NA-F2000: Cleveland preview

Hildebrand Has a Chance to Make History This Weekend in Cleveland Palmetto, Fla. (June 20, 2006) -- J.R. Hildebrand has etched his name in the record books by claiming six consecutive race victories in the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 ...

Hildebrand Has a Chance to Make History This Weekend in Cleveland

Palmetto, Fla. (June 20, 2006) -- J.R. Hildebrand has etched his name in the record books by claiming six consecutive race victories in the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship. The gifted California teenager's pair of wins at Portland, Ore., last weekend allowed him to extend his championship points lead and mirror the feat established way back in 1993 by Chris Simmons and equaled last year by Jay Howard, who, like Simmons, went on to secure the championship crown. (Simmons currently serves as an engineer with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in the Indy Racing League, while Howard has graduated into the Indy Pro Series and currently leads the point standings after five races.)

Hildebrand will have an opportunity to establish a brand-new benchmark when the FF2000 field reconvenes this weekend for a pair of races on the fast and challenging Burke Lakefront Airport temporary circuit in Cleveland, Ohio.

"As competitive as FF2000 is and given the number of top-line professional drivers the series has turned out since its inception, merely being able to win races definitely gives you a pretty high standing with drivers and sponsors in terms of your future," Hildebrand says, "but to have the opportunity to do something nobody else has done is certainly a pretty special feeling. And more importantly it would put me in an extremely good position for next year."

In addition to his unbeaten record, Hildebrand has earned the bonus point for leading most laps in all six races and has started from the pole (also worth a championship point) on every occasion except the season opener at Road Atlanta, where his Cape Motorsports teammate Dane Cameron took the honor.

Hildebrand, 18, from Sausalito, Calif., made his Cooper Series debut at Cleveland in 2005, earning a pair of podium finishes with PR1 Motorsports, while his current team claimed a second-place finish with Briton Joey Foster. So don't be surprised to see the #2 Formotion/Spy Optics/Mockett.com Van Diemen RF05 running up front again.

"I think of all the races this year, the team and myself have got the best collective experience at Cleveland, because it's the only track on the schedule I've been to before," says Hildebrand. "I'd have to say we've got a good shot at extending this win streak...as long as we can make it through Turn One."

Ah yes, Turn One. The notoriously tight right-hand hairpin turn, which directly follows one of the widest straightaways in the entire auto racing world (and which for 362 days of the year is an active airport runway), traditionally has been a magnet for disaster. Negotiating that corner on the first lap might well be the key to his potential success, especially since a competitive field of over 30 drivers is hungry to bring Hildebrand's streak to an end.

Among the primary challengers will be 20-year-old Andy Knight, from Christchurch, New Zealand, who finished a season-best second at Portland last Saturday with the G.FRO team's #33 Latimer Hotel/NAPA/Valvoline/Denso Van Diemen. The result vaulted Knight into the lead of the Greg Moore Rookie of Year point standings.

Other leading contenders will include Sonoma, Calif., youngster Dane Cameron (#19 Finlay Motorsports/Jim Russell Racing School/Red Line Oil Van Diemen), rapid Venezuelan Ricardo Vassmer (#25 Meridiano Television/Santa Barbara Airlines/JDC Motorsports Van Diemen) and top Cooper Masters contender (for drivers over 35 years of age) Jason Byers (#28 A&B Refrigeration/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen), from Livonia, Mich.

Local honor will be upheld by series debutant David Kovach, from Westlake, Ohio, and veteran Mark Defer, from Streetsboro, Ohio, who will attempt to end the domination by young Floridian Cole Morgan in the Cooper Gold Cup category (for older, Pinto-powered SSCA Formula Continental-spec cars).

The Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship is sanctioned by the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) and represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America. It features single-seat race cars powered by 160 hp engines and running on "slick" (treadless) Cooper Zeon racing tires. Alumni include Champ Car World Series title-winners Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy; and the past three Indianapolis 500 champions Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr.

-www.cooperseries.com

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