I hope you all enjoy this recounting of Karl’s hunt for that elusive professional racing championship. If you enjoy this telling tale of a brand and a dream, please rate/comment and pay it forward by sharing it.
If you have read Karl’s story this far, I thank you for your interest and hope you enjoyed the read.
If you have simply hit this page first in error, get up to date and start at the beginning using the chapter links.
Being his championship winning year, I am spending the time to write this year well.
I will be posting 2009 in increments as the key sections are finalized.
More to come shortly, so please drop in for a read later.
2009 – A True Champion and Brand Leader
After the 2008 season, Karl had finalized his decision to focus solely on being Team Principal for Compass360 Racing. He would fill in for the occasional vacated seat and longer races, but planned on working behind the pit wall and along the paddock.
Fellow Grand-Am entrants Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Wayne Taylor and Kevin Buckler had all made the tough decision in their racing career to vacate their race seat. Each of them went on to become some of the most successful team owners and strategists the racing community has seen.
When you consider the success of these racing magnates, the power of resource alignment naturally leads to the betterment of the business. Karl once again showed wisdom in managing the growth of his team and the Compass360 brand.
The three-month off-season provided little time for deep reflection on the past season. Those few months were needed to implement the appropriate action plans to secure their long sought Street Tuner Championship. The old adage that planning for the next season starts the day after the last season ends is very true. Championships do not go to those who are ill planned and poorly prepared.
For the last two seasons, the team finished second in the Championship. Karl knew the team was capable of sustaining another championship hunt. Team Manager Ray Lee was working the team hard prepping for the season opener. The upcoming season would see Karl put together his best racing package to date.
The team had become so well known in the series that Karl was now able to fully leverage his Compass360 branding efforts. Compass360 Racing was now featuring its C360R branding predominantly. Loyal fans were begging for team stickers and driver autograph cards. Karl’s Compass360 swag was seen everywhere you looked. His brand recognition efforts proved very successful.
The cars returned to their fan-favourite colour scheme: Orange with Black racing stripes. Compass360 Racing retired their trusty Acura TSX after two successful seasons. Compass360 Racing had used the second half of the 2008 season to fully test their new Honda at the able hands of Christian Miller. They were now going to lead the Honda contingent in KONI Sports Car Challenge.
While Grand-Am competitors were testing down south, the team was doing their own testing north of the border. They spent their time testing at our local legendary track Mosport in the cool fall air. This provided for a more cost efficient test to analyze the performance of their new Honda Civic Si to last season’s Acura TSX.
Mosport tests all aspects of a cars capabilities making ideal for testing. From its fast uphill backstraight to its long sweeping corners through its blind downhills, Mosport is to be respected. Your car needs to pay respect to Mosport to earn respect itself.
Located in the Mosport-triangle, rain made its inclement appearance. This gave the team additional testing under wet conditions. Daytona would have been red flagged and canceled under this instructional downpour.
Upcoming, and very talented, Matt Bell tested with the team during the off-season. Matt is also an aspiring Industrial Designer on various project cars. He would go on to sign with Turner Motorsports in Grand Sport. Matt would be paired with BMW racing legend Bill Auberlen. The racing community was about to hear alot about Mr. Matt Bell in 2009.
The new C360R Honda Civic Si would be launched under the Honda banner in Las Vegas. The #76 four-door Honda Civic Si showcased the new 2009-spec at SEMA. This beautiful Honda was parked right next to IRL beauty Danica Patrick (well her Indycar ;-)). Karl’s branding efforts had taken Compass360 to the premiere automotive insider event.
The Subaru Legacy of the ICY/Phoenix team was also featured at SEMA. ICY is short for “inner city youth”. The team runs a program that helps troubled teens gain real life pit and mechanical experience. They would be competing against C360R as the Subaru Road Racing Team.
ICY/Phoenix and Compass360 Racing went as far back as Karl’s debut season. Karl had even Co-Driven with their Team Principal in the past. In Karl’s debut season, they had graciously lent out space in their trailers and garages on numerous occasions. The renewed on track competition would warrant different tactics in 2009.
After a troubling and aborted 2008 season, Travis “T-Walk” Walker re-signed with C360R for another attempt for the top step. Naturally gifted, Travis had raced with the team every since 2005. Travis knew that there was only one team in the paddock that fully supported him. He returned home once again to C360R. Travis would be the first of many great driver announcements for C360R.
Matt Pritiko rejoined C360R having spent 2008 competing against them. Matt had originally driven for the team in 2007. In that rookie season, he finished 15th with four top-ten finishes. Those statistics were eerily similar to Karl’s first full season.
