Just two days after wrapping up the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic season with his maiden victory in Elkhart Lake, Jonathan Bomarito found himself squarely back at his day job, instructing students at the Skip Barber Racing School's Laguna Seca campus.
Just two days after wrapping up the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic season with his maiden victory in Elkhart Lake, Jonathan Bomarito found himself squarely back at his day job, instructing students at the Skip Barber Racing School's Laguna Seca campus. "I'm right back to reality -- I just got in late last night from Road America after the banquet. I'm still high as a kite after the win, and I'm just starting to come down."
For the lifelong Monterey, CA resident, getting right back to business at his home track proved no burden, having successfully fended off pole sitter Raphael Matos in the dramatic closing laps of Sunday's season finale. Bomarito and his Miracle Sealants Swift 016.a took the lead from Matos with a slingshot move in Canada Corner six laps from the finish, then led for most of the remaining distance. He earned his second career podium result at Road America in the process, besting a third from his 2003 Formula Ford 2000 Zetec championship year.
Drafting proved a deciding factor in the final outcome as Bomarito, Matos and third placed Andreas Wirth ran in close formation during the closing laps, carefully judging when one could make a decisive move around another. "That's the biggest and hardest thing at Road America -- to be able to break that draft. The straightaways are so long that if you're out in the lead, it's really easy for the guys behind you to draft and get by. Once I got back by him, I really tried to get a bit of a gap so that he couldn't draft me as much, and I was able to get that gap. Then it was just a matter of being able to maintain it. So being able to break that draft was a big deal."
The draft actually did propel Matos back into the lead upon the final restart with four laps remaining, but Bomarito played it cool and promptly turned the tables again. "I knew because we were so close through turn one, I'd be able to draft back by him between turns three and five. I didn't want to push the envelope too much in turn one but just stay close to him and concentrate on getting a good run off turn three, which I got, and I was able to pretty easily get by on the back straightaway."
Gridding sixth in his PR1 Motorsports entry, Bomarito's race began as dramatically as it ended when contact with Richard Phillipe sent the latter hurtling into the turn one sand trap and into retirement. "When it happened, I wasn't even aware that he was there, actually. It was right before everyone was turning into the corner; I moved over to the left to go around the outside, and my left rear tire apparently hit his right front tire. I didn't see him there, we made contact, and that was it.
"It was obviously worse for him than for me, and I was able to continue on, fortunately with no damage. It was kind of one of those racing things going into turn one; everyone's jockeying for position, moving around and trying to find a gap. With the standing starts, everyone's so close, and it's happened a few times before with different people this year."
With early attrition through Graham Rahal's engine trouble, James Hinchcliffe's collision with eventual series champion Simon Pagenaud in turn five, and Wirth overcooking a subsequent corner in short over, Bomarito quickly found himself giving direct chase to Matos. "Rahal didn't seem too quick those first few laps, so I think we would've had a good chance to wind up where we were even if all those guys had stayed in the race. The track's so long and the straightaways are so big, there are plenty of passing opportunities. But that just made things a little bit easier for me, and Matos and myself were pretty much the fastest cars on the track; we were able to pass him at the end and pull away a little bit, so we were pretty strong."
He did dodge a major bullet en route to victory though. "Hinchcliffe's front wing came off and flew into the air; basically it came within inches over my head and did hit my rear wing. It didn't break it fortunately; we actually had some good luck for once and escaped a couple of close calls."
That good luck came after an up-and-down season which had seen a previous best result of second in Toronto, despite having lost considerable time on track upon stalling to avoid an early multi-car pileup. Following a partial season in 2004, Bomarito wrapped up 2006 sixth in the final standings, tied mathematically with Danilo Dirani and one shy of David Martinez in fifth. "Really, the previous three races ruined my chances. Up until San Jose I was fourth in points, but once I got run over in San Jose and had a pretty similar day in Denver, then had the master switch fail in Montreal, it let all the wind out of the championship sails, that's for sure. So Road America was good in finally proving what we were capable of doing in a few races this year."
The season began roughly for the team (veterans of multiple formula car series but new to Atlantic) at Long Beach, with rookie teammate Mike Forest sustaining back injuries in a qualifying accident for starters. "That was definitely a heartbreaker. From Mike's point of view, that was very hard because it meant he'd be out pretty much most of the year. Then to run second and have an engine failure with seven laps to go during a caution period was pretty hard to swallow, for sure. I think we had a fantastic year for the most part, coming back in the points. We were very competitive -- my worst qualifying position all year was eighth, so we were consistently top ten qualifiers and top five finishers."
Team owners Bobby and Lisa Oergel opted not to fill Forest's seat in the interim, leaving the crew to concentrate on Bomarito's efforts. "Everybody's trying to get as much information as they can with the new chassis, and when you only have one car, it definitely slows that process down. When you're up against well-operated two-car teams and even one four-car team with four good drivers, with the amount of data they're able to cycle through between the drivers and engineers -- they're at a big advantage. But I'm still very happy with the way the team performed, and to be as consistent and always up there like we were shows how good the engineering was and driving-wise how good the car was."
"The racing was spectacular -- by far it's the most competitive series I've ever raced in, from go-karting all the way up to cars. So from a racing and qualifying perspective, it was a huge year for me learning-wise. We had a few teething problems with the brand-new car, but that was pretty much expected. For the most part everything ran very well and quite smoothly. I think it was a success; the series did a good job, and I'd encourage up-and-coming drivers to try and get there. It was a great, great year."
Bomarito does not have a program firmed up for 2007 yet, and with diverse experience in Star Mazda, Grand Am Daytona Prototypes and Grand Am Cup, he is keeping his options open but clear on what his preferences are. "I'm just ecstatic -- happy with the team and happy to end the year on such a high note. Hopefully it'll make some of the off-season phone calls I have to make a little bit easier and hopefully give me a little more opportunity.
"Nothing's for sure yet, but hopefully at the least I'll be in Atlantic again next year (where the $2 million championship prize remains in effect). I really would like to get a Champ Car test or two also to see where I stack up, learn a few things, drive a car with that much horsepower and speed, and see what it's all about and what I need to work on."
In the meantime, his students at the Barber School can learn from someone who will reign as the latest Atlantic winner for more than six full months. "It was definitely the right race to win for me! I've heard it said quite a few times in racing that you're only as good as your last race, so I'm glad I ended the last race on a high note."