Nicolas Rondet was born in France and Sepp Koster was born in the Netherlands. Yet each came to America to realize their racing goals. After a long, tough road, each sits on the brink of securing the Barber Dodge Pro Series title and the $250,000...
Nicolas Rondet was born in France and Sepp Koster was born in the Netherlands. Yet each came to America to realize their racing goals. After a long, tough road, each sits on the brink of securing the Barber Dodge Pro Series title and the $250,000 Career Enhancement Award that goes with it. They are the only two remaining with a title shot after 11 rounds. Though there are several title-winning scenarios heading into the final round at the historic Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, Koster is in a virtual "must win" situation. Rondet however can ill-afford to be caught napping, so as a result we may bear witness to one of the most thrilling title fights yet in the 16-year history of the Barber Dodge Pro Series.
Both drivers sat down with Skip Barber Racing News a week before the showdown.
1. Going into the title deciding round, Nicolas you are clearly in control, but Sepp you still have a very realistic chance to take the title. How is each of preparing for the challenge?
Koster: First of all I have used the large interval before this race to relax, rest and work on my fitness. It has been a long season with a lot of travelling for me, (Koster resides in Antwerp, Belgium, and flies to each round) so it was a welcome break. As far as race preparation goes, I have done the same as always, there is no need for me to change my routine although I have made sure to get back behind the wheel of a racecar before travelling to Laguna. For me it is going to be just another race because a large part of the championship outcome is out of my control. I need to focus on getting a maximum result and then see what Nicolas does.
Rondet: I think that my approach through out the year seems to be working fine. It is just another race, which I always look forward to. Laguna Seca is my home track, up here in the States. It is the place where I won the Skip Barber Western Race Series championship in '96. I know that Sepp will be strong which is why I don't want to rely on anybody else to win the race, Sepp could very well win. I'm the best person to fend him off.
2. This has been a very a highly competitive year in the Barber Dodge Pro Series with six different race winners, the most in one season since 1998. Until the last round in Vancouver, five drivers including yourselves were in contention for the title. Do you find the competition invigorating or nerve-racking?
Koster: I really enjoy the competition, it has been a very open battle. Due to some unfortunate circumstances I have been chasing Nicolas in the points standings from race one; this really made me push myself to get the best out of every opportunity and I think I coped well. Of course I would have liked a better start to the season, but no way was I going to give up.
Rondet: I totally enjoy the competition, it is easier for me to fight with many guys than with only one. You always end up having friction between some of the other drivers and it could end up hurting them. I always try to keep a high level of sportsmanship, which allows me to rarely have a problem with another driver. I race hard and clean as much as I can on the track.
3. One thing that has seemed to be lacking in this year's title chase has been the absence of a real rivalry. The two of you are pretty amicable toward each other as well as toward Matt Plumb who has been in the thick of it all the way until the last race and currently lies third overall. What effect does that have when the heat is on the track?
Rondet: As I was just saying... the track is one thing. Both Sepp and Matt are very good drivers which allows them to be good guys out of the car. I have to say that without the championship fight, we probably would have hung out together a little bit more... priorities.
Koster: I think it is a matter of respect, we all know who we are dealing with and we are all a little more experienced than most guys out there. As a consequence I think that mental games won't have any effect, so we do without. We also know each other for a while now --that helps! On the track it does not matter, I want to beat everyone. Of course I have a little file in my head on all my opponents and I fight them accordingly, but that is more about weak and strong sides than about friendship. There are no friends on the racetrack!
4. If there has been one, which round of this year's series would you say has been the most pivotal for each of you?
Koster: For me, there have been two races that stand out. First of all Sebring, because ever since that race, where I got hit by R. Sperafico, I have been chasing whoever was leading the series. The other race that comes to mind is Cleveland, because from that race on I have been scoring regularly and I started to mount a serious challenge.