Thanks in part to the increased opportunities brought upon by the NASCAR purchase of Grand-Am, Matt Pritiko secured a test in the Arca/ReMax series. This ladder series has propelled numerous young racers to the ranks of NASCAR stardom. Matt wanted to impress everyone this season and take his career to the next level.
Impressed by last year’s Compass360 Racing Honda, Christian Miller joined the team for another season. Despite his great year in 2008, he failed to reach the podium. Christian’s strong performance was often hampered by inconsistent driver pairings. Karl wanted to find Christian a Co-Driver that would help him get that elusive podium this year.
With a line-up of C360R alumni in place, Karl sought to bring in new blood to balance the team. Although veterans with the team, Matt, Travis and Christian were far from being veterans of the series. Neither driver had earned a win in the series let alone a Championship. Karl once again searched the paddock to add Championship winning drivers to compliment his line-up.
The paddock took note when Karl announced that multi-Champion Randy Pobst would join C360R for a partial 2009 season. Randy Pobst had won the SPEED World Challenge GT Championship in 2003, 2007 and in 2008.
In the Grand-Am series, Randy Pobst was a two-time class winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona (2001 and 2006). His first Rolex 24hr win coincided with my first visit to the Daytona classic.
In 2003, Karl had asked Randy to autograph his helmet like many other aspiring racers. Only six years later, Karl was now asking Randy to sign a contract with Compass360 Racing.
Going into Daytona, C360R would be fielding three Honda Civic Si. The #74 would be helmed by veteran Randy Pobst and rising star Christian Miller. Randy had raced against Christian Miller in the World Challenge Touring series. This year however, Christian and Randy would be Co-Drivers. Christian could hardly believe how his 2009 season was lining up to become.
The #75 packed an equally balanced combo of Peter Schwartzott and Bo Roach. Peter had been racing against and with Randy Pobst since the early 1990’s. As Co-Drivers, Peter and Randy won an unbreakable record of four consecutive Walkins Glen 24 Hour endurance wins. Both were quite familiar with the Honda platform and would bring much experience to the team.
Matt Pritiko and Travis Walker would pilot the Honda Civic Si #76. Both drivers had previously left to compete for other teams. Both knew that C360R felt more like home. Both drivers had something to prove to themselves and the rest of the field.
At the Canadian Motorsports Expo, Karl delivered a presentation on the power of motorsport branding and marketing. He would relive his experiences connecting sponsors with their fans and turn them into engaged customers. There are a lot of business lessons to be learned from racing. Strong business acumen make for strong business partnerships. Matt and Travis were on hand to sign autographs and promote the series. Karl knew the importance of driver engagement when dealing with corporate sponsors.
Karl would temp fate and return to the wintery hills of Ontario a mere month before Daytona. In 2005, Karl failed to race at Daytona due to an accident while skiing. This year, he hoped to avoid a repeat performance by sticking to his snowboard. Even this rare moment of quiet during the off season, was spent bonding with his C360R teammates.
Fresh From Florida 200 (January 22 – 23, 2009)
With a strong driver line-up and a thirst for a Daytona podium, C360R was ready for the season opener. Sadly, I skipped the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona due to a work conflict. I had to contend with staying home and watch the Compass360 brand now being broadcasted in High Definition.
The Toronto Star sent John Larson to cover the Daytona race. Their newspaper coverage featured all three Compass360 Racing cars predominantly. Karl was once again seeing great brand awareness through his promoting efforts.
The team made full use of their three Honda Civic Si on the high banks of Daytona. In practice, Randy posted the fastest time proving his knowledge of the Honda platform. The three C360R cars used their collective draft to slingshot past the competition. The three C360R Honda Civic Si qualified in numerical order. The 74 qualified 4th, the #75 behind in 5th, and remarkably the #76 in 6th.
Andrew Aquilante claimed pole position with his Subaru Legacy. The Subaru Road Racing team threw down the gauntlet early to C360R. 2009 would prove to be a battleground between Honda and Subaru.
The Daytona race saw plenty of action. Cars in packs of five were battling for position. Every corner and every lap saw cars moving up and down the leaderboard.
Travis and Randy were duking it out in the front as the laps were winding down. The raw talent of Travis against the matured champion of Randy Pobst. Last year, Travis was edged out by another multi-champion Peter Cunningham. Travis had hopefully learned from that experience.
On Lap 50, Travis Walker in the #76 Honda Civic took the lead. The next eighteen laps saw Travis losing and regaining the lead multiple times. This made for great television coverage with the last 20 minutes of the race prominently displaying the Compass360 brand.
