Sebring Spring Training report

Barber Dodge Pro Series kicks off 2003 season with Spring Training. (Sebring, Fla.)February 11-The 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series season got underway this week at Sebring International Raceway as drivers began preparations for the ten-round ...

Barber Dodge Pro Series kicks off 2003 season with Spring Training.

(Sebring, Fla.)February 11-The 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series season got underway this week at Sebring International Raceway as drivers began preparations for the ten-round championship with two days of intensive testing on the same 1.64- mile test track that the Champ Car World Series drivers used for their Spring Training last week. The drivers were excited about getting back into the rhythm of racing, and looking forward to the season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in St. Petersburg, Fla., now just over a week away. The preparations for the championship are especially important for the 2003 season, as the competition should prove to be among the closest in the 18-year history of the Pro Series.

Alex Sperafico, who raced last season with European Minardi in the F3000 ranks, will make his first Barber Dodge Pro Series start in two years in St. Petersburg, and took part in Spring Training to gear up for the event. Sperafico, who is the only driver in the field besides Leo Maia to win in the category, has been deeply impressed with what he has seen so far in Spring Training.

"Everything has improved, from the racecar to the level of competition," said Sperafico. "It is clear that the association with Champ Car has helped to bring this series increased attention, from both the media and from more drivers as well."

Colin Fleming took the top prize at the Barber-Champ Car Run-Off in December and the young Californian continues to show his pace in the Reynard 98E, setting some of the fastest times during both days of testing as he looks forward to the first race of the season.

"Its gone really well here in Sebring, and I am hoping that I can convert the speed I have had here to some good results at St. Pete," said Fleming. "I can't wait."

Other drivers to take part in Spring Training included Barber-Champ Car Run-Off competitors Al Unser, Burt Frisselle, Scott Proirier, and Robby Montinola, as well as series newcomer Guy Cosmo, who won the Formula Mazda Championship last season. Memo Rojas, German Quiroga, and Luis Pelayo were on hand to get some laps in as they prepare to fly Mexico's colors this season, with Antoine Bessette, Dan Di Leo, Chris Green, Mike Richardson, and Josh Beaulieu representing Canada. The Pro Series will race in Canada three times this season, and will race in Mexico for the first time at the Monterrey Grand Prix along with the Champ Car World Series in March.

Victor Gonzalaz of Hatoray, Puerto Rico, and Nelson Phillipe of Valence, France rounded out the contingent of International competitors taking part in Spring Training, further demonstrating the international interest in the Barber Dodge Pro Series.

Barber Dodge Pro Series Director Rick Ratajczak predicts this season to produce not only some great racing, but some new faces in victory circle as well.

"This should be one of the most competitive seasons we have had here in the Pro Series, with a mix of new talent coming into the field with some guys who are also fast, and already know the cars and the circuits, so it should prove to be very exciting," said Ratajczak. "The times here this week have been very close, and we should expect to see that throughout the season. "

The Barber Dodge Pro Series will assemble next for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the weekend of February 21-23. The Barber Dodge Pro Series is the Official Entry Level Professional Series of Champ Car. The drivers utilize identically prepared single seat open wheel Reynard-Dodge racecars. Barber Dodge Pro Series provides a level playing field where driving talent, not financial resources, play the decisive role. This state-of-the-art platform, with its carbon composite construction, raised nose and 6-speed sequential gearbox, takes full advantage of the 265hp all aluminum Dodge V6 Intrepid motor that is exclusive to this series. Additionally, all of the Barber Dodges compete on identical Michelin Pilot racing slicks.

To ensure absolute equality for all competitors, the Barber Dodge Pro Series owns, maintains, prepares and transports all the cars and equipment. This serves to control costs while allowing the drivers to concentrate solely on developing their driving skills. The Barber Dodge Pro Series rewards those with dedication and skill with true financial incentive - an incredible $55,100 in prize money is available for each Barber Dodge Pro Series event with $13,000 going to the race winner. The overall Series Champion receives a $100,000 scholarship towards entry in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, and the series Rookie of the Year receives $185,000 in career enhancement funding. In total, the Barber Dodge Pro Series pays out over $1 million annually in prize money, contingencies and scholarships. 29 Brook Street, Lakeville, Conn., 06039

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Series BARBER-PRO