Di Leo takes first-ever win in Laguna. MONTEREY, CA (June 15, 2003)-Daniel Di Leo of Markham, Ontario, Canada held off a late-race charge by polesitter Memo Rojas to win the Barber Dodge Pro Series race at Laguna Seca. Rojas, of Mexico City, ...
Di Leo takes first-ever win in Laguna.
MONTEREY, CA (June 15, 2003)-Daniel Di Leo of Markham, Ontario, Canada held off a late-race charge by polesitter Memo Rojas to win the Barber Dodge Pro Series race at Laguna Seca. Rojas, of Mexico City, Mexico, finished just 1.533 seconds behind Di Leo, and was joined on the podium by fellow Mexican David Martinez.
Leonardo Maia was forced to charge through the field after a first-lap incident dropped him to seventeenth place, but the championship points leader put his head down to finish in fourth, collecting one extra point for scoring the fastest lap of the race along the way. Luis Pelayo of Mexico city, Mexico, finished fifth in his Telmex machine after starting tenth, while Al Unser had his best result of his young Barber Dodge career to take sixth from his twelfth starting position.
Barber Champ Car Scholarship racer Colin Fleming of North Hills, California, finished in seventh, with fellow Barber Champ Car Scholarship driver Scott Poirier taking eighth. German Quiroga started in fifth, but had an eventful race and had to fight his way back to finish in ninth. Chris Green of Beaconsfield, Quebec, started in seventeenth position after having problems in the second qualifying session, was another driver to slice his way through the field on his way to taking tenth in the final order.
Di Leo, who is racing his second season with the Barber Dodge pro Series, was ecstatic to take the win in what was the most dramatic race of the season to date.
"It feels great to win here in Laguna," said Di Leo. "I had the opportunity to get by Memo on the restart, and I knew I was going to have to make something happen, since it is so difficult to pass here. I took advantage, as he made a bit of a mistake, his misfortune was my fortune today."
Di Leo, who won his last auto race in 2001 in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship, was glad to have got the monkey off his back, and is hoping this is just the first of many wins for him. Di Leo has worked hard to get to this point, but wanted to point out that he has had help along the way.
"I also want to say how great it is that my dad is here to see me take this win, since he has been a really important part of my career, it just makes it that much more special on Fathers Day," said Di Leo. "It's an amazing feeling to be on top of the podium. It hasn't really quite sunk in yet. We struggled the last few rounds, so to get the win and a big boost in points really helps my confidence as we head to Portland."
Memo Rojas started from the pole in his Telmex machine, his first in Barber Dodge, but was not able to turn it into his first win. The result is Rojas' fourth podium finish, and is the only entrant in the Pro Series to have been on every podium during the 2003 season.
"I was pushing the whole race, and when I saw the lapped traffic, I was hoping to have an opportunity to get by Daniel," said Rojas. "The only way it turned out that I would have been able to make something happen would have been to try a dive bomb pass, and so I thought it was best just to get the points for second place. This is another good points result for me, though. I will just have to get that first win in Portland!"
David Martinez, who won the second round race in Monterrey, Mexico, was glad to make it back onto the podium with a car that he struggled with during the race.
"The start was amazing, I had cars on both sides of me as we went into the first corner, so I just tried to get through clean," said Martinez. "Fortunately everything happened behind me, and from there, I was just trying to keep close to Memo and Daniel, but I didn't have the car to do it, but I'm happy to be back on the podium again. This was my first visit to this track, and its not an easy track to learn! I am looking forward to getting to Portland, since I think that track will be a little easier to learn and I am hoping for another good result there."
The race provided plenty of excitement for the entire race as the field fought from the drop of the green flag to checkered flag, as the field collectively disputed the belief that Laguna is a track that is too difficult to pass on, as the hungry drivers continued to find new places around the 2.238 mile circuit to make passes.
The field got off to a good start, neatly forming into rows to take the green flag from starter Billy Henderson to start the forty-minute event. Dan Di Leo got along side Rojas heading into turn one, but Rojas held onto the lead as the two cars raced into turn three. Several cars went into the first corner side by side, and got through cleanly. As the field entered turn three, chaos ensued as Colin Fleming, Leo Maia, Nelson Philippe, and Burt Frisselle each had their races change dramatically after Fleming and Maia touched in the corner, causing Maia to spin off-course as the field slowed behind to avoid contact while German Quiroga also spun from his fifth starting position.
Philippe was making a charge from his ninth starting position, and when Frisselle slowed for the spinning cars ahead, was hit by Philippe after the young French racer reentered the track after having dropped wheels into the dirt in the run up into the corner. The incident brought out the yellow flag, and ended Frisselles race. The others involved had better fortune, but Phillip, Fleming, and Maia were all forced to the back of the pack. The Simple Green safety team quickly removed Frisselles damaged race car and the field got back to racing again on lap three.
