guide me. I’ve been on a steep learning curve, but the MX-5 is so balanced. I figured it would be, and I haven’t been disappointed at all. It’s a really fun car to drive.”

Brothers Mark and Mat Pombo also made their Freedom Autosport debut at Daytona, co-driving the No. 25 Mazda MX-5. They ran strong throughout the duration of the 2.5-hour race, but had to settle for a finish of 21st when the full-course cautions did not play to their strategy. A caution began while the car was in the pits, and despite getting a wave-by to pass the pace car, the Mazda wound up at the back of the field.

“The problem is that everyone was pitting when I got that wave around, so I ended up going out in last place,” Mark commented. “It was frustrating: there were a lot of cautions and, for us, it let the higher-horsepower cars go by on the straights, but it was still fun.”

“We knew Daytona was going to be tough, but we all qualified well,” added Mat. “The car was well balanced. We had a good time. We just had a bad break. The Freedom guys did great and gave us an awesome car. I can’t wait to go to Sebring because I think we’re going to be great there.”

The next race for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will be its debut at Sebring International Raceway on Friday, March 14.

Stay tuned to this column for continuing coverage surrounding the Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend, as well as interviews and behind-the-scenes access to some of the sports greatest teams. Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsportsfan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs, elections, and restaurants.

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