Rojas wins flag-to-flag
MONTREAL, QUEBEC (August 24, 2003)- Memo Rojas of Mexico City, Mexico, led every lap of the Barber Dodge Pro Series race in Montr?al today to take his second win of the season. 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series Champion Leo Maia finished in second place with Colin Fleming of North Hills, California taking third. Nelson Philippe of Valence, France, took his fourth top-five finish of the season in fourth place ahead of Mexico's Salvador Duran.
While the lead never changed hands, things were much dynamic through out the field, as drivers vied for their places in the final championship standings, the rookie of the year battle, and the Dodge Trans Canada challenge. At the green flag, the field got through the tight turn one-two complex cleanly, but trouble soon found Antoine Bessette and Ryan Millen, as the two made contact in the hairpin, while Ward Imrie brought too much entry speed into the final turn fifteen chicane and was stranded on course, bringing out the full course yellow.
On the restart, Rojas held onto his lead as he was pursued by Di Leo, Martinez, and Maia. A few laps later, Martinez showed how hard he was pushing as he had a light wall brush at the exit of turn fifteen. Maia turned this into his advantage as he got by Martinez on the tenth lap, to move into third place. Maia then began to track down Di Leo, who was able to keep Maia at bay for several laps but was losing power as he suffered a puncture in his radiator after hitting debris.
Maia again made the most of the situation as he passed Di Leo in turn one and set his sights on Rojas, who had built up a three second lead. Meanwhile, a resurgent Chris Baker was fighting for eighth when he brought too much speed into the braking zone and made contact with Al Unser, ending both drivers day.
Another battle for position between Rookie of the Year contender Burt Frisselle and German Quiroga ended early after more than ten laps of dueling between the two as they traded positions on nearly every lap before Frisselle made contact with Quiroga in turn one and sent the Mexican spinning into the tire barriers. Frisselle, who had been putting in a scrappy drive as he tried to preserve his lead in the Rookie of the Year battle, had to stop with damage shortly after the contact. Meanwhile, Di Leo's puncture proved to be the end of his race as he lost too much coolant to continue. In the final laps, Maia set the fastest lap of the race ( and set a new overall track record in the process), but couldn't catch Rojas, who beat him to the checkered flag by just under one second.
The win secured Rojas the Dodge Trans Canada Championship as he tied Maia for points, but takes the crown with the tiebreaker with two wins, while Maia took solace in the fact that he tied the record season points total of 188 set last year by 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series Champion A.J. Allmendinger.
Memo Rojas showed that he really enjoys his racing in Canada after taking two of the three Canadian rounds this season.
"I like racing in Canada, even in Vancouver, where I went off trying to pass Colin, I love the Canadian weekends, and maybe that just helps me raise my game," said Rojas. "I had confidence early in the race since I had a good car, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Rojas. "It was encouraging to me for the championship when I saw that Dan had fallen out, but I saw Leo coming close, and with lapped traffic up ahead, that made me really nervous!"
"...and me happy!" interjected Maia.
"But I was able to finish fast and get second in the championship, so I am very proud and I hope that this helps in my efforts to make it to Atlantics next season. I had the championship in mind all weekend, even though I tried to just focus on the race, but I'm really happy to take the win here today!"
Leo Maia had been hoping to take the win, but felt that he played it a little to safe on the start and in the end, it cost him a chance at the win.
"I made a bad decision at the start, and lost out on some positions," said Maia. "My car wasn't that good on cold tires, and so I couldn't challenge Martinez very well early on, and then Di Leo held me up so in the end, I just couldn't get close enough to challenge Memo. My car got much faster as the race went on, but I think maybe the time I lost early on might have caught me."
Never one to focus on the negative, Maia was quick to point out how satisfying it was to finish the season on the podium once again.
"I was actually hoping to beat A.J.'s points total, but that's how it goes. I would have never thought that I could have even come close to that number at the beginning of the season, so I am happy about my season and working really hard to turn this into a good opportunity for me in Atlantics."
Colin Fleming came into the race weekend looking to overcome the points deficit he had to Burt Frisselle in the Rookie of the Year battle, and managed to do so with his third podium finish of the season.
"The start was interesting, everyone was a lot more aggressive than I thought they were going to be, but we all got through cleanly," said Fleming. "Basically I ended up driving around the whole race by myself, and David and Dan fell out, and made things a lot easier for me. The most important thing for me was the rookie of the year championship, and I knew that Frissele started in twelfth, and I didn't have any update on where he finished, so I just kept pushing all race. Towards the end, I was basically running qualifying pace, but I couldn't quite get those guys close enough to threaten them."