Pombo wins inaugural VW Cup race

Duluth resident Mark Pombo took an important step in his racing career at Virginia International Raceway, winning the inaugural event of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup slightly more than a week ago.

All drivers in this innovative event, which will be shown later on the Speed Channel, are racing identical factory prepared and managed 2009 Jetta TDI clean-diesel vehicles powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. The Jetta TDI is lightly modified from stock, featuring race-ready suspension and brakes, and a six-speed double-clutch automatic DSG transmission.

Additionally, to highlight its environmental dedication, Volkswagen has partnered with Carbonfun.org to certify the entire race series as carbon free. This series is the first all clean-diesel race series and is sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing, Inc.

The 30 young drivers who participated in this race at VIR were chosen from 100 promising race competitors between the ages of 16 and 26 who were invited to Phoenix, Ariz., last month. They were thoroughly tested in several different racing vehicles on a diverse set of tracks and conditions. The event also included NFL style physical testing, and interviews were conducted by media to determine each competitor's ability to communicate.

In its worldwide debut this past weekend at VIR, the first exciting Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup race was won by Pombo. He had qualified fourth on the grid, but showed his skill and patience as he waited until two laps from the end before he took the lead for the win.

"Winning the first race of the Jetta TDI Cup is definitely a highlight of my racing career so far," said Pombo. "It's a competitive field of racers, with each of the drivers at the top of their game. I wouldn't have been able to achieve this win without the support of the Volkswagen cup series team and Cates Engineering."

"We couldn't be more thrilled about our first Jetta TDI Cup race experience," said Stefan Jacoby, president/CEO, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "We had an amazing event in Virginia with Governor (Tim) Kaine in attendance, and incredibly talented young drivers racing clean diesel cars in what's proving to be a very competitive race series."

Since returning highly decorated from his tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army a couple of years ago, Pombo has been more than impressive. He has set Spec Miata lap records at Carolina Motorsports Park in S.C., Roebling Road in Savannah, at VIR in Virginia and at Road Atlanta.

Though cut short by a mechanical failure, Pombo had an impressive run in a Mazda RX-8 during the 2008 Koni Challenge race at Daytona International Speedway that precedes the Rolex 24-Hour Race back in February. At the recent SCCA National Races at Road Atlanta, however, he tried his hand at something altogether different. He was offered a ride in a Spec Racer Ford sports racing car.

Despite having never sat in one of these cars, Pombo qualified his SRF in the third spot at the front of the grid for the Sunday race. Since these cars are so different to drive than Miatas, the whole paddock was buzzing about his ability to adapt.

On the first lap of the SRF National race on Easter morning, Pombo was hit from behind by another car and spun off the track near Turn 1, which put him back in 19th place. With more than 16 laps left in the race, Mark started picking off cars in front of him as he moved steadily up through the evenly matched field. By the last lap, he was in fourth place and had the leaders in sight.

Even though he had never driven one of these cars before Saturday and was battling several national champion drivers, he set an absolute Road Atlanta track record for this class on his way to finishing fourth. Had the race lasted another two laps, he may have won.

Like his father, Pepe (a former Mexican National 250 cc Motorcycle champion and SCCA national champion), and his older brother, Matthew (former SCCA Spec Miata Southeast champion, all-state soccer player and orthopaedic surgeon), Pombo brings much more to the racing community than his pure, God-given talents.

The U.S Army has made a poster of Pombo, displayed on the walls of military bases, that depicts him as the Modern Day soldier for the Iraqi war. This same artwork can be seen as a mural entitled, "We Know the Price of Freedom" at Camp Robinson near Little Rock, Ark. He has also made spot TV commercials for the Army Reserve.

Between the military and racing, Pombo has also been hitting the books hard. He graduated in May 2007 as an accounting major at Georgia State University with a 3.2 GPA, is now completing his master's degree in accounting and traveling the country for Ryan & Co. as a fuel tax consultant.