With only 10 minutes left in the race, Randy pitted his misfiring Honda Civic. The new Honda was suffering from debut nerves having been raced hard and up front all race. After a quick splash of fuel, Randy returned to the track.
Leading the race, Travis was passed by the Subaru on the apron. This questionable pass dropped Travis further back in the tight field. Subaru Road Racing would finish second with Travis close behind.
Travis retook the third step of the podium at Daytona for the second year in a row. Matt Pritiko finally earned his podium finish on his return to the team.
Bo Roach and Peter Schwartzott finished in the top 10 in the #75. Randy and Christian eventually finished in twelfth having seen their podium vanish within reach.
Matt Bell went on to win in Grand Sport proving his decision to continue and race with Turner Motorsport seemed wise. Past Compass360 drivers Ken Wilden and Billy Johnson, now also running in GS, finished third and fourth at Daytona.
Skunk2 had been technical partners with Compass360 Racing for a few years now. As their business partnership grew, so did their friendship with its founder Dave Hsu. Skunk2 would promote C360R heavily on their upgraded website. Skunk2 also featured C360R in numerous of their promotional videos. Once again, Karl was seeing great returns and cross-promotion of his branding efforts.
Matt Pritiko’s podium at Daytona caught the eye of Inside Track Magazine. They nominated Matt for their Up-and-Coming Road Racers of the Year award. His Co-Driver Travis Walker had won that very award back in 2006.
The Ford Racing Mustang Challenge approached Karl and Compass360 to assist with their branding efforts. They were impressed by Karl’s work on and off the racing circuit. Sanctioned by Grand American Road Racing Association, the series was co-developed by Ford Racing and Miller Motorsport Parks to promote the new FR500S. Compass360 redesigned and provided video coverage for their new website. Compass360 was now a series partner with Grand-Am.
Homestead-Miami Speedway (March 13 – 15, 2009)
Homestead-Miami Speedway marked their 2009 inaugural event as the “Grand-Am’s Fan Appreciation Weekend.” The KONI Sports Car Challenge headlined the weekend.
Dominican Touring Car Champion Jose Leroux replaced Peter Schwartzott. He would join Bo Roach in the #75 Honda Civic Si. Jose had won the DTS Championship in a Civic crowning his Honda experience.
The rivalry between Honda and Subaru followed the teams to Homestead. Christian Miller in the #74 Civic Si lost his pole position by just 3/1000th of a second. Andrew Aquilante once again claimed pole position with his Subaru Legacy.
Matt Pritiko qualifed the #76 in seventh with Jose Leroux right behind him on the grid in ninth. All three C360R Honda Civic Si would start the race in the top ten.
On Lap 5, the ABS locked up on Andrew Aquilante. Falling back with a flat spotted tire, Christian passed the Subaru for the lead. Christian posted the fastest lap in the first thirty minutes of the race. Christian held the lead until Lap 42. Pitting under a caution, he handed the lead over to the sister car of Jose Leroux.
Travis having taken over from Matt Pritiko in the #76 was fighting hard. Matt had brought the car up to fifth, putting Travis in very good position. The Canadian duo were eying another podium finish.
With only 30 minutes left in the race, the Honda started falling back on the leaderboard. A trip to the pits revealed water spraying under the hood. The car was overheating from mechanical failure. Their quest for a second podium was met instead with a DNF.
Randy Pobst, now behind the wheel of the #74, took the lead on Lap 60. Tom Long had been clawing his way up the field. Tom had just posted the fastest lap of the race in his Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5. Randy was now holding him off with only a 0.307 second lead over second-place Tom.
Tom Long and Randy Pobst put on an epic battle for the fans in Miami. They were running nose to tail with each one diving into the corners to pass the other. They swapped for the lead seven times in the last hour of the race.
Randy Pobst crossed the finish line one final time and took the checkered flag. Tom Long was 0.129 seconds behind him finishing in second place. Grand-Am had not disappointed their fans on this their Fan Appreciation Weekend.
Christian Miller would get to see his first podium with C360R. More importantly, he stood on the top step and won his first professional race. Randy finally won another race in KONI Challenge after a six year drought. The driver pairing of Randy Pobst and Christian Miller proved to be a winning gambit.
2009 Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge Trophies and Contributions
- Driver Championship – C360R Driver Christian Miller
- Team Championship – Compass360 Racing (C360R)
- Manufacturer’s Championship – Honda (C360R responsible for 100% of Honda’s points)
- 3rd in Driver Championship – C360R Driver Randy Pobst (9 time professional racing champion)
- 3rd in Team Championship – Compass360 Racing (only team in series history to finish first and third)