"Baker and I had run through one, two, and most of three side by side, and we were fine, but there was a car that spun in front of us, and when we checked up, I got hit," said Barber Champ Car Scholarship racer Frisselle. "I had a great car, and it's a disappointing result, as I feel confident I could have been on the podium. We'll just have to avoid that kind of thing in Portland."
Di Leo made the most of the restart to move alongside of Rojas as the two entered the first corner and took the inside line. The two drivers, both of whom were seeking their first wins in Barber Dodge competition, ran side by side through the corner, with Rojas' tire leaving a tire donut on Di Leo's sidepod as Di Leo slipped by Rojas.
Behind the race for the lead, more battles ensued. Chris Baker of Houston, Texas, was chasing Luis Pelayo for fourth position, and Baker had a look at the inside of Pelayo at the entrance to the corkscrew, but thought better of the move to slip into Pelayo's draft heading down the hill through turns nine, ten and eleven. German Quiroga spun in turn six from fifth position, but was able to get his Gigante machine pointed back onto the track and on his way, costing the Mexican more than ten positions in the order.
Al Unser had made he most of the start and restart himself, moving up into sixth position from twelfth on the grid and then up into fifth after making it three wide on the long run down the hill from the cork screw after Baker locked his brakes heading into the corner.
Di Leo was pushing his lead at the front as Rojas was forced to defend his position from round two winner David Martinez, who at one point gained the advantage when Rojas locked his brakes heading into turn one, but Rojas fought back to keep second position and continue his pursuit of Di Leo.
Leo Maia had begun his charge through the field, picking off drivers one by one as he got on a charge through the field. Maia set his sights on Baker by the eighth lap, and got a strong run up the hill to turn six, and got up along side baker as the two entered the corner. Baker, though, got two wheels off course in his attempt to leave enough room for Maia, and was soon in the dirt. The young Texan did a fantastic job to keep his car out of the tire wall, powersliding through the run-off to save it just in time to get the car straight and avoid hitting the tires.
"I don't really like to pass going into six, but I had such a good run on him that I had to try and make it happen," said Maia. "He left me enough room, but ended up going off behind me. I didn't see what happened after that, but I heard that he made a great save in the dirt! I'd like to congratulate Dan on a great race, to get his first win. I am looking forward to racing with him the rest of the season, though, as I want to keep his win count to one!"
Maia lost momentum at that point, and Scott Poirier made the most of the opportunity to get by Maia for sixth position as Baker rejoined the field in thirteenth position. At the front, Di Leo worked on building up his lead, stretching the gap to more than one second over Rojas.
While things were static for the moment at the front, the opposite was true in the pack, as nearly every position was closely contested. Maia got by Unser in turn eleven and set his sights on bringing the gap down to Pelayo, who was more than six seconds ahead of Maia.
Fleming and Milwaukee round polesitter Victor Gonzalez battled, touching wheels as the two went through turns one, two, and three side by side before Fleming got by to move into yet another fight for position. Maia moved back front of Poirier, who soon found himself in a battle with Colin Fleming, who had made his own run up through the pack after the first lap incident, and Al Unser. Unser held the point on the three, and when Poirier made a move on Unser, he soon was passed by Fleming who took advantage of the momentum the young Floridian had lost.
Poirier shadowed Unsers every move, but couldn't find a way by.
"He was better on the straights than I, but I could catch him in the corners, so it was a little bit frustrating but I am happy with another strong finish in the points," said Poirier.
Up front, things were looking good for Di Leo, who had stretched his advantage to 1.8 seconds over Rojas. The race was far from finished, though, as Rojas began to cut the gap down to Di Leo, knocking a tenth of a second off the gap each lap as behind the leaders, Martinez kept his gap back to Pelayo, who in turn was soon shadowed by Maia. Maia hunted Pelayo down, and made an astounding move to take fourth place as the two entered the corkscrew.
Behind the battle for fourth, the fight for sixth continued, as Fleming, Unser, and Poirier ran in tandem for the final five laps. Behind this train, there was also a three way battle for ninth position, with Gonzalez, Green, and Quiroga all working to take the spot.
Up front, Rojas began to close the gap considerably to Di Leo as the two soon encountered lapped traffic. Di Leo got held up by the first car the two encountered, allowing Rojas to close up to the gearbox of Di Leo. The two ran nose to tail for two laps as the white flag was flown, and they both got by the first lapped car, with Di Leo holding onto the lead. Rojas at one point had an opportunity as the two entered turn eleven, but he thought he might make contact and jeopardize the finish if he went for it, so he held off. Di Leo's heart rate was elevated one more time as they encountered another lapped car, who did not seem to see the two leaders as they bore down on him at the entry of turn one. Di Leo was patient for the first part of the lap, but then got aggressive in turn six to pass the lapped car, and with Rojas unable to do the same, he sealed the victory.
The race result trims Maia's lead in the standings to twelve over Rojas, with Di Leo moving in closer to the lead with his twenty-one point weekend. The Barber Dodge Pro Series will race again next weekend at Portland International Raceway.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series drivers and staff would like to extend their deepest sympathies to the family of Placido Inglasias.