American Leonardo Maia, 21, of Oakland, Calif. claimed the $195,000 Barber-CART Big Scholarship after an intense and ultra competitive two-day shoot-out at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. The Scholarship takes the form of a fully sponsored drive in the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series. A panel of judges that included 1991 Barber Pro Series champion and current CART star Bryan Herta as well as CART Chief Steward Chris Kneifel, driver and commentator Tommy Kendall and Players driver coach Richard Spenard.
"I can't even describe what I felt (when he was announced as the winner)," said a relieved and elated Maia. "Obviously I'm incredibly happy -overwhelmed.
"I started paying attention to Skip Barber and the scholarships since Nicolas Rondet won the Big Scholarship in '95. I hadn't even done my Skip Barber Three Day School yet, but I set the Big Scholarship as a goal," continued Maia.
Maia excelled on as well as off the track. But it was really on the track where he acquitted himself by leading all four sessions. Hot on his heels was 18-year old A.J. Allmendinger. The Formula Dodge National Championship Presented by RACER runner-up was once again the brides-maid having finished second to Maia in every session. Behind the pair, Landon Yee, Scott Presti, Dan Dileo, Juan Manuel Polar and Dan Kraus piled on the pressure.
"I thought that A.J. had just as good a shot as I did. He proved himself here as well as in the Formula Dodge National Championship. I didn't count anybody out until I knew I had won," said Maia.
"To have people like Herta, Kneifel, Kendall, Richard and the entire Skip Barber organization pick you, effectively saying, 'you're the one we want you to represent us' is an incredible feeling," he added.
"I hate to sound clich, but every year this decision and this process becomes more and more challenging," said Jeremy Dale Managing Director of the Barber Dodge Pro Series. "In Leo, we know that we have chosen a young driver with a very bright future that will not only represent the Skip Barber organization but the entire Barber-CART Ladder now and into the future."
For their part judges Herta, Kneifel, Kendall, and Spenard derived a great deal of satisfaction from their first official Barber-CART Scholarship program.
Herta: "Having gone through the program ten years ago, it's great to see how it has grown. Skip continues to offer drivers the opportunity to advance on skill rather than money. I'm not surprised at the talent level, but I am surprised 18 to 20-year olds with such an understanding of the technical and marketing issues of this sport. They are more complete at their age because they've made the choice to develop themselves in that way."
Kendall: "I always admired what Skip has done. It's not just that he says it, but that he's gone out and put programs together like this actually puts them in seats that advance their careers. I'm proud to have been a part of it."
Kneifel: "I've always liked working with up and coming drivers. This is an important process for the CART community. It nice to collaborate on this and reaffirm the notions that we have in CART about the future talent of the sport. My compliments go out to Skip and his entire organization."
Spenard: "I'm impressed with the organization and effort to create fairness. This is a very talented group, and there are always surprises, but I believe that at the end of the day we have chosen the right one."
Leonardo Maia, winner 2001 Barber-CART Big Scholarship
Hometown Oakland, Calif.
Other: Of Brazilian decent. Conversant in Portuguese.
Skip Barber Three Day Racing School: 01.30.98, Laguna Seca
2000 Formula Dodge National Championship. 12th place overall. 0 wins, 0 podiums
2001 Formula Dodge National Championship. 6th place overall. 1 podium, 0 wins
2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series. Round 9, Mid Ohio, Qualified 12th, finished 8th
2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series, Round 10, Road America, Qualified 6th, finished 8th
8 days of testing in Barber Dodge Pro Series
Other Racing: Karting