Rondet: Toronto, because that's when I finally found out a setup that worked on street courses, or Phoenix where I completely understood how the car works. Remember that till that point I had only driven 2 days before the Sebring race and those were in Sebring too. Well Sebring is so incredibly bumpy that it is pretty hard to really get a great feel of the car, as you are always fighting the bump and asphalt changes.
5. Which round was the biggest opportunity missed?
Rondet: Definitely the first race in Lime Rock with that torrential rain. Sepp had a puncture, and wet racing has always been good to me. I may not have had enough to shake Ryan who ran really well that day, but I should have finished on the podium. And I sailed off the racetrack a couple of times! But then it would mean that I would have had to throw away even more points.
Koster: All the races that I did not win.
6. Did the year play out as you had imagined it would prior to the start? Were there any surprises?
Koster: The year did not go as I imagined when I look back. I never expected to have three DNF's after five races, because in the previous two seasons I only had two DNF's. I am however happy with my speed, although qualifying has not been stellar. As far as the competition goes, I think that the guys up front are the ones I expected.
Rondet: The year is not over yet... but so far yes, I had expected both Matt and Sepp to be strong, I didn't really know about the other guys. Alex seemed challenging in Sebring and Ryan in a couple of different inspired drives, yet down the wire it is Sepp and I. I definitely expected to be strong in Mid-Ohio, Laguna, Lime Rock, and I knew that Matt would be there in the streets, and expected Sepp to always race well. I was surprised with Phoenix, it almost felt too easy.
7. Other than at the beginning of the race at Phoenix and a little bit of the same at Road America, you haven't really gone head to head at all this season. It all most seems that when one of you is on form the other is slightly off. Going to Laguna, both of you clearly have to be on form. Do you expect to wage the battle of the year there, and if so are each of you confident about racing each other hard?
Rondet: We have somewhat different driving styles, but end up driving similar setup cars and it is so easy to make a tiny mistake in qualifying and then you are in for a long race. On my side, not having driven anything at all last year didn't help. My memories of the tracks were that much further back. I'm definitely confident about racing Sepp. I think that we know each other well enough to respect each other, and we both know what we have to do
Koster: You are forgetting a small tussle in Toronto. I think you are right though that we seem to be "avoiding" each other on the track. That is just the way luck has turned out. Hopefully we can make up for that in Laguna. I am definitely confident about the fight ahead I have shown what I can do in Laguna last year. We both know what we need from this race and we are smart enough to act accordingly, it is going to be interesting
8. Looking ahead as much as you can, what's next for both of you? Has Barber Dodge prepared you well for whatever that next step is?
Koster: I am looking towards Atlantic and the tests that I did last winter in Indy Lights showed that I was ready for that series, so I don't expect any problems from a driving point of view. I have seen other Pro Series drivers move on and do extremely well. There can be no other conclusion than that Barber Dodge created some great racecar drivers. Until now very few people realized how tough the pro series is, but I think they are taking notice now.
Rondet: I'm definitely confident that Barber Dodge has prepared both of us very well to be successful. I have always said that you don't need to win the championship here to be very good, the top ten are always very strong, obviously top five is better, and so on. As far as what is next, I think that CART just made it easy Atlantic is where I want to go, and I just hope that the Champ Car owners won't make us regret no to try to go to F3000. Champ cars have been my goal ever since I came to the USA five years ago. They still are, even though I'm watching closely the evolution of the ALMS as well, those prototype cars are pretty cool too.
8. Both of you have a good history in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, what would it mean to you to win the title?
Rondet: I have come through the Skip Barber Three Day Racing School, won the championship on the west coast... won the Big Scholarship, was Rookie of the year, I had an opportunity to get a taste of Atlantic, and came back this year to finish the business and cap up the ultimate Skip Barber prize! I want to be the first full SBRS product to be successful in Champ Cars!
Koster: It would be the perfect conclusion to four very tough but enjoyable years in the Pro Series and the only right way for me to thank all those people that have helped and supported me. It would be very important towards next year with the career enhancement award, you know drivers are always thinking about next year.
10. Finally, who will be the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series Champion?
Koster: The one that does the best job on Sunday!